After taking this past October off, “Paranormal Activity” is back with “The Marked Ones,” a spin-off of sorts that doesn’t get an official number but builds on the scary tradition and back story of the first four entries.
Before you check up on Toby the Demon’s latest shenanigans, we’re counting down the found-footage scares that left us screaming and laughing at the same time. (We call it “scraughing.”) These are the moments that surprised us, played with our expectations and, most importantly, scared the hell out of us.
5. The Knife Looms Overhead
A lot of what makes “Paranormal Activity” work is a stripped-down understanding of suspense. Take, as a perfect example, the disappearing knife in the fourth movie. Toby pulls a large chef’s knife to the kitchen ceiling, and it doesn’t come down. The fact that the knife is somewhere and ready to fall at any moment is embedded in the audience’s brain because of how simple the threat is. Every scene that takes place in the kitchen between when the knife disappears and when it falls is laced with an extra coating of dread.
4. Toby Shows His Strength
This was the scare where the first film, which now seems shockingly subdued, showed its hand and demonstrated just how powerful this demon is. Until that point, all Toby had done to bother Katie was terrorize from afar, so it was time for the paranormal presence and the series to up the ante. For the audience at that point in the genre, we hadn’t seen anything like that in found footage.
3. The Kitchen Falls
This call-back in the third movie to the kitchen scare in the second flick partially relies on the fan-cam, which we’ll discuss later in the list — and the knife scare in “Paranormal Activity 4” is a paired version of it as well — but there’s something special about this version in particular. One of the biggest strengths of “Paranormal Activity 3” was how creative the filmmakers got with simple camera tricks. The fan-cam gives the illusion of unbroken movement and a single take, but there’s actually a big edit here, large enough for an entire kitchen to disappear. When it all comes crashing down, it’s a great example of how the third movie embraced excess for its scares and livened up the series.
2. Freaky Footprints
At its best, “Paranormal Activity” uses the simplicity of something being just a little off in a home to strike a nerve with the audience. In the first flick, the footprints that Toby left in baby powder had a low-fi charm that initially warmed audiences to the series, and it was also the first step toward establishing a mythology, which has little-by-little grown more complex as the films progress. This isn’t just a haunted house movie: This is about a big, bad demon, and we learned this in a clear, terrifying way.
1. An Old-Fashioned Ghost And A Fan
Does it make sense that Toby would be wearing a sheet? No. Or that he’d be as short as the girls? Nope. Or that he’d hide just as the sitter turns around? Of course not. But it doesn’t matter: This scare in “Paranormal Activity 3” simply shows a great understanding of what makes horror movies so fun. With the introduction of the fan-cam — the best riff on the series’ format to date — the filmmakers changed up how they handled the traditional setup and payoff. The fan-cam has a built-in waiting period to see what’s happening on the other side of the room. Letting the audience know exactly how long they’d have to wait made the suspense all the more nerve-wracking.
Did we miss something? Share your favorite scare below!