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Paranormal Activity: The Ultimate Chills Collection

Paramount // R // October 11, 2022
List Price: $67.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Ian Jane | posted October 14, 2022 | E-mail the Author

The Movie:


Just in time for Halloween, Paramount Studios bundles together all seven of the Paranormal Activity movies, including Paranormal Activity: Next Of Kin, which is exclusive to this collection, and a fairly sprawling documentary on the series titled Unknown Dimension: The Story Of Paranormal Activity. Each film, with the exception of Next Of Kin, is offered up in its original theatrical version as well as its extended cut, which is a nice touch, although those expecting loads of extra features may be ultimately disappointed. But before we get into that, let's go over the movies themselves.


Paranormal Activity:


The first movie in the series, from 2007, was written and directed by Oren Peli and made for fifteen grand using his own home as the movie's solitary location. Paranormal Activity has much in common with a previous indie success story, The Blair Witch Project. While it's seemingly okay to bash that film now, it scared the crap out of a lot of people who saw it in theaters and on video, and it too was made by a cast of unknowns for a very small amount of money. But where The Blair Witch Project took us outside and played off of its eerie wooded locations, Peli's film plays out almost entirely indoors in an entirely pedestrian looking suburban home. What makes it interesting is how it takes this traditionally safe environment and relinquishes control of it to an unseen and seemingly unstoppable supernatural force. Think of it as Poltergeist meets The Blair Witch Project and you'll be on the right track, or, depending on how familiar you are with low budget indy films, it's probably appropriate to compare this one to The Collingswood Story.


The movie follows a young cohabitating couple named Micah (Micah Sloat) and Katie (Katie Featherstone) who are 'engaged to be engaged' once Katie finishes school. Micah, a fairly arrogant guy, makes a good living as a day trader and has created a pretty comfortable life for the two of them. When the movie begins, he's bought a video camera that he intends to set up in their bedroom in hopes of figuring out just what's been going on in the house at night for the last few weeks. Both Micah and Katie have heard strange noises and felt a presence, which Katie says has been a problem for her since the age of eight. Moving hasn't helped things, whatever this spirit or force is has followed her throughout her life and is manifesting once again.


After consulting with a psychic (Mark Fredrichs) who refers them to an exorcist, Micah rather protectively decides that he'd rather deal with this problem himself and despite promising Katie otherwise, he brings a Ouija Board into the house. The activity in the house intensifies from this point as Micah and Katie try to figure out what, if anything, they can do to stop what they believe to be a demon from haunting Katie.


Much has been made about the film's ending and yes, it does feel out of place and a bit tacked on but the buildup and everything that comes before the finale is really, really well done. This is a film that lets your imagination do much of the work. Rather than bombard you with flashy visuals or effects work the film instead taps into our inherent fear of the dark and superstitious nature. This is a smart film, one that makes the most of its low budget and which sucks you in by building very effective and eerie tension. Made with a cast of unknowns by an unknown, by taking the 'home movie/found footage' approach Peli is able to make his low budget work for him rather than against him. It's easy to accept that it looks and sounds like it does simply because if you or I stuck a camera in our room on a tripod and hit record, it'd probably look very much the same as it does here.


Believable performances from the two leads, who do a great job of showing the strains that these experiences are putting on their relationship, hold the movie together. The storyline is really very simple, there are no real heavy duty plot twists, though an attempted subplot which appears to want to explain why Katie's being haunted in the first place doesn't really go anywhere when it could have. But then there's that ending, that nasty little minute of the movie where what boarders on greatness runs face first into a wall and knocks itself out. It doesn't ruin the delicious anticipation and sense of dread that builds so perfectly throughout the movie, but it does come close.


Paranormal Activity 2:


The second film, directed by Tod Williams and released in 2010, begins in August 2006, where we learned that a supposed burglary has taken place at the home owned by Kristi (Sprague Grayden) and Daniel Rey (Brian Boland). The entire house was left in shambles, save for the bedroom of their baby son Hunter's room, which was, oddly enough, completely left alone. The only thing that was stolen from the house was a necklace given to Kristi by her sister Katie.


