Three weeks ago, “Paranormal Activity” started playing at midnight screenings in a smattering of theaters in college towns across the country and launched a “Demand It” campaign on their home page (www.paranormalactivity-movie.com ). Users can make such demands by entering their contact information on the site. Due to the overwhelming response the “Demand It” campaign created, the film has since platformed out to additional markets and made its way into last weekend’s top 10 movies at the box office. Rumor has it that the film might give “Saw VI” a run for its money in another week. All things considered, the movie’s done quite well for something had been gathering dust in a studio vault for a couple years.
Funnily enough, the latest word on the ‘net is that the studio had always intended to go wider with the movie. But the awareness that was built with the “Demand It” campaign even snookered an Internet-savvy entertainment guru such as myself; read my review  of “Paranormal Activity”. I think it’s a masterstroke of viral marketing, generating an incredible of buzz — 1,000,000 demands and counting — for a movie that would’ve otherwise gone straight-to-DVD.
The success of “Paranormal Activity” recalls the lightning-in-a-bottle phenomenon that was “The Blair Witch Project” in 1999. Not only are both films of the “found footage” horror sub-genre, but their limited marketing budgets were wisely spent on aggressive online marketing campaigns with websites that enhanced their mystique.
That being said, the day after I saw “Paranormal Activity,” I went to a special screening of “Trick ‘R Treat,” a film that also had sat on a shelf for two years. After a few token screenings at festivals, conventions and revival houses, “Trick ‘R Treat” came out on DVD last week. However, awareness for the film among genre movie fans was incredible, having been built up on entertainment sites for the past 24 months. The director announced at the screening I attended that “Trick ‘R Treat” had more DVD pre-sales on Amazon.com than “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.” Fans were willing to spend $20 for a movie they hadn’t seen. It’s a foregone conclusion they’d have spent half of that to have seen the film theatrically.
I think the success of “Paranormal Activity” can be directly attributed to the frustration that the horror and genre movie fanbase feels when films like “Trick ‘R Treat” are denied a theatrical release. The fanbase is there, and the Internet is the best way to reach them. It’s my hope that studios will begin to implement more clever Internet marketing strategies like the “Demand It” campaign, engaging fans in a way that most of their other marketing efforts do not.