The newest “Paranormal Activity” marks the fourth film for the series in as many years, but with a concept as novel as found footage, the franchise has somehow managed to stave off exhaustion on the part of the audience.
“Paranormal 4″ directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman’s experience with the format comes from directing “Paranormal 3″ and their breakout film “Catfish,” and when they spoke with MTV News, they shared their secrets for keeping the series alive.
“It’s got to feel fresh,” said Joost, referring to the new laptop and Xbox-themed scares. “There’s got to be something new in it.”
His co-director added that the arch of “Paranormal” doesn’t necessarily follow that of a traditional horror series, which also helps. “I think you have to restrain yourself too. Most franchises get more and more ridiculous,” Ariel said. “This one’s kind of more held back than ’Paranormal 3,’ which doesn’t seem like the natural trajectory for a franchise, but what makes these movies special is that they are all of these questions and you just get a few answers per film.”
In addition to the new scares, “Paranormal 4″ crosses in other, darker territory. “This is the most violent of the franchise also,” Joost said. “Toby’s not messing around anymore. Toby is serious this time. There’s no playing with people. He just kills you.”
Schulman agreed, “Toby don’t play that.”
But some aspects of the series haven’t changed, and if you’re watching carefully, you might pick up on a few references to other horror movies, including “The Shining” and a bathtub scene reminiscent of the original “A Nightmare On Elm Street.”
Joost said that most of the references were unconscious, however. “People have been saying that there are, but they were subconscious if they were,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of stuff that’s not necessarily a nod to a specific horror movie, but a nod to horror movies in general.”
One of those nods involves a very large knife disappearing in an ominous way. “That’s my favorite part,” Joost said. The scene works almost like a counterpoint to the recent string of kitchen-related scares in the series, and the idea came from a mundane thought about how we live in our houses.
“We really liked the idea that the one place you never look in your house is on the ceiling, especially if your ceilings are 15-feet tall, like they are in this house,” Schulman said. “No one ever really looks up, so if I was a ghost and was trying to hide something from you, that’s the first place I’d hide it.”
Check out everything we’ve got on “Paranormal Activity.”