EDITORIALS

The Weekly Moviegoer - Free to Be Scared at Midnight

by
September 28, 2009

Paranormal Activity

Many New Yorkers will see any movie for free. This is probably the case for people in other cities, as well, but given the large population of NYC it is especially apparent here. Free previews of new films happen every week, whether sponsored by one of the local free papers or a radio station or directly presented by the distributor, as a way of initiating word of mouth in the last few days leading up to a film's opening weekend. But most of the time these screenings are not worth trying to fight the usual freeloaders for a seat at.

Last week's complimentary New York screening of Paranormal Activity, however, was different. For one thing, it wasn't followed by a proper theatrical release (the film barely opened in 13 college towns across the US this weekend, but not here). Those who wanted to see the much-buzzed-about horror film had only this one opportunity (for now) to see it, and so they were willing to stand on a massive line of people, scary movie fanatics and cheapskates alike, to hopefully gain entry.

By massive I mean at least two city blocks, maybe three. That's way more than could fit in the auditorium used for the screening, because like all such free film events more invites were handed out and more RSVPs were confirmed than there were seats available. Due to the anticipation for Paranormal Activity, though, combined with the exclusivity of the event, most of the people in the front half of the line -- those who showed up more than three hours early for the midnight screening -- were people who really, really, really wanted to see the film.

So there were fewer of the typical free-screening attendees, the ones who don't care what they're seeing as long as they're seeing it at no cost. These are people who, because they didn't have to pay, will be quite cynical and disruptive. At any film they attempt to predict events and point out goofs. With a horror film, specifically, they're out to prove it not scary enough. Obviously they can sometimes ruin a non-ironic, genuinely creepy horror film like Paranormal Activity.

Of course, some loudmouths are enjoyable during horror films, and there were a few to adequately break up the tension last Thursday night in a favorable manner. During the screening I sat between two very different kinds of moviegoers: on my left were a couple of snarky types who were clearly not frightened and talked too much about how they weren't; on the right were two girls who screamed a lot, held each other a lot and regularly shielded their eyes.

Which is the preferred type? I like a good mix of the two, though you may side with one or the other depending on which group you more closely fit in with. Maybe you're a fraidy cat who appreciates the loud and snarky audience members, because they lighten the mood in the auditorium. And maybe, like me, you love watching other people get frightened even if you yourself never get scared.

Either way, these are equally part of the appeal of seeing a horror film in the theater, and I was plenty happy with the recent Paranormal Activity trailer that promoted the theatrical experience by showing an audience watching the film as it's meant to be seen and shared.

Yes, there are those of you who like seeing horror films at home, where lights can be turned on to keep you from being too frightened. Or, antithetically, where a lonelier viewing guarantees you a greater level of scariness. But can't you also see the fun in seeing a horror film with a large group of fellow horror fans, some of which amusingly jump at the fake-out moments and then laugh off their embarrassment?

Of the two genres that are best for shared viewing, horror is far more interesting than comedy because it elicits a more varied response from the audience. However, you need as packed a house as possible and you need to be sure there aren't too many of the cynical types overpowering the fearful.

The Paranormal Activity screening reminded me of my experience ten years earlier with The Blair Witch Project. Similarly, I saw the film for free in an advance screening that Artisan Entertainment held in order to build buzz. But there were far more of the usual freebie-indulgers in attendance, and I don't believe I witnessed one scared moviegoer in the room. Either there weren't any, or the loudmouths overshadowed them.

I got lucky with Thursday's screening, but I wouldn't recommend you see the film in such a manner if you can help it. Skip any free screening of Paranormal Activity offered in your area and hold out for the shows people have to pay for. This past weekend, the film played solely midnight shows in those 13 locations and all but one of the shows (which competed with a Penn State football game) reportedly sold out.

Between this and the interest displayed on the film's Eventful "Demand It" page, Paramount will be widening the film's release, though still primarily for weekend midnight screenings only. Once you have the opportunity, make an effort to see the film at one of these limited engagements.

And while you wait for your chance, let me know how you like your horror audience in the comments.

