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Paranormal activity (18)

Mike Chapple hangs around with the horror nerds at a special preview of 'the scariest film you'll ever see'. Well they would say that, wouldn't they?

Published on November 25th 2009.

Paranormal activity (18)

THE horror film is much maligned, as are those who eagerly lap them up. So being an aficionado of the genre can lead to a sometimes hard and sad life.

Llike any other gung-ho all-American male, he makes things worse by marching around the house bellowing to Mr Demon: "Come on buddy, give us your
best shot!" Oh dear.
Which is precisely
what Mr D does.
Only slowly.

On the one side there's having to endure the snorts of disdain from the movie snobs who believe that you must have the IQ of a slug for not preferring 100 hours of art-house pretentiousness over 30 seconds of Drag Me To Hell-gore overload.

Then there's frequency of making yourself sit through another wasted 90 minutes of turgid, cliched, ultra-violent nonsense, and quietly admitting they might be right.

But there are slivers of tasty flesh occasionally to be stripped from the gristle. Hollywood horror films, as the LA Times recently proclaimed, are a dime a dozen, 75 being produced in the past three years. And most were, as the Times forgot to add, well, er, shite.

But that's the bitter-sweet joy of horror flick cruising - for every dozen duffers there's a let-the-right-one-in to make the research seem justified.

The hype has a lot to do with whetting the taste buds, however - and even though Chuck D once quite rightly advised us not to believe it, sometimes it's very difficult.

Paranormal Activity is a case in point.
Not since The Blair Witch Project - which, gulp, came out all of a decade ago - has there been a film so eagerly anticipated by horror fiends.

The two have a lot in common. The Witch Project was shot on a shoestring and eventually grossed hundreds of millions of dollars. PA is set to do the same: costing just $15,000 it's destined to rake in the first 100 million even before its official UK release on November 25.

PA also uses the quasi-documentary format utilising hand-held camcorders. And finally, like its predecessor, its arrival on these shores comes with the ominous pronouncement "the scariest film ever made".

No matter how many times the horror fiend hears such nonsense they're like lambs to the slaughter every time in finding out for themselves - and, more importantly, before anybody else - what the fuss is all about.

Which is why Yours Truly, along with fellow fiends, skulked into Screen One at FACT in Liverpool late on Friday 13th (naturally) for an early preview.

A quick appraisal of the audience would have confirmed what seasoned horror film-goers already know: that although there is still a high proportion of solitary, spotty-faced, geek boys who attend such gatherings, they are counterbalanced by an increasing number of ladies partial to a stiffener and a good fright before they go a-bed at night (oo-er missus).

Memory strays back to a special screening of Polanski's chiller Repulsion

at the old Bluecoat's Film Society. After 30 minutes, some terrified bint sitting in the next seat leaped in the air exclaiming "Eeeeeek! I can't stand it any more!" before running up the aisle, wailing, never to be seen again. "Huh. Girls..." I'd muttered contemptuously, nursing shattered ear drums.

Likewise, the men today, more than women, are far more likely to indulge in the old scaredy-cat trick of pretending to watch a horror, low-slung in the seat with left leg nonchalantly crossed over the other, thus strategically blocking the eyeline from unexpected screen frights.

But what of the film itself?

Without giving too much of the plot away - although to be honest, and quite rightly for such a flick, there isn't that much to give - the action centres on a young couple Katie (Katie Featherson) and Micah (Micah Sloat) who move into their new home in San Diego.

The usual old haunted-house scenario is thoroughly thrown out of the window when Katie reveals to Micah's ever present Camcorder that wherever she has lived since childhood she's been stalked by a malevolent spirit. Time to call the ghostbuster - or psychic - who turns out to be such a petrified ninny that he passes the buck on to a demonoligist chum.

This is not before warning cynical Micah to avoid the old alternative of going down in the cellar to, ho-hum, inevitably get mulched. Which is, of course, to bring out the ouija board.

So what does the tosser go and do?
Yup, you guessed it . . .
Then, like any other gung-ho all-American male, he makes things worse by marching around the house bellowing to Mr Demon: "Come on buddy, give us your best shot!" Oh dear.
Which is precisely what Mr D does.
Only slowly.

This will disappoint the splatter brigade who like the first decapitation to take place within the first five minutes. In fact, iIt's half an hour, and a third of the way into PA, before we see some real Activity take place - and even then it's only the bedroom door caught creaking back and forth on Micah's automatic camera as the couple sleep.

But from then on the sense of dread and menace builds subtly, but relentlessly.

Like Robert Wise in the classic The Haunting, first time director Oren Peli uses silence and sudden noise to fuel the tension and raise feral fears of things that go bump in the night, rather than blood-soaked unsubtlety. All with a tiny smidgen of Wise's budget - and shot, allegedly, in just seven days.

The climax, when it comes, is half expected but still shocking - and with nothing of the silly ambiguity that came with the Witch Project's ending.

Still, it's not the scariest film you'll ever see, though fiends will almost certainly agree that quality-wise, this tightly edited nugget is up there with other recent handheld-camera frighteners such as Cloverfield and REC.

Oh, and one other certainty: Most Haunted's Yvette Fielding would have some genuine screaming to do after a night in this house.

*Paranormal Activity opens in UK cinemas today (25 November)

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