11 Haunting Facts About Paranormal Activity

Paramount Home Video
Paramount Home Video

When it was released theatrically in the fall of 2009, Paranormal Activity surprised everybody with its primitive thrills and huge box office take. Made on a micro-budget of $15,000 by first-time director Oren Peli, the film grossed nearly $195 million worldwide and spawned five sequels. Here are some spooky facts about the spine-chilling film that started it all.

1. PARANORMAL ACTIVITY IS THE SECOND MOST PROFITABLE FILM OF ALL TIME.

Often compared to The Blair Witch Project because of its low-budget nature and huge grosses, 10 years after The Blair Witch Project’s release, the original Paranormal Activity ousted the earlier horror film to become the second most profitable movie of all time, based on return on investment (ROI). Its 2010 sequel, Paranormal Activity 2, currently holds the 13th spot on that same list.

2. OREN PELI HAD NEVER WORKED ON A MOVIE BEFORE PARANORMAL ACTIVITY.

Oren Peli's background was as a software developer, a skill that provided him with the technical know-how to shoot a low-tech movie. “I’ve always been very comfortable with computers and software, so one thing that’s made my life easier is the fact that I was very quickly able to figure out how to edit the movie, how to do the audio mixing, and the CGI that’s in the movie,” Peli told Moviefone in 2009. He used a home movie camera, filmed in his own house, hired unknown actors who helped with the production, and edited down 70 hours of footage.

3. THE EXORCIST DISTURBED PELI SO MUCH THAT HE COULDN’T WATCH GHOSTBUSTERS.

Oren Peli, producer, arrives for the Screamfest Closing Night screening of 'Paranormal Activity - Ghost Dimension' in Hollywood, California on October 22, 2015
FREDERIC J. BROWN, AFP/Getty Images

“I saw it [The Exorcist] when I was 11,” Peli told The Guardian in 2009. “It totally freaked me out. After that I couldn’t watch any movie that had anything to do with a haunting or a ghost. I was in my mid-teens when Ghostbusters came out and although I knew it was a comedy, I couldn't handle the idea of it. I didn’t see another horror film until I was well into my twenties.” Peli’s fear of the unknown, especially the strange sounds he heard in his own house, partially inspired him to make Paranormal Activity.

4. THE MOVIE KICKED AROUND THE FILM FESTIVAL CIRCUIT FOR A COUPLE OF YEARS.

Paranormal Activity premiered at Los Angeles’s Screamfest in 2007, where Katie Featherston won an award for Best Actress. Producer Jason Blum helped Peli get an agent, and they started submitting the film all over town looking for a distributor. Though they failed to get the movie into Sundance, it did screen at Slamdance, another Park City, Utah film festival, in January 2008. DreamWorks originally wanted to remake the film, but eventually decided it was scarier as is.

5. STEVEN SPIELBERG THOUGHT HIS DVD OF THE FILM WAS HAUNTED.

As the urban legend goes, Spielberg, whose DreamWorks Studios was considering distributing Paranormal Activity, took a DVD of the movie home to watch, but then got freaked out when the door to his bedroom locked by itself. “So the whole story about how the doors to his bedroom got locked from the inside ... personally I believe it,” Peli told Moviefone. “It’s not something the marketing department just came up with before releasing the movie.” Spielberg famously carried the DVD to work in a trash bag because he thought it was haunted. Despite the shock, Spielberg loved the movie and even suggested a new ending, which is the one audiences ended up seeing in the theatrical release.

6. PELI FILMED THREE ENDINGS TO THE MOVIE.

Speaking of the ending: The above video simultaneously shows all three endings, with the original being twice as long as the others. The original entails cops coming into the house the next day and shooting and killing Katie. The alternate ending features Katie gruesomely slitting her throat, and the theatrical ending is what most people saw in the theaters when Katie supposedly kills Micah and becomes possessed by the demon. According to Entertainment Weekly, there was also an ending they never filmed: “A possessed Katie corners Micah and bludgeons him with his precious camera, while viewers watch from the camera’s POV.”

7. PRODUCER JASON BLUM HAS BEEN NOMINATED FOR TWO NON-PARANORMAL OSCARS.

Around the time of Paranormal Activity’s film festival circuit success, Jason Blum was working for Miramax and hooked up with Peli to help him edit the film. Blum earned a co-producing credit on the first film (and its subsequent sequels). Besides producing other horror franchises like Insidious and The Purge, Blum has earned two Best Picture Oscar nominations for his producing work on Damien Chazelle's Whiplash (2014) and Jordan Peele's Get Out (2017). Blum is also the recipient of two Emmy Awards for executive producing work on Ryan Murphy’s The Normal Heart (2014) and Andrew Jarecki's The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst, both for HBO.

