Paranormal Activity is supposed to be the Scariest Movie Ever.
It was also famously made for just $10,000.
I’m planning to see it on DVD right after supper. Then we’ll discuss it here with SPOILERS.
Did I mention there would be spoilers?
Much like the Cloverfield discussion, I intend this to be a What Do You Do In These Circumstances type of discussion.
Sorry, no SPOILERS yet. I said that I was going to see it after dinner.
Welcome to the Paranormal Activity round-table discussion. Joining us tonight are Sam and Dean Winchester, both experienced demon hunters…
Sam Winchester: Hey
Dean Winchester: Yo!
From the FBI, representing the more traditional law-enforcement point of view, we have Special Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully.
Dana Scully: I’m sure there’s a rational explanation.
Fox Mulder: We have to keep an open mind about this.
And, for the Church, Peter Crossman, Knight Templar, and Sister Mary Magdalene of the Special Action Executive of the Poor Clares.
Peter Crossman: Just one demon? Just one Templar.
Sister Mary Magdalene: Credo in unum Deum, pal.
And I’m your host, Jim Macdonald, for Making Light. I’d like to welcome our guests tonight. I’ll be live-blogging the discussion. Folks who want to ask questions of the panel are invited to do so in the comment thread.
JDM: I’ve been hearing about this film for months. Supposedly, while watching it (as the song about the Battle of Prestonpans goes),
Some wet their cheeks, some filled their breeks, and some for fear did fa’, man
Sam: You’re kidding, right? Our pilot episode was scarier. And I’m just talking about the part before the credits.
Dean: If a total douche like Micah could have a girlfriend that hot …
Scully: What interests me far more is the provenance of this film. What was the chain of custody? I see a credit to the San Diego Police Department. Was this officially released? Where are the missing parts?
Crossman: The fellow, Micah, was a day trader in 2006? That gives him a motive right there.
Mulder: Motive for what? If he’s running some kind of stock fraud that’s a federal matter and we’d have jurisdiction.
Scully: That would be a first.
Mulder: Remember the postman? He was a federal employee, so we had jurisdiction there.
Crossman: No, I mean motive for selling his soul to the devil. I think we can rule out ghosts here.
Scully: It also leaves hoaxes.
Dean: There’s no need for him to sell his soul to the devil. I’m not saying that he didn’t, but look, he sees the market is going to crash. What’s big? Internet porn. He’s setting up a camera in his bedroom, aimed at his hot-chick girlfriend right there in bed.
Sam: You are a total perv.
Dean: Want to bet I can’t find those videos?
Sam: You’d just love to do the research.
JDM: Jennifer Evans (comment #5) brings up an interesting point. If you’re going to hire an expert, and that expert gives you some advice, it would be a good idea to follow that advice. What does the panel have to say?
Mulder: Micah had the typical ‘skeptic’ mindset. He didn’t believe that an expert on the paranormal could possibly know what he was talking about.
Dean: That was a totally smooth move on ol’ Micah’s part. Dr. Exposition says “Whatever you do, don’t use a Ouija board.” His girlfriend says, “I want you to promise you’re not going to buy a Ouija board.” What does he do? He goes and gets a Ouija board.
Sam: It’s what we call “too stupid to live.”
JDM: Which he, in fact, doesn’t. Father Crossman, I believe you’ve used Ouija boards yourself in some of your cases.
Crossman: Please call me Pete. Yes, I’ve used Ouija boards, but I’m a trained professional.
Sister Mary Magdalene: The big objection was that using a Ouija would provide an opening for the demonic presence. This is silly. First, we know that the young lady was oppressed by demons from her youth; it was already there. Second, if you’re looking for openings, she and her young man were ‘living in sin.’ What’s a Ouija board going to do?
Scully: Listen to yourselves. You’re talking about this event as if demonic presence was proven. So far, all we’ve seen is adequately explained by poltergeist activity at most.
Sister Mary Magdalene: There’s a simple test. Run an exorcism. If it’s still around afterwards, it’s a poltergeist.
Sam: Speaking of “too stupid to live,” did Katie notice that her boyfriend was researching demons in a book of Dover clip-art?
Scully: I find it hard to believe that there’s only one demonologist in the state of California. So when their guy is out of town they can’t get anyone.
Mulder: There are four thousand, nine hundred and twenty three, to be exact.
Scully: In California?
Mulder: No, just in the greater San Diego area.
JDM: I see another question from the audience. Xopher, #10. Where did they get the weird ideas about exorcism.
Sister Mary Magdalene: The weird thing is that they don’t try an exorcism at all. That would absolutely be my first step, but they don’t take it. At a minimum, I’d light a candle to the Virgin, but do these people? No.
Crossman: I’d have to concur with that. The very simplest exorcism, one that anyone can do, is say “In the name of Jesus Christ, be gone.” It’s that easy.
