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Paranormal movie succeeds with abnormal online marketing

The movie "Paranormal Activity" cost almost nothing to make, but is a big hit. That success it being credited to online buzz and social networking rather than conventional marketing.

I once asked a happy couple I knew why they loved horror movies. "It's exciting to be scared," the wife explained. So I suggested three large henchmen would be arriving shortly with all sorts of farming implements in order to slice them both into small, but even pieces. They didn't seem to find that exciting at all.

Still, people seem so able to divorce their fantasies from their realities that one should not be agog that "Paranormal Activity," a movie whose sole purpose seems to be to part your nervous system from the solar system, is a success.

However, one might offer a little agogness to the socially networked marketing methods that helped it along its way.

You see, the makers of this movie, which CNN reports cost around $11,000 to produce, didn't bother making something you might describe as a conventional trailer. Instead, they made a little clip largely about how defibrillators were inadequate during test screenings in college towns.

The initial victims seem to have enjoyed leaping out of their vintage Levi's so much that they began to Twitter about the experience. And that gave the movie studio some online marketing ideas.

Originally, the movie fell into the lap of Dreamworks (part of Paramount Pictures) after its success at the 2008 Slamdance Festival (which is, I believe, an event where a lot of people get drunk and frighten each other with fire extinguishers).

After seeing the startling amount of word-of-mouth buzz the movie was getting, it seems that Paramount's first inclination was to pat writer/director Oren Peli on his head and bottom and reshoot it with, you know, famous and expensive people. However, Steven Spielberg suggested this might not be necessary since the movie was already resonating with early viewers. Hence, after a little editing and the addition of a new and, guess what, scarier ending, they organized some midnight college town screenings.

Once the college town tweeters began to champion its cause, Paramount launched, a cheery little site that encouraged thrill-seekers to threaten their local movie theater owners with phantasms, limb severance, and immolation if they did not agree to screen "Paranormal Activity".

OK, I might be slightly exaggerating about the limb severance and immolation. But, with the same kind of dexterity employed by British Prime Minster Tony Blair when, upon the death of Princess Diana, he described her as "the People's Princess," this lovely little film became the People's Movie. claims that it received more than 1 million demands from moviegoers, which is why "Paranormal Activity" is, according to the site, "the first-ever movie release demanded by you." (This is obvious nonsense as I and several of my friends and former amorous consorts demanded another idiotic Nicolas Cage "searching for treasure" movie and it appeared almost before we had finished speaking.)

Still, CNN reported that the online buzz created such a haunting atmosphere that "Paranormal Activity" frightened $7.1 million out of the public's pockets last weekend, while only gracing some 200 theaters.

So a movie that enjoys innovations such as inviting you to tweet your scream appears set to swamp your screens with its happy happenings. The Paranormal folks are equal opportunity social networkers, of course. You can also express your screams on Facebook at

Paramount's Josh Greenstein offered CNN some fun marketing speak to describe the online groundswell that was, well, very cheap: "When people saw the movie, they loved it so much and there is such a slow build of terror that you have to sit through to experience the full effect of the movie, so we changed the marketing techniques in advertising and online to make it more experiential."

Should you choose to partake of this slow build of terror, please be warned of the effect it might have on you. As Facebook screamer Phil Osher declared: "had to crawl into bed with my friend."

If the potential of this behavior doesn't put you off, please let me know how it was. As I would rather remove my body hair with a chisel than watch this no doubt highly enjoyable movie.