8. THE MOVIE KICKSTARTED THE FOUND FOOTAGE GENRE.

Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat in 'Paranormal Activity' (2009)
Paramount Home Video

Though 1999’s The Blair Witch Project was hardly the first found footage film (many say that distinction belongs to 1980’s Cannibal Holocaust), it generated new interest in the format. Still, audiences would have to wait until 2008’s Cloverfield, which was a modest hit, and another year for Paranormal Activity (which was filmed in 2006) to start seeing found footage films emerge as their own subgenre. To this day The Blair Witch Project remains the highest-grossing found footage film of all time, though.

9. OREN PELI’S FOLLOW-UP FILM BOMBED AT THE BOX OFFICE.

A few weeks after Paranormal Activity became a smash hit worldwide in the fall of 2009, Paramount secured the rights to Peli’s next found footage film, Area 51. Budgeted at $5 million, the film got held up for six years until it was released on May 15, 2015, with a week-long limited theatrical run at Alamo Drafthouse theaters and on VOD. The film, which was eventually released in just 16 theaters, only managed to gross $7556—a far cry from Paranormal Activity’s phenomenal ticket sales.

10. ALEC BALDWIN AND STEVE MARTIN PARODIED PARANORMAL ACTIVITY AT THE 2010 OSCARS.

You know something has invaded the pop culture mainstream when it starts being parodied, which is exactly what Oscar co-hosts Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin did during their opening segment at the 2010 Academy Awards. The premise was that they just happened to be sharing the same hotel bed, and Martin set up a camera to record their sleeping habits. Martin thrashes around all night and at one point gets up and slaps Baldwin. No ghosts here; just terrible sleeping companions.

11. PARANORMAL ENTITY TRIED TO CAPITALIZE ON PARANORMAL ACTIVITY’S SUCCESS.

Two months after Paranormal Activity was released, a film called Paranormal Entity used a similar surveillance format to create a story that may or may not be real. Three more movies were made to coincide with the Paranormal sequels: 8213: Gacy House (Paranormal Entity 2), Anneliese: The Exorcist Tapes (Paranormal Entity 3), and 100 Ghost Street: The Return of Richard Speck (Paranormal Entity 4). None of them managed to even come close to the success of the series they were trying to emulate.

An earlier version of this article ran in 2015.

15 Uncensored Facts About Midnight Cowboy

Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman in Midnight Cowboy (1969)
Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman in Midnight Cowboy (1969)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

On May 25, 1969, United Artists released the film Midnight Cowboy, starring Jon Voight (Texas transplant Joe Buck) and Dustin Hoffman (the sleazy Ratso Rizzo) as street hustlers in New York City. It was the first studio film to receive an X-rating (the studio refused to edit anything out), and it became the first X-rated movie to be nominated and win a Best Picture Oscar (A Clockwork Orange and Last Tango in Paris followed suit with X-rated nominations). Hoffman and Voight were also nominated for Oscars, and screenwriter Waldo Salt and director John Schlesinger ended up winning gold statuettes for the movie. After the movie became a success, the MPAA demoted its rating to an R.

Based on the novel by James Leo Herlihy, the controversial film managed to gross $44 million—about $200 million by today’s standards. The movie saved the careers of its actors, producers, and Salt, who had been blacklisted and fallen on hard times. It also produced a hit song, Harry Nilsson’s “Everybody’s Talkin’.” Here are 15 facts about the landmark film.

1. John Schlesinger was reluctant to hire Dustin Hoffman.

Like everybody else, the filmmakers associated Dustin Hoffman with Benjamin Braddock, the clean-cut twentysomething he played in The Graduate. “The truth was, I saw The Graduate as a setback, because I was determined not to be a star,” Hoffman told the Los Angeles Times. Hoffman was doing Off Broadway performances during the casting of Midnight Cowboy, so Schlesinger checked him out in a play. Hoffman frequented an automat with fellow thespians Gene Hackman and Robert Duvall; one night Hoffman showed up there with a scruffy beard, disheveled clothes, and a Bowery accent. Schlesinger said to Hoffman, “Why Dustin, you do fit right in,” and he got the part.

2. Mike Nichols tried to talk Dustin Hoffman out of doing the movie.

Dustin Hoffman appears on the set of the film 'Midnight Cowboy' in 1969 in the USA
Dustin Hoffman stars in Midnight Cowboy (1969).
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Hot off the heels of Mike Nichols’ The Graduate, Hoffman could’ve kept his romantic lead image up, but instead he opted to take a supporting part in Midnight Cowboy. “Mike Nichols, in fact, called me up,” Hoffman told Peter Travers. “And he says, ‘Are you crazy?’ He says, ‘I made you a star. This is an ugly character. It’s a supporting part to Jon Voight.’ He says, ‘What are you doing? Why are you sabotaging?’” But Hoffman stuck to his guns and took the role. “I love the fact I was trying to remain a character actor and that was my desire,” he said.