The couples' housekeeper, a Latina woman named Martine (Vivis Cortez) who also serves as Hunter's nanny, tells them that she believes there are evil spirits occupying the home and performs cleansing rituals to ward them off but when Daniel catches her doing this, he fires her. Kristi, however, believes that Martine may have been onto something and feels that the house is haunted. On top of that, Abby, the family dog, starts acting strangely and seems to be reacting to things that aren't physically there. Daniel ignores the footage captured in the house of inexplicable activity, but Ali (Molly Ephraim), Daniel's daughter from his previous marriage, takes it upon herself to start trying to figure out what's happening in the home. When she learns of a certain pact that can be made with a demon for wealth in exchange for a first born son and what will happen if the deal isn't seen through, it becomes pretty clear that the family is dealing with something supernatural. This is amplified when whatever it is that is haunting the family starts to get violent and Kristi's behavior seems to be caused by demonic possession, causing Daniel to bring Martine back to help.


A decent enough sequel that does a pretty good job of tying into and expanding the story from the original movie, while still staying very true to the formula that the first movie laid own. The performances are pretty solid and the movie does a good job of pulling you in, ensuring that you pay attention to what's happening in the backgrounds of every scene, even when nothing is really happening. Tod Williams does a pretty solid job of building some good tension and suspense in the picture, and while it certainly won't win over anyone who didn't care for the original movie, it's almost a sure thing that it will appeal to those who did.


Paranormal Activity 3:


A prequel rather than a sequel, this third film, the highest grossing in the seven film run, was directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman and released by Paramount in 2011. The movie opens in March of 2005 when Katie (Katie Featherston) drops off a few boxes of stuff to the new home recently acquired by her pregnant sister Kristi Rey (Sprague Grayden) and her husband Daniel (Brian Boland). They dig through the boxes and find some old VHS tapes and toss them into the VCR and find out that they contain footage of Katie (Chloe Csengery) and Kristi (Jessica Tyler Brown) when they were kids, back with their mother, Julie (Lauren Bittner), and her boyfriend Dennis (Chris Smith). From here, we spend the rest of the movie in 1988 by way of the VHS footage (all of which is presented 1.78.1 instead of 1.33.1 as it should be, but whatever).


As the footage plays out, Dennis comes to be a bit concerned that Kristi is pretty caught up with Tobi, the imaginary friend that no one else in the house can see. Since this has happened, strange things start going on in the house. Dennis, a videographer by trade, busts out his camera one day and when an earthquake hits and some dust falls down, he notices, when reviewing the footage the next day, that a shape has formed. He shows this to his assistant and friend, Randy Rosen (Dustin Ingram), who convinces him that he should set up cameras around the house and see what else he can get footage of. Julie is annoyed by this, but puts up with it even if she isn't really all that interested in seeing some of the mildly weird stuff that Dennis gets on tape.


When they hire a babysitter named Lisa (Johanna Braddy) to watch the girls so they can have a night out, the activity in the house starts to become increasingly aggressive and as soon as the couple arrives home, Lisa makes a beeline for the exit. The next night, Kristi tells Tobi that they can't be friends anymore, and then things really hit the fan. Shortly after, Dennis finds an arcane symbol scratched into the walls of the closet in the girls' room, and then things really hit the fan.


The storyline here, as far-fetched as it might be, does a pretty good job of tying into the stories laid down in the first two movies and, as a prequel, it is pretty interesting. The aspect ratio gaff will irritate those of us old enough to know what material actually shot on a camcorder back in the eighties looked like, but aside from that, it's fairly well-made. The acting, again, is pretty solid and fairly believable and, again, the movie does a good job of sucking you in and making you pay very close attention to everything that's happening in any given frame.


Yes, there are a few cheap jump scares thrown in and, just as it was with the first two movies in the series, the film is better when it isn't throwing things in your face but instead keeping things eerily subtle, but overall it works better than you'd probably expect it to.


