With “Paranormal Activity 4” ready to haunt your nightmares on Blu-Ray, the evil genius behind the frightening franchise reveals the secret to keeping the jumps and jolts fresh each time out. And now that writer-producer Oren Peli’s scared audiences a fourth time, he admits he’s not done yet..
What was it about the fourth installment that got you creatively energized?
I think several things are different in ‘Paranormal 4’: for one, this is the first time that we're actually moving forward in time. ‘Paranormal 2’ and ‘3’ were actually prequels, and this is the first time that we get to explore events that happened after ‘Paranormal 1’ and ‘2,’ and obviously ‘3.’ So we thought that that would be something that's pretty cool, and also, because it takes place in modern times in 2011, it allowed us to play with technology that was not available when ‘Paranormals 1’ or ‘2’ and definitely not ‘3’ were around.
How often do you slip into the average movie theater and watch one of these with the audience?
Usually by the time that the movie is released, we've already gone through a few test screenings, and on the Tuesday or the Wednesday before the release, we have a big premiere opening. So I get to see the movie with the audience several times. And sometimes, but not always, I sneak into the theater to watch the audience reaction which is always a lot of fun and rewarding to hear them scream and gasp and laugh at the right moment.
Did you have even an inkling of an idea that this could turn into the major franchise it's become?
Absolutely, not! For me, I was just blown away by the success of the first one, which was way more than I could have ever anticipated or imagined or dreamed, and I'm like, 'Oh my God – I can't believe it. Against all odds, I created a movie that, thanks to the fans, has become a hit. This is awesome. I'm done. I'm great. I don't need anything else.’ Then to have the second movie come out and be a hit and then the third and now the fourth one. It just blew everyone's expectations.
And you've already got your eye on a fifth one? And will you be back behind the camera for that one?
It has been announced. We never discuss any details about the future projects, but I think I've said before in general that I don't anticipate I'm going to be directing any of the sequels.
How easy or how difficult of a scare are you when it comes to scary movies?
It really depends, because most of the time when I'm watching movies, I kind of try to analyze them and figure out what happened behind the scenes and why did the director choose this particular shot, and I try to think ahead of the story. But every once in a while, there's a movie that's done really well and sucks me in, and I forget being in the reverse engineering mode and just get sucked into the story. And when that happens, then the movie can be very effective on me.
What, in your opinion, is the scariest film you've ever seen?
Well, for me, it's very easy: ‘The Exorcist.’ No other movie affected and traumatized me as much as ‘The Exorcist’ when I was definitely too young to be watching it, when I was about 10 or 11, and I had nightmares after that. And the movie totally screwed me over.
When you get a chance to have a conversation with a hardcore fan, what kinds of things do they want to know?
Usually the most common thing that I'm hearing is either they just tell me very graciously that they like the movie and they found it really scary. And then sometimes they jokingly curse me out for giving them nightmares. And a lot of times people – sometimes even friends that I've known for a long time – tell me about their own stories. People will say, ‘I've never told it to anyone, but when I was a kid, I think I had some sort of supernatural entity in the house’ and tell me crazy stories that happened to them.
Have you ever had any real-life creepy story happen to you?
There's been some creepy things, but I don't think anything that I would automatically classify as paranormal. I'm sort of a skeptic. I believe that there's a logical explanation to anything.