By Benjamin Radford
"Paranormal Activity 3," the latest in a series of successful low-budget horror films about amateur ghost hunters, opens on Friday (Oct. 21). The first film, released in 2007, was a surprise indie hit around the world.
The films are shot in a "found footage" style, in which the audience is treated to footage supposedly taken in real life from home videos and security cameras. This technique, often involving handheld cameras and actors talking to the camera operator, has been around for years but was widely popularized in the 1999 film "The Blair Witch Project."
The grainy, low-budget look of the films is no accident; it was done partly because the films actually are low-budget, and partly for added "realism." The fact that the low-quality picture skips and jitters adds to the suspense, and Horror Filmmaking 101 teaches that a dark, partly obscured monster is much scarier than one that's seen clearly in bright light.
It's been an effective technique in the first two films, scaring up hundreds of millions of dollars at the box office. And it's also true in real-life ghost hunting: Virtually all of the "evidence" for ghosts appears in the form of brief, ambiguous anomalies recorded with low-quality cameras (or good-quality cameras sabotaged by low-light conditions).
People have long reported weird, ghostly and paranormal activity, but perhaps the biggest mystery is why the evidence — especially the photographic evidence — hasn't improved. Are ghosts afraid of high-definition cameras?
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