Paranormal Activity 4:


The fourth film in the run, again directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, and released by Paramount a year later in 2012, takes us back to adult Katie's story. At this point, after the events of October 9, 2006, Katie (Katie Featherston) has killed her sister and brother in law and gone on the run after abducting their son, Hunter. Cut to 2010 where a teenager named Alex Nelson (Kathryn Newton) lives a seemingly normal life in Henderson, Nevada with her parents Doug (Stephen Dunham) and Holly (Alexondra Lee) along with her younger brother Wyatt (Aiden Lovekamp)


When strange things start happening in the Nelson household, Alex and her friend Ben (Matt Shively) start setting up cameras and recording evidence of strange things happening and plenty of inanimate objects moving of their own free will. When the woman next door winds up in the hospital, her son, Robbie (Brady Allen), stays with the Nelsons where Wyatt learns that he has an imaginary friend named 'Toby.' Robbie's behavior soon becomes unusual, culminating in a moment where Alex finds him hiding in a closet talking about how Toby doesn't like them watching him. When they find a demonic symbol on Wyatt's backpack and, after researching it, start to wonder if it has something to do with Demonic possession, they eventually learn the truth about who Robbie's real mother is and who Wyatt really is, leaving Alex to try and save everyone, without much help from her disbelieving parents.


The formula starts to get pretty old by this point and the law of diminishing returns definitely applies to this fourth film. Again, the acting is fine and paying attention to things happening in the background can reward attentive viewers with some interesting scares, but the premise has been stretched way too thin at this point and the way that the story expands on what Katie has been up to since the first two movies never feels interesting and it really isn't all that tough to figure out when and where most of the twists are going to occur in the film. As such, the shock value has no lasting impact and that, combined with a story that never catches fire, definitely makes this the weakest of the four films in the series up to this point.


Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones


Christopher Landon wrote and directed this fifth entry in the series, released in January of 2014. The movie takes place in 2012 in Oxnard, California where Jesse Arista (Andrew Jacobs) has just graduated from high school. He lives with his father, Cesar (David Saucedo), his sister Evette (Noemi Gonzalez) and their grandmother Irma (Renée Victor). A woman named Ana Sanchez (Gloria Sandoval) leaves in an apartment below them, and the Arista family, and pretty much everyone else in the neighborhood, believe her to be a witch.


When Ana is found dead, the victim of a murder, Jesse and his friend Hector Estrella (Jorge Diaz) see a guy they know from school, Oscar Lopez (Carlos Pratts) fleeing from her apartment. With Oscar gone, Jesse and Hector snoop around Ana's apartment and find a stack of old VHS tapes and a lot of occult paraphernalia. When they find her spell book and conduct a ritual according to her notes, the unwittingly open a gateway into their own apartment and, of course, strange things start to happen. Jesse wakes up one morning with bite marks on him and finds that he's much stronger than he was before and that he can levitate, which he couldn't do before. Oscar also finds bite marks on him, and he warns Jesse that something inside them will soon take them over. A short time later, Oscar kills himself and Jesse and the others find Ana's hidden ritual chamber, after which, Jesse's story starts to connect with Katie and Kristi from the earlier films and everyone starts to realize that Jesse has, in fact, been marked by a coven.


Better than the fourth film, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, does at least try to do something a bit different with the ideas laid down in earlier installments. The change in settings goes some way towards making things feel a little different and introducing a whole host of new characters helps as well, but some of the humor in the movie feels a bit out of place at times, and too often the movie relies on the tried and true formula of quick and easy jump scares and the horror never really resonates here.


The acting, once again, is pretty solid and the movie is paced well. There are, of course, some neat moments where attentive viewers will spot some eerie happenings in the backgrounds of certain scenes. Overall, it doesn't match the quality of the first three movies but judged on its own merits it does prove to be a pretty entertaining entry in the franchise.


Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension


Made a year later, Gregory Plotkin's 2015 film, Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension, opens where the third movie ends, in the year 1988. Here, young Katie and Kristi watching as their stepfather, Dennis, is incapacitated by an unseen evil entity. As their grandmother, Lois, walks the girls upstairs, the entity takes the camcorder and follows them where we see a man talk to them about their relationship to 'Tobi' and his plan for them.


From here, we move a few years ahead to 2012 where Ryan Fleege (Chris J. Murray) is going to celebrate Christmas with his wife Emily (Brit Shaw) and their young daughter Leila (Ivy George) when Ryan's brother, Mike (Dan Gill), shows up out of the blue. He's just split up with his girlfriend and needs a place to stay, kid Skylar (Olivia Taylor Dudley) along for the ride, who quickly notices Emily talking to an invisible friend she calls 'Tobi.'