Scully: That only works if the person is a believer. There’s nothing in this film to show that either of the main characters believed anything.
Crossman: Regardless of whether the civilians believe, I can tell you, every demon I’ve ever met has been downright devout.
JDM: A question for Special Agent Mulder, or the Winchesters, from Ursula L, #12: Would you care to comment on non-Catholic methods of demon control?
Sam: We’ve found a number of methods that work. The shotgun loaded with rock salt is crude but effective, as is the continuous line of salt across thresholds. There are other weapons: Sam Colt’s revolver, Ruby’s knife—
Crossman: The Spear of Antioch, Arthur’s sword—
Mulder: There’s a demonic entity in Malaysia, the Berbalang, that’s almost exactly identical in its actions and effects as we saw in the San Diego Fetherston/Sloat event. The usual weapon against that entity is the lime-juice coated kris. The kris, itself, is a sacred object, inhabited by a spirit, which can be either good or bad—
Sister Mary Magdalene: I’m noticing an awful lot of phallic imagery in the demon-fighting weapons.
Mulder: Shinto priests have, as two of their main functions, purification and exorcism. The Karen Davis case in Tokyo might have ended very differently if she’d asked for help.
Scully: You mean the Grudge?
Mulder: Yes. The Grudge case. Every human culture that has a belief in evil spirits, and that’s nearly universal, has a way of dealing with them. Buddhists believe that both the spirit and the person are negatively affected by their interactions, and Buddhist exorcism aims at reaching an agreement between the two parties in which they leave each other alone. That’s a win-win situation.
Sam: The psychic, Dr. Exposition, specifically rejected that method. Micah suggested giving the spirit what it wanted, but he said, ‘No, what it wants is Katie.’
Dean: Hell, I want Katie and I’m not even a demon.
Mulder: From which we can tell that Dr. Fredrichs isn’t a Buddhist. The Taoists, now, believe that evil spirits will run away when faced by the good, so what would be required in Fetherston/Sloat would be for them to be good.
Sister Mary Magdalene: Doing the things that are illegal in twenty states, outside of marriage, isn’t very good.
Dean: Neither is the Internet Porn. Micah’s Sexy English Majors Livecam.
Mulder: If you don’t mind. Among Muslims, opinion is divided. Some believe that jinn, unseen creations of Allah, don’t bother humans at all. Others believe that they may, and in that case one needs to strengthen one’s spiritual life to stop the interference. And others believe that possession is possible, in which case an Imam needs to read passages from the Quran to the person until the jinn is persuaded to leave.
Sister Mary Magdalene: The thing in common in all the methods that work—
Dean: Shotguns work, Sister.
Sister Mary Magdalene: —is becoming a better person and reading or hearing sacred texts.
JDM: Special Agent Scully, you mentioned poltergeists in connection with this event. Could you expand on that?
Scully: Well, to begin, poltergeist activity may be perfectly natural, if still poorly understood. In this particular case, the initial manifestations took place around a young girl, and poltergeists usually start in the close proximity with a peri-menstrual female. They manifest through sounds, hence the name: Polter-geist, noisy ghost. They move small objects. And they’re often associated with fire-starting, as in this case. My theory is that they are merely vibrations. Slow vibrations produce sounds. Faster vibrations, fires. Motion of objects, for example furniture, or keys, or what-may-have you. Knocks may seem to have intelligence behind them; they can answer questions. But often those turn out to the be spurious. Hoaxes.
Dean: Girls just wanna have fun.
Scully: Take the Fox sisters—
Mulder: My parents did not name me after the Fox sisters.
Scully: —in the middle of the 19th century in western New York. Notoriously, they were able to crack their toe joints at will, creating the appearance of ‘spirits’ who answered questions with the classic one-for-yes-two-for-no code.
Crossman: However much the early stages of the Fetherston/Sloat event may have looked like poltergeist activity, which is mainly harmless, in this case it led to at least one death.
JDM: Another question from the audience. Teresa, #29, brings up the Blair Witch event. Would anyone on the panel care to address that, in light of the Fetherston/Sloat case?
Sam: Too stupid to live.
Dean: Into the woods with no plan and no backup plan? We have to wing it sometimes, but usually we have at least an idea before we start. Even without supernatural causes I wouldn’t sell those guys life insurance.
Crossman: The Blair Witch solution is pretty obvious. Up to the point of the first disappearance any of us could have pulled all of them out with no casualties. The watercourse solution is good if you don’t have a map and compass. With a map and compass, starting at your assumed location, head toward the nearest road so that you’ll hit it at about ninety degrees, then start hiking.
Scully: The other solution is to shelter in place. They had at least one smoker with them, so they had the means to make fire. Start three widely-spaced smoky fires and wait for rescue.
Sister Mary Magdalene: Hike or stay, regardless, sing hymns until you’re out of the woods.
