We've reached a point now where it's pretty hard to avoid the buzzing around director Oren Peli's found footage horror/thriller "Paranormal Activity," especially if any part of your life comes into contact with the Internet. This is thanks in part to an aggressive grassroots awareness-raising campaign and in part to the overall quality of the movie.
Peli's ingenious take on the haunted house tale sees a couple buying a video camera and setting it up in their home, hoping to capture evidence of the spirit they believe is harassing them. Even with nary a CGI monster or drop of blood to be seen, "Paranormal" builds and maintains a real feeling of suspense throughout. Part of the reason it feels so authentic is because Peli actually lived it.
"The original idea [for the movie] came from me moving to my house and hearing a lot of strange noises at night," Peli said. "I was thinking that setting up video cameras in the house might be one way to keep an eye on what's going on at night. I didn't actually go ahead and do it, but I started thinking, what if somebody did have video cameras at home and they did catch something... that could be a pretty scary premise for a movie."
As growing audiences around the country are learning, it is a scary premise. What many people don't realize however is that the movie's final moments are not the same as what Peli originally committed to film. It's at this point that I'm going to interject with a big, fat SPOILER WARNING. If you haven't seen "Paranormal Activity," then you proceed at your peril.
"The original ending that I shot was different, and it was well-received by some but not all," Peli explained. "So when the studio got involved, one of the things that we wanted to try and improve was the ending. We tried a couple of different endings, including the one you see now, and
that's the one that by far worked out the best. So we were very happy to stick with it."
In the current cut, the final moments see Micah bodily thrown into the bedroom, directly at the camera. As he lies slumped on the floor, unmoving, Katie enters the room and crawls over to him very unnaturally on all fours, as if possessed. She sniffs at the body and then leans into the camera, an evil smile across her face. Audiences at initial "Paranormal Activity" screenings in 2007 and 2008 saw something much different however.
"The original ending involved cops arriving to the scene of the crime at the very end," Peli said. The crime in question occurs off-screen, with Katie apparently stabbing Micah downstairs. She then returns to the bedroom, huddling on the floor against the bed until the police arrive and the credits roll. Summing up his impressions on the original ending, Peli said, "it wasn't very exciting or thrilling compared to the current ending."
UPDATE: MTV reader argybargy offers a more detailed description of the original ending...
ORIGINAL ENDING SPOILER Actually the article doesn't describe the entire original ending, at least as seen at Slamdance. Yes, Katie returns from killing Micah to sit zombie-like by the bed. Hours and hours later we hear the police arrive, discovering whatever bloody mess downstairs. They come upstairs with guns drawn--at which moment Katie suddenly snaps out of her possessed stupor, whimpering and crying for help, getting up and walking toward the armed policeman....not realizing that she's still covered with blood and carrying a very big knife. The cop tells her to halt but she's too hysterical to understand. So he shoots her--a panicked defensive response further triggered by the demon's slamming the bedroom door shut behind her at just the right alarming moment. So, maybe not as scary an ending as the new one, but more bleakly ironic, in that the demon got the cops to kill her.