When Mike finds a box of old VHS tapes from the late eighties and early nineties and an old camcorder, we see Katie and Kristi practicing rituals and exploring their occult abilities with the mysterious man. The tapes seem to have a strange effect on the family, and soon Leila's relationship with 'Tobi' intensifies as Ryan starts playing around with the old camcorder in the house. In true Paranormal Activity fashion, strange things start to happen around the house, so Ryan sets up the camera to see what he can record - and he captures some pretty sinister moments, leading Ryan to uncover the history of the house he's moved his family into and of the people that lived there before them, and how his daughter and her relationship with 'Tobi' play into all of this.


Subtlety is thrown out the window in this one, the 3-D entry. Lots of stuff flies towards the camera for no real discernable reason other than to milk the 3-D gimmick for all its worth, and the plot, like the story for the fourth film, is pretty weak. Introducing new characters and tying them into the story of Katie and Kristi is all well and good but the script feels hacked out, with plenty of logic gaps in it and lots of very questionable choices on the part of the characters that inhabit the house.


The movie is paced well and the acting is decent enough. Again, the found footage format makes use of some fun "did you see that?!?" moments that will ensure most people pay attention, but this story doesn't really bring anything new to the series and you're left wondering how long and how far the legacy of Katie and Kristi's story can stretch.


This was at one point supposed to be the final film in the series, but….


Paranormal Activity: Next Of Kin


...2021 brought us director William Eubank's Paranormal Activity: Next Of Kin, produced by none other than Jason Blum and the series' creator, Oren Peli. The film was supposed to have hit theaters but the Covid-19 pandemic saw it instead debuting on Paramount's streaming platform, Paramount +.


The story introduces us to a woman named Margot (Emily Bader) and her cameraman Chris (Roland Buck III), two friends that are collaborating on a documentary about Margot's own unusual past. See, Margot's mother, Sarah, left her infant daughter on the steps of a hospital shortly after she was born and Margot wants to explore what would make someone do that. She does some genealogical research and finds a relative named Samuel Beiler (Henry Ayres-Brown), an Amish man. They meet up and then travel to Buffalo, New York to meet up with their soundman, Dale (Dan Lippert). With the team in place, Samuel brings them to his family farm, where his mother, and Margot's, once lived.


At the farm, they meet Jacob Beiler (Tom Nowicki), the patriarch of the Beiler family who seems genuinely happy to have them stay at their house. Later that night, Margot wakes up and sees odd red lights outside, but Samuel dismisses it, telling her that people tend to go hunting nearby. The next day, Margot meets a girl in the barn who is playing with a doll she's named Sarah which causes Margot to mention that the doll has the same name as her mother. The girl tells Margot that "Sarah is still here."


Later that night, Margot hears strange things coming from the room in the attic that her mother once lived in. As the story evolves, they learn more about Sarah's life and why she left the family, but there's also a dark side to all of this, that involves ritual sacrifice, a church that is not what it seems, and, of course, a cult and some evil spirits.


The last (at the time of this writing an eight movie titled Paranormal Activity: The Other Side has been announced but has not been released) movie in the franchise, Paranormal Activity: Next Of Kin relies less on found footage styles tricks and, while not getting rid of that aspect entirely, offers the series considerably more visual polish and some scenes featuring genuinely nice cinematography. It also moves away from the story of Katie and Kristi and, thankfully, tries to tread some new ground. Unfortunately, the story is fairly predictable and, as such, the movie has trouble building tension and delivering scares.


The acting is, more or less, pretty solid here and the movie uses some effective locations. The Amish angle adds something new to the concept and there are a few eerie moments (one involving an older woman and a potato peeler!) and, hey, bonus points for including a two-headed goat in the movie. Things do go a little too far over the top in a few spots, however. In the end, the movie isn't a waste of time, but it never quite hits the potential it could have. There are good ideas at work here, the acting is decent and the production values are pretty solid. It's just a shame that the filmmakers didn't have a more interesting and surprising script to work from.