Crossman: Battle Hymn of the Republic would be good, and everyone knows the words. Also, overnight, set watches. You don’t need the tents. It isn’t raining. All they do is limit your vision and mobility when things get exciting. Two awake, always in sight of each other, one asleep in a blanket-roll on the ground between them, and every two hours one bunks down while the one who was sleeping goes on watch.
Mulder: Tobacco was sacred to the Native Americans in that region. Use it for that purpose.
Sister Mary Magdalene: Tobacco is bad for you. I didn’t see anything that an Act of Contrition, a quick exorcism and a prayer to the Virgin wouldn’t fix.
Crossman: And if it was human agency rather than supernatural agency, a .45 revolver. Bottom line on Blair Witch: Easy problem; obvious solution. Let’s move on.
Sam: Too stupid to live.
JDM: Question from the audience: Teresa #32: Why so many demonologists in San Diego?
I see another hand back there … Dawn Summers. Dawn, do you have an answer to that question?
Dawn: (from the audience) The demonologists live in San Diego to be close to the former Sunnydale Hellmouth.
JDM: Thank you, Ms. Summers. That sounds entirely reasonable. Do you think there’s a connection between the Fetherston/Sloat demon and Sunnydale’s demons?
Dawn: (from the audience) No, ours were corporeal demons. The San Diego demon, not so much.
Mulder: It’s a cover-up.
Mulder: The tapes have been tampered with.
Scully: Could you explain? While what was causing the events can be debated, we have—
Mulder: We have what we’re meant to see. I’ve located three versions of the final tape. Three different, mutually contradictory, versions.
JDM: Which are?
Mulder: Version one. The one we’ve all seen. Micah is hurled at the camera, then Katie eats him.
Dean: I wouldn’t mind having Katie eat me.
Crossman: That demonstration of superhuman strength is the only thing in the event that suggests demonic activity.
Sister Mary Magdalene: I would have said the burning Ouija board was a clue.
Scully: Just more poltergeist activity.
Mulder: If you please. Version two: No Micah. Instead, Katie walks into the room and cuts her own throat on-screen.
Crossman: If we’re looking at a possession, then the suicide doesn’t count as a mortal sin. Nor would her apparent murder of Micah off-screen count, since a possessed individual doesn’t give consent.
Mulder: The presence of two endings implies more endings. I have seen a third ending, which I consider authentic. In it, Katie apparently kills Micah off-screen, as in the first version, using the knife, as in the second version. She then appears on-screen, and sits against the side of the bed holding the knife. Some time later a San Diego police officer enters the room, and, not knowing that the room is being video-recorded, and seeing her armed, shoots and kills her.
JDM: Why do you consider that one more likely than the others?
Mulder: It’s the only one that makes sense. There are motives.
Scully: You’re sounding like me. When did you ever want your supernatural events to make sense?
Sam: He’s right, though. Supernatural events make sense. It’s just that the sense may not be instantly obvious.
Sister Mary Magdalene: Possessions aren’t usually an attack on the possessed person. Instead, they’re an attack on the faith and morals of some other person. This could have been a move to tempt that police officer to deadly sin.
Dean: Or, Katie found out that Micah lost the house by playing the stock market and was planning to make back the money by selling video of her having wild monkey sex on the internet.
Sam: Dude, we saw him turn off the recorder.
Dean: No. He just stuck a piece of electrician’s tape over the red ‘recording’ light, then deleted that file after he burned it to disk.
Mulder: Consider this: Katie had never mentioned this haunting, a haunting that had supposedly been going on since she was eight years old, in all the years that she’s known Micah, even after they’d moved in together. Not until just before he buys that video recorder. I think it’s possible that she was the one who originally suggested that he buy it and record the events. Katie had an old photograph of herself. She partly-burned it and hid it in the attic herself, and waited for the moment for Micah to find it.
Sam: So Hot Grad Students at Home was her idea?
Mulder: Not necessarily, though she would have known Micah well enough to know what he would do next. Her plan would have been to kill Micah, take the insurance money, and move on. She would be suspected of any murder, so she made sure she was a great suspect, and arranged her alibi in the form of Not Guilty By Reason of Demonic Possession.
Scully: Is that a real plea?
JDM: A question from the audience, Ursula L #80: Special Agent Mulder, could you be a bit more specific on Not Guilty By Reason of Demonic Possession? Has that ever been used in Federal Court?
Mulder: Not in Federal court, no. But murder, the charge we’re talking about here, is a state crime, and would be tried in a California court. The FBI’s interest came from the possibility that the demon crossed state lines in order to possess Ms. Fetherston. Not Guilty by Reason of Demonic Possession is a special case of the Insanity defense. If the defense called a demonologist as an expert to testify that she was possessed and unable to control her actions, escaping criminal responsibility under M’Naghten.
