Franchises are a very important part of the horror genre. Off the top of your head, I bet you could list at least five major ones. Maybe movies like Halloween, Friday the 13th, Saw, Jaws, Hellraiser spring to mind? Boy, that was easy! A lot of times in horror the first installment of a franchise is awesome; a great villain, badass scares, a tightly wound and innovative story that has you on the edge of your seat. That movie makes a huge splash and tens of millions of dollars, probably on a tiny budget, the studios say, “Bring me another one!” and volia! A franchise is born. But, it’s often the case that the sequel is less than awesome and five movies later the critics hate it and the fans are bored.
Last week The Hollywood Reporter published an article mostly about CineEurope and Paramount’s major tentpole releases due out this summer (Transformers 4, Hercules and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are the big three) but the article also went on to list titles due out in the next two years, revealing that Paranormal Activity 5 has been pushed yet again, this time from 2015 to 2016. There have been a lot of shake ups in the franchise over the last few movies including a less than stellar Paranormal Activity 4, the Latino spin-off Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones and the departure of longtime collaborator Christopher Landon, who wrote and directed The Marked Ones before leaving the franchise to direct Scouts vs. Zombies, also for Paramount.
So with a lot of the future of the Paranormal series up in the air, where should the franchise take the fifth installment? My suggestion: prequel, but not just any prequel, I’m talking going all the way back to Kristi and Katie’s grandmother prequel. I want the Grandma Lois backstory.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Paranormal Activity is my favorite horror franchise. After the original indie flick made for roughly $15,000 went on to gross over $100M domestically, of course a sequel was greenlit. But instead of taking the same formula and applying it to a brand new couple in a brand new house, the producers decided to build the franchise around the mythology of a single family and audiences discovered that Paranormal Activity 2 was a sequel that wasn’t actually a sequel. Parts of the second film overlap with the events of the first and family history that was alluded to in the first two films was explored more deeply in Paranormal Activity 3, a prequel that showed Kristi and Katie’s relationship to their mom and finally introduced audiences to their grandmother, the woman who appears to be a major driving force in the entire Paranormal Activity legacy, Lois.
As far as I’m concerned, the first three Paranormal Activity movies make a very successful horror trilogy. Directors Henry Joost & Ariel Schulman got really creative in PA 3, not only with the found footage aspect but with the technology of the time period, as well. The scares were fresh, the characters were great and the film really pushed the important parts of the backstory through, giving fans insight into the universe that Kristi and Katie belong to. When we got Paranormal Activity 4, however, the team behind the series made their first big misstep because, at the end of the day, nothing new happened. The overall story wasn’t furthered in any way and as far as we could tell, the big reveal at the end of the fourth movie essentially meant nothing to the overall mythos. Producers put plans for PA 5 on the back burner and instead shifted the focus for the next installment to The Marked Ones, a spin-off that still incorporated a few of the characters that we have followed through all of the films, but mostly focused on a new story that culminates in a finale that clearly indicates that the franchise setting its sights on a much bigger story.
While I enjoyed The Marked Ones and felt like it was a step in the right direction after PA4 stalled the series, I will say that it was decidedly less scary than the first three, feeling more like a dark adventure or origin story a la Chronicle than the tight, slow-burn horror films fans had come to expect from PA 1-3. As a fan, I’m going to need Paranormal Activity 5 to go back to the family saga and begin to tie up those loose ends.
If I were Paranormal Activity 5, I would do a couple of things. First of all, just forget PA 4 ever happened. Continue to unfold the story I’m already invested in and don’t waste time trying to make up for that distraction. I’m a fan, I forgive you. Next, maybe it’s time we abandon the found footage angle in order to go back far enough to see Grandma Lois when she was a young woman getting busy with the coven of witches. There’s a hint in Paranormal Activity 2 that Grandma Lois’ mom was probably the one who made the original pact with the demon that “cursed” the family in the first place. However Lois, unlike Kristi and Katie or their mother Julie, seems to have gone full Grand Supreme as opposed to being a victim or vessel of “Toby” the demon. This means Lois made the choice at some point to go along with all of this instead of fighting against it, which would be a side of the story that we have yet to see. Once we resolve more of the backstory before Katie and Kristi come into the picture, we can begin to reestablish the “rules” of the universe and start to answer all of the burning questions that still remain in the franchise — like what happened to Kristi and Katie after the events of PA 3? What’s the story on their house burning down? How does Grandma Lois finally die (which explains the box of video tapes and mementos being delivered to the house as adults)?
In the end, Paranormal Activity needs to go back to the story at hand and continue to peel back the layers. What we do not need is a reboot. Do you hear me, Paramount? Do not restart the entire franchise just because the last one didn’t do so hot. I will never forgive you if you just stop everything and start all over, so don’t even think about it. Now that you have more time on your hands to really think about how to get the franchise back on track, why not let Christopher Landon finish Scouts Vs. Zombies and invite him back to help you out? When I spoke with Landon back in January during the release of PA: TMO I asked him specifically about the Grandma Lois topic and this is what he said:
“So, there’s a full — which I don’t know if we’re ever going to do anything with it — but I wrote a full treatment on that exact topic [Grandma Lois’ backstory]. And it was actually a really, really, really cool one… It was a really fun one so I hope that we do go back and revisit that storyline but I don’t know.”
Landon has proven himself to be a huge asset to these movies. Maybe the folks behind the scenes need to do their best to lure him back.
Are there any other fans of the Paranormal Activity franchise out there? What do you think producers should focus on in the next chapter? Sound off in the comments!