Two words are on the lips of lots of horror fans this Halloween season and they’re not “remakes suck”, “PG13 blows”, or “Saw VI“. They are “Paranormal Activity” (review here). Recently we sat down with director Oren Peli for an in-depth talk about the film, the phenomenon, and even the potential sequel.
Uncle Creepy: So here we are. It’s over two years since the film has been completed. The movie is finally in theatres courtesy of Paramount, and now that the film is out there, as I suspected there would be, there’s a lot of hype surrounding the film.
Oren Peli: “Well, we kind of had a feeling that people were digging the movie way back when it was first released to festivals like Screamfest LA and Slamdance. People were really responding well to it. Then we had a few other test screenings at a few other festivals, but what’s been happening for the last few weeks has been really insane and really out of control. I think what’s happening is that we’re getting a lot of people who really dig the movie, and they’re giving it a lot of good reviews. People who love the film are crazy about it. They say it’s one of the scariest movies they’ve seen and all kinds of stuff. They tweet about it, they blog about it, and other folks are seeing all of this positive buzz. Naturally they say to themselves, ‘Oh, this has got to be just hype.’ Fortunately, most of the people who had been thinking that way have ended up having a really good time. Not all of them certainly as you cannot please everyone.”
UC: What was it like for you watching your movie in packed theatres with crowds?
OP: “When I watch the film in theatres, that’s the only time I’m scared! But not because of the movie! I’m scared of the audience! *laughs* Is it playing well? Are they into it? Are they scared by it? I’m usually really stressed until about halfway into the film. By around then I can usually tell how well it’s playing.”
UC: I’ve seen the flick now a few times in theatres, and each time it has knocked the ball right out of the park. That’s gotta be a really gratifying feeling for you.
OP: “Yes. Just to know that the fans are enjoying themselves and hearing their emotions along with a few screams, moans, and groans … that’s really the best part of it.”
UC: It’s been a really long road to get the movie here. A lot of tinkering on your part, a lot of different endings. Can you talk about the different endings yet?
OP: “Well, the original version of the movie had an ending that screened in a few festivals, and most people generally said that they liked it. The ending was never a big problem, but it was identified as something that we should try to work on. When Dreamworks got involved after they dropped the remake idea, we decided to tinker with the ending to see if we could come up with something better. We had a few ideas and ‘surprisingly’ the idea that came from Steven Spielberg ended up testing really, really well. People loved it. They went crazy for it, so the choice became really easy as far as using it.”
UC: So the ending in theatres now is the Spielberg recommended one?
UC: How many endings were there? How many did you film? How many different concepts did you have?
OP: “I don’t even want to say how many I filmed. *laughs* We tried a whole bunch of stuff. As far as actually shown publicly? There’s the current one, the original one, and one other ending which we screened once that some people loved and others thought was very inappropriate, but maybe they will all make their way to the DVD and Blu-ray.”
Editor’s note: Said inappropriate one was my favorite! It just figures!
UC: Now this Spielberg incident has gotten a lot of buzz. There was some incident that happened to him while watching the movie? Tell us what really happened.
OP: “I heard about this story just a couple of days after it happened. It was long ago so I can assure you this isn’t something Paramount made up to help the marketing. Here is what I heard — After Spielberg watched the movie, the door to his bedroom somehow became locked from the inside, and he couldn’t get back into it. There was no way to unlock it because there was no way it could have become locked to begin with. He ended up having to call a locksmith to remove the door, and once he got back into his bedroom, he looked at the DVD and said, ‘I don’t want this DVD in my house any longer!’ so he put it in a bag and got rid of it. So yeah, that’s the way that I heard it.”
UC: Man, what a happy accident for you!
OP: “YES! YES!” *both laugh*
UC: People are just responding so well to Paranormal Activity. It’s taken on a life of its own and has even shattered a couple of records already.
OP: “Yeah, I heard it broke the record for box office for amount made on less than two hundred screens and even came close to breaking a record per theatre average, but these things aren’t really my strong suit so I don’t know! *laughs* I know it did okay!”