Sister Mary Magdalene: I call shenanigans.
JDM: We can return to Not Guilty By Reason of Possession in a moment. I want to get back to a point that was raised earlier. Special Agent Mulder, you suggested that Ms. Fetherston hadn’t been oppressed since her youth, and this is part of the proof that she was making it all up. Let’s go to the tape:
Micah: I understand where you’re coming from—just remember too, that you didn’t exactly warn me about this kind of stuff before we moved in together, so I think I have a little bit of say in what we do.Crossman: Well, that doesn’t contradict the theory that Katie had made the entire thing up recently. But ‘doesn’t contradict’ is a long way from ‘confirms.’
Katie: I get that, but honestly what was I supposed to say? On our first date, ‘Hey, I think there’s a demon that I think has been following me.’
Micah: No, but maybe on our fifteenth date, or our thirtieth date, or when we decided to live together… that might’ve been a good thing to bring up.
JDM: Which, while fascinating, is waaaay off the topic.
Crossman: Whether the sister saw anything or not, Micah never asked her.
Sam: There’s the Ouija board. When the planchette moves by itself then the board bursts into flames. Micah was with Katie when that happened and neither one was present in the room.
Dean: And when Micah sees that, his first move isn’t to call a demonologist, or a priest—
Dean: —it’s to figure out what the Ouija board spelled out, then Google on it, and go to the web page, where he finds there was this other chick who had the same symptoms as Katie, only she got exorcised, and she died. So he says, ‘No exorcisms.’
Sam: Because he believes everything that’s on the web. Too stupid to live.
Dean: Along with being a major douche.
Crossman: We’ve suspected for a long time that demons put up their own web pages.
Sister Mary Magdalene: Are we saying that there wasn’t any possession at all? Then how do we explain the sounds, the motion, the footprints….
Mulder: Everyone’s forgotten Amber.
JDM: Amber? Refresh my memory.
Mulder: The girl who comes over to string beads one night.
Dean: Katie McHotchick’s hot girlfriend? Maybe Micah Doucheovnick was hoping for some girl/girl action for his home cam.
Mulder: Every time Micah comes over with the recorder, she and Katie tell him to take off, they’re talking about girl things. Suppose that what they were talking about was how to fake a possession.
Crossman: That’s still a double-handful of ‘suppose’ you have there.
Sister Mary Magdalene: Amber’s whereabouts is unknown while the Ouija board thing is happening.
Mulder: Amber suggested the plan to get rid of Micah. Amber provided the Ouija board. Amber put up the website. Amber made the noises and moved the objects while Katie and Micah were together and watching one another.
Sister Mary Magdalene: I still don’t—
Mulder: She has the means, the opportunity, and the motive.
Crossman: Amber is the one who was possessed by demons.
Sister Mary Magdalene: Micah dies in a state of mortal sin after setting up a pornographic website. Katie murders him and dies in a state of mortal sin. And the police officer who unjustly kills her despairs and doubts his faith and morals.
JDM: Is Amber Armstrong in the audience?
Amber Armstrong: (standing at the back of the hall) What if I am? You can’t prove a word of it. They’re both dead, it’s all on tape, and I wasn’t involved.
Sister Mary Magdalene: (Nun Voice) You just march right up here, young lady.
JDM: Everyone, stay calm. Just let her come up and take a microphone.
Amber: Thank you. I just want to say that this is the worst libel I’ve ever heard….
Mulder: Slander. Libel is written.
Amber: Well, whatever. I’m glad you’re giving me a chance to clear my name because … hey, why can’t I move?
Sam: Because you’re standing on a Devil’s Trap. I took the precaution of putting one under the carpet before the panel started.
Amber: You… you! I’ll see you in Hell!
Dean: You already did. Now, what should we do with her?
Sam: If you want to be sure, I can sample her blood.
Dean: I am not going to let you fall off the wagon.
Crossman: I have a better idea. No one ever tried an exorcism in this case, until now. (Pulls a copy of The Roman Ritual from a shoulder holster and flips it open one-handed.) I command you, unclean spirit, whoever you are, along with all your minions now attacking this servant of God, by the mysteries of the incarnation, passion, resurrection and ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ, by the descent of the Holy Spirit, by the coming of our Lord for judgment, that you tell me by some sign your name, and the day and hour of your departure. I command you, moreover, to obey me to the letter, I who am a minister of God despite my unworthiness; nor shall you be emboldened to harm in any way this creature of God, or the bystanders, or any of their possessions….
(The lights go out. Thunder sounds. A loud wind howls through the room, bringing an odor of brimstone.)
JDM: I think that concludes this episode of Let’s Watch a Horror Movie. Thank you all for coming, and join us back soon … oops! Just as soon as we can clean the pea soup from the carpet. Don’t forget to visit the dealers’ room before you go…. This is Jim Macdonald for Making Light, signing off!