The Video:


The Paranormal Activity films all arrive on their own separate 50GB Blu-ray discs in AVC encoded 1080p framed at 1.78.1 widescreen. How do they look? For the most part, about as good as they should when you keep in mind how the movies were shot and how they are intended to look. Paramount's transfers replicate the source material just fine, meaning that the HD transfers generally look like amateur home movie… because that's how they are supposed to look. Keeping that in mind, the transfers are generally strong and more stable in terms of compression and authoring than standard definition would allow for, but don't go into this set expecting to be wowed by the clarity because the limitations of the source materials do prevent that. In the context of the movies though, it all works very well. One few thing to note outside of that Next Of Kin looks to have been shot on different, better cameras as it looks considerably more polished and has much better detail and color reproduction than the earlier movies.


The Audio:



Aside from the lossless tracks, the disc for the first movie also includes a Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix and optional subtitles in English, French and Spanish. Parts two through six all feature English, French, Spanish and Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mixes and English, French, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles. Next Of Kin offers up English, German French, Spanish, Italian and Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround sound mixes and subtitles in English, Danish, German, Spanish, French, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Dutch, Norwegian, Finnish, and Swedish.


The Extras:


Extras are spread out across the eight discs in this collection, each of which features menus and chapter selection options, as follows:


Paranormal Activity:


Considering how well this movie did in theaters last year, it's disappointing that the extras are so slim on this release. Included here you'll find an alternate ending (one which is considerably better than the theatrical finish) which you can watch on its own or integrated into the feature, and a trailer for Shutter Island. That's it. There are menus and chapter selection but there aren't any featurettes, interviews or commentary tracks anywhere to be seen.


Paranormal Activity 2:


Aside from the two versions of the movie, the disc also includes four minutes of deleted scenes and a teaser trailer.


Paranormal Activity 3:


We get the theatrical and extended cuts of the movie as well as a two minute Scare Montage (which is basically just clips of Dennis scaring Julie) and a quick faux commercial for Dennis' business.


Paranormal Activity 4:


Again we get theatrical and extended versions of the movie but this time around we also get a section called The Recovered Files, which is basically just shy of twenty-nine minutes' worth of marginally interesting deleted scenes that didn't wind up in the final cut of the movie.


Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones


The theatrical version and extended, unrated version of the movie are included here. In the Found Footage section we get approximately eleven minutes of deleted scenes.


Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension


The Blu-ray 3-D disc includes the theatrical and unrated versions of the movie, both of which are also included on the standard Blu-ray disc along with the option to watch the theatrical version with an alternate ending and a selection of Lost Footage which contains twenty minutes of deleted scenes.


Paranormal Activity: Next Of Kin


The seventh disc in the set includes just over twenty minutes of deleted scenes and an alternate ending for the feature.


Unknown Dimension: The Story Of Paranormal Activity


The eighth disc in the set features a ninety-four minute documentary that explores the history of the franchise. Written and directed by Joe Bandelli in 2021, the documentary spends most of its time going over the making and impact of the first two movies before then going on to cover the sequels in less detail. We get some interesting interviews with plenty of cast and crew members like Oren Peli, Jason Blum, Micah Sloat, Katie Featherston, Brian Boland, Rachel Belofsky, Lauren Bittner, Jorge Diaz and plenty more as well as some interesting behind the scenes footage and unused footage from a few of the movies. This isn't a crazy in-depth examination like Crystal Lake Memories or anything like that, but it is a pretty substantive look at where some of the ideas came from, how the first movie was put together, what went right and what went wrong with some of the sequels that were made and more. On top of that, it's nice to actually get some cast and crew interviews, considering there were none provided on any of the individual movies' extra features, as we get a feel for what these people went through, what they brought to their respective roles and how they feel about the movies in hindsight.


It is worth pointing out, however, that the Japanese sequel, Paranormal Activity: Tokyo Nights, has not been included in this collection.


The boxed set also comes packaged with inserts containing digital downloads for each of the movies in the set as well as a ‘monitored by Paranormal Activity' sticker.


Overall:

rn

Paramount's Blu-ray release of Paranormal Activity: The Ultimate Chills Collection really would have used more extra feature than it gets but it does gather all of the North American movies from the series into one handsome boxed set and throw in a legitimately decent documentary for good measure. Overall, for those who don't already have single disc editions of the earlier movies, this is a nice way to get the collection in one fell swoop. Recommended!

rn

Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.

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