3. Jon Voight was cast only after the original actor was fired.

Jon Voight auditioned for the role of Joe Buck and really wanted the part, but the producers chose Michael Sarrazin, whose major claim to fame is the 1969 Jane Fonda film They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? “Sometimes I would be offered a role and I would recommend somebody else—I was that kind of person,” Voight told Box Office Mojo. “Yet this one stopped me because the thing I was excited about for this piece wasn’t going to happen. I felt quite sick about it.”

Fortunately for Voight, the producers changed their minds when Sarrazin demanded more money. “It came back to looking at our screen tests back to back,” said Voight. “Apparently, Marion Dougherty, who was the casting director, was in the room and said, ‘Well, there’s no doubt who's the best actor.’ John Schlesinger said, ‘Who?’ And she said, ‘Jon Voight.’ Then, Dustin was called in to look at the tests and apparently he said, ‘When I look at my scene with Michael Sarrazin I look at myself—when I looked at my scene with Jon Voight, I look at Jon.’ That was a huge compliment. I think between these comments, that’s what tipped the balance and then John [Schlesinger] came forward, so I was very fortunate.”

4. Voight worked for scale.

Voight was so desperate to play Joe Buck that he worked for scale: “‘Tell them I'll do this part for nothing,’” Voight told The Telegraph. “They took me at my word, and they gave me minimum for Midnight Cowboy.” At the end of the shoot, they sent him a $14.73 bill for meals on the last day of filming.

5. Hoffman thought the movie would ruin his career.

The actor attended a preview of Midnight Cowboy and noticed “people walked out in droves.”

“Twenty minutes into that movie, Jon Voight has a gay sex scene in the balcony with a kid who was played by Bob Balaban, and people would get up at that point and just walk out of the theater,” Hoffman told Larry King. “We said, ‘We have big problems’ when we heard we got an X-rating and we thought this could end everybody’s career. As a matter of fact, I was talked into doing a movie I wished I hadn’t done, because they had me so frightened that I had buried myself and reversed whatever good The Graduate did.” Hoffman’s agent forced him to star with Mia Farrow in the romantic drama John and Mary to make him “look like a respectable person.”

6. Voight knew the film was destined to become a classic.

Voight and Schlesinger wrapped filming in Texas and Voight noticed how red the director’s face was. Voight thought Schlesinger was having a heart attack and asked him if he was okay. “He looked up at me and said, ‘What have we done? What will they think of us?’ After all, we had made a film about a dishwasher who lives in New York and f*cks a lot of women,” Voight told Esquire. “In the moment he’d finished it, he was shaking. All of a sudden, he saw it as banal and vulgar. He’s having an anxiety attack and I grabbed his shoulders to shake him out of it. I said, ‘John, we will live the rest of our artistic lives in the shadow of this great masterpiece.’ He said, ‘You think so?’ I said, ‘I’m absolutely sure of it.’ The only reason I said such an extravagant thing was because I wanted to get him out of it and nothing would take him out of it but that. But the statement turned out to be true.”

7. Voight and Hoffman were competitive with each other.

What made the chemistry between Hoffman and Voight work so well is they were constantly competing with one another. Hoffman became a movie star before Voight did, and that brought some jealousy to the set. “We were like Marvin Hagler and Sugar Ray Leonard, two fighters going at it,” Hoffman told the Los Angeles Times. “We knew the movie depended on the bond between us. All through shooting, we’d say to each other, out of the side of our mouths, like a fighter in a clinch, ‘Buddy, is that the best you can do?’”

8. Hoffman placed pebbles in his shoe to acquire Ratso’s limp.

“Why pebbles? It’s not like you’re playing a role on Broadway for six months where you’re so used to it, limping becomes second nature,” Hoffman told Vanity Fair. “The stone makes you limp, and you don’t have to think about it.”

9. Schlesinger came out during the movie’s production.

In the late 1960s, one's sexuality wasn't often discussed in the open. But the British director fell in love with Michael Childers, who worked as his assistant on the movie. “We were one of Hollywood’s first out couples,” Childers told Vanity Fair. “He took me everywhere. I felt a little bit uncomfortable at times, but John never did. He said, ‘F*ck ‘em.’”

“John was totally torn up, because part of him wanted to just embrace this, and another part of him was in terror,” the film’s producer, Jerome Hellman, said. “He had these fantasies that if he were openly gay on a film set, that if he tried to give the crew an order, they would turn on him. I said to him, ‘John, look, you’re the director. It’s your movie. I’m the producer, but I’m your partner. There’s nobody who can challenge your authority. If someone speaks out of line to you, they’ll be fired the same minute.’”