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  • teyhtr
    Los Angeles G'dammit!
  • Marqwest
    Exactly #1!
  • OCP
    its coming to a city near us (well most of us) http://www.paranormalmovie.com/
  • MelB
    really? As much as i want to strangle the people talking in any movie.. I want to murder the people who talk in scary movies. Even if they aren't scary- there is sort of a fun tension in pretending to be scared. Snarky, loud jerks who think that they are so smart should stay home and talk during the movie there. It just ruins the whole thing. I hate people who talk in movies. I'm surprised that you thought that was a "good" part of any movie experience.
  • Vold
    I DESPISE people who speak during movies. They are scum. That is why when they are sitting in front of me i kick there chairs till they shut up. Luckily i am a big guy and it usually works.
  • Seductive Flamingo
    #5 I'm jealous. I'm a small white girl who also HATES when people disrupt a movie. Sometimes I can get people to be quiet but some other times they just won't. Luckily, I don't mind getting up to miss oh about 5 minutes of the movie to go stake out a manager...But sadly the managers don't do anything either. Ugh. With ticket prices being as high as they are I shocked how much it seems like MORE people talk in theaters. The past 5 times I've gone to the movies there were remarkably rude people in every single one. INCLUDING some extremely old ladies when I took my best friend to see Julie and Julia for her birthday. It's not your living room people! Quit ruining the movie for others around you!!!!!
  • http://madpizzaworld.tumblr.com MadPizza
    The Los Angeles screening was a NIGHTMARE. I went to join the line well over an hour before the screening began. The line easily already had 800 people in it, far more than could fit into any single auditorium in the Arclight in Hollywood. After walking three blocks to the end of the line, I actually took a better look at the people waiting to see this. Sometimes fans can ruin a movie. There were way too many people already misbehaving and discussing how "This shit's not gonna scare ME!" hours in advance. They must have been there for hours. I promptly went straight back to my car, went home, and watched Grace on DVD again. Hell, if Paranormal Activity is THAT popular, it will get distribution. It CAN'T be worth waiting in line longer than the running time of the actual film.
  • Gilbert Mesa
    i live in Tucson,Az and luckily the movie was shown here this past weekend, it wasnt free and from reading all the posts, i am glad it wasnt free, anway the movie played on friday and saturday night at midnight i got one of my friends to go see it with me, hes into what the movie was about, because i was not going to see this movie alone. We got there about an hour early, i was worried about not getting good seats but when we got there we were pretty lucky. The movie started and there were about 6 previews on it, i was surprised. So, anyway i dont want to give anything away but I was very skeptical about the movie being as good as the trailer makes it seem. It started pretty good, a lot of funny parts to help introduce the two main characters and make you feel comfortable. As soon as the main theme of the movie gets introduced i do have to admit that I was pretty scared. I think I said "oh my god" about ten or twelve times and i covered my face A LOT. This is probably one of the scariest movies i have seen in a while. I was very surprised and shocked to see what ends up happening. This movie makes things like sleeping in a dark room, or having your bedroom door open to an even darker hallway REALLY scary! I would definitely recommend it to anybody who has an interest, even the smallest bit of curiosity, because you will be pleasantly surprised. I saw it 3 days ago and i am still having a bit of trouble falling asleep. I understand what the studio is trying to do, building buzz and all that, but it does suck for towns that have no idea when the movie will show. There were people that were talking a little bit when the movie started but believe me, when all the scary stuff started happening, you could hear a pin drop, people, including myself, were so into the movie that not even heavy talkers could ruin the experience for me. I rank this movie right up there with the blair witch project, the exorcist and a nightmare on elm street! that scary....
  • http://www.paranormalthemovie.com/ Jennifer Wishum
    Another movie that is coming out that offers a clean alternative is ‘’Paranormal.’’ Below is some additional information about this new thriller!! Paranormal, the latest supernatural thriller from Cross Shadow Productions, (the creators of the Dove.org approved, best-selling BMG releases: Pray and Pray 2: The Woods) will be available in stores nationwide January 26th 2010. See more information and trailers at: http://www.ParanormalTheMovie.com Following the success of family-friendly suspense/thriller The Exorcism of Emily Rose (Sony Pictures), comes a riveting supernatural thriller in the vein of the hit SyFy television series, Ghost Hunters and Frank Peretti's House (Roadside Attractions / Lionsgate). Paranormal follows best-selling, self-made novelist Greg Evans struggling through the worst case of writer's block in his award-winning career. In a desperate search for inspiration, Greg quickly finds himself immersed in a world he is not prepared to face. Turning to a group of paranormal investigators, Greg and the ghost hunting team search for proof and answers, yet are unaware they are about to have an experience of a lifetime! None will leave the way they came. Paranormal will peel back the supernatural curtain to reveal how The TRUTH will EXPOSE the darkness!

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