UC: What is it about the movie that you think audiences are responding so well to?
OP: “I think it’s probably two things. A lot of people find it to be genuinely scary, and I think that’s because it taps into people’s fears of what happens around you at night when you are asleep. People have become very conscious of noises in their home once they’ve seen the movie, so it’s really getting under the viewers’ skin. The other reason I think that the movie is so effective is because of the realism of it thanks to the performances of Micah and Katie, who did such an amazing job being convincing as not only real people but as a real couple. They’re the reason people are getting much more into the movie than they would if it were scripted.”
UC: Tell us about the first time you met Katie and Micah.
OP: “Well, we held auditions trying to find out if we could even find people who could pull this off. We knew it was going to be a very small cast, and honestly for the most part it’s just the two of them and a couple of other actors. Everything was filmed in one location, so it quickly became apparent that this was going to be a tall order. When Katie and Micah came in to see us, they immediately impressed us. We had a good feeling about them from the start. When we had the callbacks, we put them together as a couple. Then we asked them questions about, you know, tell us how long you’ve been together, tell us about your recent vacation, and how has this haunting affected you? They didn’t miss a beat. Without any preparation and despite the fact that they had only met like thirty seconds earlier, if you looked at that footage now, there would never be a doubt in your mind that they were anything less than a couple. There wasn’t even a hint of acting. They never hesitated. They were playful together how a real couple would be, and that’s when I was like, wow, this could actually work.”
UC: What type of research did you do for the film in terms of the haunting itself?
OP: “I spent probably about a year doing as much research as I could about hauntings and possessions and demons and demonology. I watched A LOT of movies and TV shows, both fictitious and fact based. I read books, I did a lot of research on the Internet, reading websites and going through people’s personal accounts. So I started getting a really clear and well rounded perspective on what it’s like to believe that you are being haunted by either a demon or a spirit. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out the differences in terms of hauntings between ghosts and demons, which I tried to make a good point of explaining. I needed to become basically sort of a theoretical expert on the issue, and in order to make things the right way, I had to do so to the best of my ability.”
UC: In Paranormal Activity you spend a lot of time building up the sense of dread before throwing your knock-out punches. How important was it for you to do that?
OP: “It was very difficult. I spent an unbelievable amount of time just editing and tweaking the pacing, and I tried to just rely on my instincts. For this movie to work, I needed to let the audience connect with the characters and buy into what was happening to them. While Katie and Micah were experiencing the same thing, it was from two totally different perspectives, and everyone seeing it in the audience will see it from a different angle, too. To be effective, everyone — Katie, Micah, and the audience — had to reach the same point together. I didn’t want them to rush into things too soon. If I just started showing crazy shit happening right away, it would have ended up kind of cheesy. It was important to take enough time for people to get into the plot along with the characters.”
UC: So what did you think about the proposed remake idea?
OP: “Well, I was conflicted about it. On one hand you get an opportunity to direct a movie for Dreamworks, and that’s something most people would kill for. Whether or not it’s your own movie or even something else, when you get a chance to direct a movie for Steven Spielberg, that’s just one of the most amazing things that you can be offered. But at the same time we never gave up hope on releasing the original film. Part of the original deal was that if we did the remake, the original cut of the film was going to get some really nice treatment on DVD, and the other part was that they would at least test screen it. We felt deep down inside before plans for the remake were even put in motion that if we were to have a good public screening in front of the Dreamworks executives, they would decide to maybe release the film as is. Thankfully that’s exactly what happened.”
UC: On to the marketing. When the idea first came up about the Demand It promotion, did you ever anticipate that it would work as well as it did?
OP: “It was a little bit risky. Demand It works really well for music in terms of getting concerts to your town, but it had never been tried for anything other than bands. We thought it probably could work because the movie usually plays well with great word of mouth afterwards. We felt that if these people had an outlet to spread the noise around, they could feel a sense of ownership of bringing the flick to their city. No one thought it would work as well as it did. Paramount probably suspected that we’d get to one million requests sometime but not as quickly as it did.”