10. The famous “I’m Walkin’ Here” line was improvised.

The scene in which Joe and Ratso attempt to walk across the street and almost get hit by a cab was filmed guerilla-style, with a camera in a van across the street. “It was a difficult scene, logistically, because those were real pedestrians and there was real traffic, and Schlesinger wanted to do it in one shot—he didn’t want to cut,” Hoffman explained. “He wanted us to walk, like, a half a block, and the first times we did it the signal turned red. Schlesinger was getting very upset. He came rushing out of the van, saying, ‘Oh, oh, you’ve got to keep walking.’ ‘We can’t, man. There’s f*cking traffic.’ ‘Well, you’ve got to time it.’”

They figured out how to properly time the walk but then almost got run over by a cab. “I guess the brain works so quickly, it said, in a split of a second, ‘Don’t go out of character,’” Hoffman said. “So I said, ‘I’m walking here,’ meaning, ‘We’re shooting a scene here, and this is the first time we ever got it right, and you have f*cked us up.’ Schlesinger started laughing. He clapped his hands and said, ‘We must have that, we must have that,’ and re-did it two or three times, because he loved it.”

11. Hoffman threw up on set while trying to cough.

Talk about Method: Ratso has a deadly cough (consumption), and in a particular scene Hoffman got sick in real life. “Because I was so nervous that I was going to come across fraudulent and not have the right cough, I tried to do the cough as realistically as I could,” Hoffman told Vanity Fair. “Each time, I tried to do it more realistically until, finally, I did it so realistically I threw up all over Jon. My lunch came up. All over his cowboy boots. Jon looked down. He said, ‘Man, why’d you do that?’ He thought I did it on purpose.”

12. Schlesinger didn’t think anybody would make the movie today.

In 1994, the director found himself at a dinner party with a studio executive. “I said, ‘If I brought you a story about this dishwasher from Texas who goes to New York dressed as a cowboy to fulfill his fantasy of living off rich women, doesn’t, is desperate, meets a crippled consumptive who later pisses his pants and dies on a bus, would you—’ and he said, ‘I’d show you the door,’” Vanity Fair reported in 2000.

13. Me And Earl And The Dying Girl pays tribute to Midnight Cowboy.

Alfonso Gomez-Rejon's 2015 Sundance hit Me and Earl and the Dying Girl features two friends who turn The Criterion Collection movies into film school comedies. One of those films is Midnight Cowboy, renamed as 2:48 p.m. Cowboy. In the film, Greg (Thomas Mann) and Earl (RJ Cyler) portray Ratso and Buck, respectively.

Midnight Cowboy became my favorite movie,” Cyler said in a featurette on Greg and Earl’s films. “Now I can’t stop watching it. I’m addicted to it. I’ll be in my trailer. ‘RJ, whatcha doing?’ ‘Watching Midnight Cowboy with some ramen noodles right now.’ It’s just so quirky the way the parody was made, and not just because I got to wear a beautiful cowboy hat.”

14. There’s a speakeasy bar in Austin named after the film.

Midnight Cowboy the bar is located inside a former oriental massage parlor that was busted by the FBI, hence the seedy name. It has a red light—not a sign—outside to mark the place. In order to drink there, you need to make a reservation online, and when you get there, you buzz the box and give the password “Harry Craddock.” They have rules, though: no talking on your cell phone inside the bar, and no “excessive displays of public affection.”

15. A Chicago theater turned it into a stage production.

Chicago’s Lifeline Theatre puts on a lot of literary adaptations, and in 2016 they presented a stage version of Midnight Cowboy, based on the book.

Updated for 2019.

Game of Thrones Studio Tour Opening in Northern Ireland in 2020

Emilia Clarke stars in Game of Thrones
Emilia Clarke stars in Game of Thrones
Helen Sloan, HBO

In a move that only a super-popular series could pull off, it was announced last year that HBO’s Game of Thrones would be getting its own 110,000-square-foot tourist attraction in Northern Ireland (where much of the show has been filmed) featuring scenes, sets, and props from Westeros. And of course, fans were instantly interested.

While the initial plan was to open the attraction this year, that date has been pushed back and an expansion on the original concept has been added.

Linen Mill Studios in Banbridge, Ireland has partnered with Game of Thrones's creators to convert the studios into an exhibition. The sets were used for filming scenes in Winterfell and Castle Black, but the display will include props, costumes, live-action cosplayers, and set pieces representing all of the show’s locations.

While other interactive fan events have already been held, such as the display at SXSW and the Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience, this will be the most extensive and in-depth experience for diehard fans of the series.

When asked about the possibility of bringing a similar attraction to the U.S., Jeff Peters, HBO’s vice president for licensing and retail, told The New York Times that there were no set plans yet, but, “it’s possible. We get pitched all the time, and we’re open to a lot of different opportunities.”

[h/t The A.V. Club]

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