'Paranormal Activity' Uses Social Media for Box-Office Bonanza

Monday, 24 Oct 2011 04:25 PM

By James Hirsen

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“Paranormal Activity 3” is the third supernatural flick in the amazingly successful film franchise.

The movie's debut this past weekend shattered four box-office records: best domestic opening day for a horror film ($26.2 million); top midnight opening for a horror film ($8 million); highest opening for any October film; and record opening for a fall season film ($54 million).

“Paranormal Activity 3” is a prequel to the first in the series and is set 18 years prior to the events of the first two films.

The latest installment of the “found footage” horror franchise actually employed a distinctive social media approach to marketing and promotion, with its "Tweet Your Scream" campaign on Twitter before it was released.

The “Paranormal” demon possession films utilize the same grainy home video appearance and wobbly handheld camera approach that movies such as “The Blair Witch Project” have incorporated. Audiences are given the suggestion via the amateur video technique that what they are viewing may truly have occurred, a sort of horror reality show.

The home video theme is actually written into the film's plot line in that one of the main characters is a wedding video photographer who uses the best VHS equipment of the time.

In an age of computer-generated special effects, “Paranormal Activity 3” scares viewers the old-fashioned way, which is reminiscent of famed filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock.

Viewers are taken on a jittery journey in which tensions build over time and emotions escalate from subtle apprehension to peak suspense.

Hitchcock knew that sometimes that which we are unable to see with our eyes can be more terrifying than that which is explicitly presented.

Why would audiences then flock to the theater just to be scared out of their wits?

Joel Cohen, a professor of marketing and anthropology at the University of Florida, chalks it up to a quest for excitement in an otherwise mundane world. He tells LiveScience, "In the real world, people simultaneously can experience both happiness and sadness, exhilaration and anxiety."

Cohen says that people crave excitement, even if it's negative, or "otherwise, things could be pretty dull."

Marvin Zuckerman, psychology professor at the University of Delaware, in a somewhat similar vein views the attraction to horror films as being comparable to an adrenalin addict who is seeking the greater thrill.

“High sensation-seekers enjoy morbid curiosity in general and horror movies in particular,” Zuckerman tells the CBS News website.

Author Stephen King once remarked that horror movies often serve as a “barometer of those things which trouble the night thoughts of a whole society.”

As an example, fear of communism in the past gave rise to alien infestation films such as “Invasion of the Body Snatchers." And anxiety over the potential demise of the world gave rise to apocalyptic movie fare such as “Night of the Living Dead.”

It could be that the routine demonization of individuals in our current media milieu has grown to such a proportion that it is fueling the fabrication of the dark “Paranormal” spirits of which audiences just can't seem to get enough.

James Hirsen, J.D., M.A. in media psychology, is a New York Times best-selling author, media analyst, and law professor. He is admitted to practice in the U.S. Supreme Court and has made several appearances there on landmark decisions. Hirsen is the co-founder and chief legal counsel for InternationalEsq.com. Visit Newsmax.TV Hollywood.







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