UC: Now that the movie has become a phenomenon, it’s pretty much inevitable that sequel talk starts swirling around. Have you given that idea any thought?
OP: “It’s my policy for me and for the studio to not talk about future projects just yet. That being said, there’s a lot of misinformation out there right now. Most of what people are reading nowadays concerning a sequel is just speculation.
I do, however, want to take a moment to thank Dread Central and its readers. You guys gave us our first review and kept the movie on everyone’s lips while we were busy readying it for release. I’m never going to forget that. We’ll always have a special place in our hearts for DC. It it weren’t for you guys and all the fans everywhere, we wouldn’t even be here, so thank you!”
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Like Me – Will You Like This Dystopian Thriller?
Starring Addison Timlin, Ian Nelson, Larry Fessenden
Directed by Robert Mockler
While Like Me is not dystopian in the classic science-fiction sense, it does aptly put the downer vibe across. If the present is abysmal, then the future is downright hopeless. We learn this as we follow an unhinged teenage loner called Kiya (Addison Timlin) on a hollow crime spree that she broadcasts on social media. At first the world “likes” her—with the exception of YouTube rival Burt (Ian Nelson), who disdainfully denounces her viral videos—but pride goes before the fall, and Kiya’s descent is spectacular.
If you’ve peeped the trailer for Like Me, then you’re probably expecting a horror movie. I mean, they’ve got the requisite menacing masked baddie and they’ve got genre icon Larry Fessenden in a major role—those are a couple of the key ingredients, right? Yes they are, but this simmering, shimmering stew of Natural Born Killers, Excision and King Kelly, it boils down to a whole lotta nothing. Like Me is sort of a drama, kind of a road trip flick, and almost a thriller. It succeeds at none yet does stand on its own as a compelling collection of cool visuals and pertinent performances. But is that enough?
While Kiya is a compelling character on the surface, there’s barebones beneath. Sure, she’s a Millennial mind-fed on random online clips and snappy soundbites—but what turned her into a psychopath? Was she born that way? Is social media to blame? We’ll never know, because not a hint is given. I don’t mind ambiguity, but even a morsel would have been welcome in this case. As Kiya ramps up her reckless exhibitionistic extremes, the stakes are never raised. In the end, who cares? Maybe that’s the point.
A word of warning: If you plan on watching this movie while chomping snacks…don’t. There is stomach-turning scene after vomit-inducing scene of orgiastic easting, binging, and the inevitable purging. I’m sure it’s all metaphorical mastication, a cutting comment on disposable consumption. I get it. But I don’t wanna look at it, again and again and again. Having said that, Like Me is an experimental film and in its presentation of such grotesquery, it’s quite accomplished. Montages, split-screens and jittered motions are scattered throughout, showing us all sorts of unpleasant things…Kudos to the editor.
I didn’t hate Like Me. But I do think one has to be in the mood for a movie such as this. It’s not an easy or entertaining watch, but it is a peculiar and thought-provoking one. There’s some style and mastery behind the camera, and I am curious to see what first-time writer-director Rob Mockler comes up with next.
Funko Giving Jurassic Park the Pop! Treatment as Only They Can
It is no secret we’re BIG fans of Funko’s Pop! Vinyl line here at DC HQ, and now they’ve announced a new series that has made our hearts just about burst… read on for a look at Pop! Movies: Jurassic Park, heading our way in February. The regular figures are awesome on their own, but wait until you see the exclusives!
From the Funko Blog:
Jurassic Park fans, get excited! To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the iconic film’s appearance on the silver screen, Jurassic Park is coming to Pop!
This series of Pop! features paleontologist Dr. Grant, Jurassic Park CEO John Hammond, mathematician Dr. Malcolm, and embryo-smuggler Dennis Nedry. (Keep an eye out for Dr. Ellie Sattler in Pop! Rides coming soon.)
We couldn’t forget the Jurassic Park dinosaurs! Featured in this line are the great T. rex, Velociraptor, and Dilophsaurus. Look for the Dilophosaurus chase, a rarity of 1-in-6.
