Paranormal Activity – Theatrical Ending vs. Original Ending

It seems like many people were not aware that if they saw Paranormal Activity any time this year, what they saw was not the original ending that played at the Slamdance Festival a few years ago. After Paramount purchased the movie they shot a different ending that they thought would be more effective to a mainstream audience. The studio actually wanted to re-shoot the entire movie before releasing it, but ultimately ended up choosing to just redo the ending and leave the rest as is (for the most part, I’ve heard a few other things changed, but I have not seen the full original cut). Now the real question lies in whether the new ending was more effective than the original ending and if audiences would have found it as scary had the studio left the ending alone.

I did not get to see the movie in it’s original form at Slamdance so this discussion is based solely on me seeing the original ending on YouTube last night. For those wonder, the original ending is on YouTube because there is a DVD Screener copy of the original cut of the film floating around the internet, which actually speaks for the re-shot ending being a good thing. So the original cut of the movie recently leaked to the internet and thousands of people have downloaded it and watched it and taken to twitter and facebook to voice their opinions… And most of what I’ve read and heard from those people that downloaded it instead of seeing in the theaters is that it sucked and wasn’t scary. Now on the other hand those that saw it in the theater seemed to enjoy it and liked how it ended… Now I’m sure I can’t make that assumption for everyone that did one or the other, obviously there are people that saw it in the theater and hated it, so it’s not a strong argument, but it’s an argument none the less.

From here on out there are going to be spoilers so if you do not want to know the theatrical and/or original ending please do not read any further.

The ending that people saw in the theaters was a more in your face, startling ending than the original. In the theatrical ending Katie and Micah are asleep in bed with the camera rolling as it has all the previous nights. Katie methodically sits upright in bed, swings her feet off the side of the bed, stands up and turns and faces the bed, like she had done previously in the movie. She then walks around to Micah’s side of the bed and stands over him for hours with no movement other than a little swaying. She then walks back around the bed and out the bedroom door and downstairs. Moments later Katie begins to scream from downstairs which wakes Micah up. He runs down stairs to find out what’s wrong, leaving the camera behind this time. All we see is the bedroom still, it’s dark in the hallway so we can’t really see what’s going on, but we can hear Katie screaming as Micah finally reaches her. Micah then starts screaming himself and almost as suddenly as Katie started screaming, all of the screaming stops. For about 30 seconds to a minute we’re left sitting there in silence watching the bedroom door, this was a pretty tense minute or so as you didn’t know what was going on. All of a sudden Micah’s body is thrown through the bedroom door into the camera, knocking it on the ground. As Micah’s body clears the frame and lands on the ground we see Katie standing in the doorway covered in blood. She gets down on all 4’s and crawls slowly towards Micah’s body, sniffing it as she gets near. Then she notices the camera, looks directly into it, smiles creepily and lunges forward letting out a scream as her face distorts a tiny bit to reveal a demon inside. And cut to black….

The original ending of the film starts off the same way, Katie gets out of bed and stands up next to it, only she does not walk around to Micah’s side of the bed. She stands for a few hours and then walks downstairs. A few moments later she begins to scream causing Micah to wake up and run downstairs. Again, the screamin stops and everything is silent and dark for a few minutes as we watch the door to see what happened. Moments later Katie walks into the doorway covered in blood holding a knife. She sits down on the floor and leans against the bed, rocking back and forth. The time stamp on the camera then indicates that she sits in the same spot rocking back and forth for over an entire day. Eventually a woman’s voice can be heard downstairs as she comes in, says “hello” a bunch of times and then leaves. Later on, I believe that night, the police are heard coming into the house and again announcing their presence. Just before the cops come up the stairs, we see a light go on and off in the far room, which some people think is a sign that the demon has left Katie’s body at this point. When the cops finally make it upstairs to find Katie still sitting against the bed rocking back and forth, she stands up, still holding the knife, and starts walking towards them asking where Micah is, but doesn’t notice that she is covered in blood holding a knife. They repeatedly ask her to drop the knife, but she doesn’t. The cops end up shooting her just outside the bedroom and she falls against the wall, all we can see is one of her legs/foot hanging into the doorway. It’s at this point that the cops hear a noise from the back room where the light went on and off and go to investigate. Fade to black, the end. (You can find this clip on YouTube if I haven’t embedded it yet).

So those are the two different endings to the film, the first one is what people that saw it in the theater during it’s current run, saw. And the 2nd one is what you saw if you saw the original screening at Slamdance or if you downloaded it off the internet. Now the main point of this article, which ending was more effective.

I usually don’t like it when the studios change endings to movies that were already made whether it’s an independent movie that they acquired or an overseas movie that they don’t think will translate well for US audiences. The example I love to use is The Descent. When it was released in the UK the movie ended with Sarah imagining that she escaped the cave only to then realize that she was still in the cave with the creatures closing in on her. The US ending cut that whole last part, so when she got out of the cave she actually got out of the cave. I don’t know why they did that, but it was a lot less effective than the original ending.

So with that in mind, I thought for sure I would have liked the original ending of Paranormal Activity more than the theatrical one, but I didn’t. I know the new ending is more “hollywood” and was just going for the jump scare at the end, but I definitely feel that a jump scare was exactly what the movie needed at the very end. I remember how many people were disappointed with The Blair Witch Project and how it ended with the camera falling and a dude standing in the corner and that’s kind of what the original ending reminded me of. Now with that said, I loved The Blair Witch Project, I thought it was creative and original and creepy, but I think I’m the minority on that one. Paranormal Activity has the same vibe to it, it’s not very fast moving, you’re not going to be startled by a loud crash of music, the movie is tense because the situation the characters are in is tense. The whole movie was creepy, especially when the paranormal activity started in the house, I was on the edge of my seat during the scene where Micah was looking in the attic, but nothing jumped at the camera to startle the audience or anything. The camera was just up there looking around, the movie didn’t think we were idiots that needed to be scared with a startling noise or whatever. It built the tension slowly with each scene and then in the end it hits you hard with Micah hitting the camera and Katie creeping us out. I think with the original ending, all that build up from the rest of the movie would have been kind of a let down if all we saw was Katie getting shot and that’s it. I think a lot of movie goers would have been disappointed with the original ending and it would not have been as successful as it has been.

The original ending just seemed to have left me wanting more. After Katie was shot I kept waiting for her to get up and attack the cops or something, as the demon, but nothing happened. Like I said, I usually don’t like it when studios change the endings to make it appeal to a broader demographic, but I think they did a decent job with this one. They didn’t add any huge special effects other than throwing Micah into the camera, they didn’t mess with the soundtrack other than re-mixing it into a better stereo mix rather than the original mono mix, there were no loud musical booms or slams, it was just an effective jump scare ending. In the theater we saw it at there was a group of 4 teenagers that were getting bored throughout the movie, one of them even answered his cell phone during it, but then at the end, all 4 of them screamed like little girls and the whole walk out of the theater all they kept saying was “oh my god, oh my god, oh my god”. Now had it ended the way the original did, I don’t think those kids would have left that movie with any reaction other than “that was dumb”, but since they got that last big scare that you weren’t really expecting, they will never forget that moment.

So what do you guys think? I know I’ve read lots of people that like the original ending a lot better and are actually pissed that Paramount changed it, but I’d like to know what you guys think.

Update 1/20/10: Paranormal Activity 2 is set to be released October of 2010… Not sure how I feel about it… Let us know your thoughts here.

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