Help Decide Fate of Horror Flick That Scared Spielberg

$15,000 horror flick gives hope to aspiring filmmakers

By Scott Weber
|  Thursday, Oct 8, 2009  |  Updated 1:31 AM EDT
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Help Decide Fate of Horror Flick That Scared Spielberg

It only took $15,000 for an Israeli-born video game designer with no formal film experience to make "Paranormal Activity." But a unique twist separates this film in the dime-a-dozen low budget horror genre: In American Idol fashion, the audience will decide the movie's fate. Will it be a blockbuster success, showing at theaters across the country, or a quickly forgotten also-ran with a limited release and more limited buzz?

Oh, and it even scared Steven Spielberg.

The film follows the story of a young, middle class couple that moves into a typical suburban home but becomes increasingly disturbed by an unusual presence that haunts them in the middle of the night. Especially when they sleep.

Director Oren Peli shot the film in a week using a cast of unknowns and a hand-held camera, using his house as the set. Looking for a way to get noticed, Peli ran the film in 2007's Screamfest film festival.

In 2008, DreamWorks studio was debating whether it wanted to be a part of the no-budget thriller. An assistant convinced her bosses to have Spielberg take a look. He brought a copy home. Not long after Spielberg watched the film, a door to his bedroom "inexplicably locked" from the inside, the LA Times reported. He had to call a locksmith.

Spielberg was so disturbed by the experience -- and by the film -- that he brought it back the next day in a trash bag… with another bag full of enthusiasm.

It took time for the film to get legs. A deal by Paramount to buy DreamWorks collapsed, leaving the movie stuck on a shelf. Executives believed in the project's potential but were wary of its budget.

“When you hear it’s a $10,000 movie, the longer you’ve been doing this, the quicker you shut down,” producer Jason Blum told the New York Times.

In keeping with it's origins, the studio decided to market it guerilla-style. It would go out to a handful of theaters, but if movie goers created enough buzz, executives would green-light a nationwide release.

It opened with limited midnight screenings in 13 college towns. Viewers were encouraged to go to the film's website and "demand it" in their local theater. 200,000 people responded.

The buzz grew and execs see a national release sometime in October.

"It's what you don't see that scares you," DreamWorks exec Adam Goodman told the LA Times. "What's really scary in the movie is a door closing half an inch."

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