Be on the lookout for exclusives. At Target you can find a wounded Dr. Malcolm, and the Dennis Nedry and Dilophosaurus 2-pack is available only at Entertainment Earth.
American Psycho Meets Creep – Strawberry Flavored Plastic Review
Starring Aidan Bristow, Nicholas Urda, Andres Montejo
Directed by Colin Bemis
Recently I wrote up an article here on Dread Central which was basically an open letter to anyone who was listening called “I Miss Found Footage.” Well, it seems like someone WAS listening, as I was then sent the link to an all-new found footage film called Strawberry Flavored Plastic from first-time writer-director Colin Bemis.
The film follows the “still-at-large crimes of Noel, a repentant, classy and charming serial killer loose in the suburbs of New York.” Basically, you could think of the flick as American Psycho meets Mark Duplass and Partick Brice’s Creep. That, or you could think of it as “Man Bites Dog in color!” However you choose to label Colin Bemis’ psychological thriller, just make sure you check out the film once it hits in the future.
As I alluded to above, the film is basically a found footage version of American Psycho. But that said, the film sports a twist on the charming serial killer subgenre that I have yet to see play out in any of the above-mentioned classics. I’m not going to go into spoiler territory here, but I will say that the film introduces an element to the tale that spins it into much more of a character drama than a straight horror film. Not that there is anything wrong with that!
Truth be told, the film’s turn from serial killer flick into a layered character study might have been its kiss of death, but this slight genre switch is rendered a minor issue as the film’s central narcissistic antagonist is played by Aidan Bristow. Bristow is an actor you may not have heard of before this review, but you will hear his name more and more over the years to come, I promise. The guy gives (no pun intended) a killer performance as the film’s resident serial killer Noel Rose, and time after time surprised me with how chilling, charming, or downright vulnerable he chose to play any given scene.
Bristow’s performance is, in the end, the major element the film has going for it. But that said, as a fan of found footage, I was smiling ear to ear at first-time director Colin Bemis’ understanding of what makes a found footage suspense sequence work.
In Strawberry Flavored Plastic director Colin Bemis is confident and content to allow full emotional scenes to play out with the camera directed at nothing more than a character’s knees. Why is this so important? Because it keeps the reality of the film going. Too many found footage directors would focus on the actors’ faces during such emotional scenes – no matter how contrived the camera angle was. In this film, however, Bemis favors the reality that says, “If you were really in this emotional state and holding a camera, you would let it drop to your side.” I agree, and it is small touches like that which make the film feel authentic and thus – once the shite hits the fan – all the scarier.
On the dull side of the kitchen knife, the film does feel a bit long even given it’s short running time, and there doesn’t seem too much in the way of visceral horror to be found within. Again, graphic blood and gore aren’t a must in a fright flick, but a tad more of the old ultra-violence would have gone a long way in selling our main psychopath’s insanity and unpredictability. But all the same, the film does feature a rather shocking sequence where our main baddie performs a brutal home invasion/murder that puts this film firmly in the realm of horror. In fact, the particular POV home invasion scene I’m talking about holds about as much horror as you’ll ever wish to witness.
In the end, Colin Bemis’ Strawberry Flavored Plastic is a must-see for fans of found footage and serial killer studies such as American Pyscho, Creep, and Man Bites Dog. I recommend giving it a watch once it premieres. If only to be able to point to Aidan Bristow in the near future and tell all your friends that you watched (one of) his first movies.
Lead actor Aidan Bristow turns in a star-making performance in Colin Bemis’ Strawberry Flavored Plastic, a found footage film that plays out like Man Bites Dog in Color before introducing a new element to the charming-serial-killer subgenre and becoming more character study than a straight horror. Think American Psycho meets Creep.
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Like Me – Will You Like This Dystopian Thriller?
Funko Giving Jurassic Park the Pop! Treatment as Only They Can
American Psycho Meets Creep – Strawberry Flavored Plastic Review
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