The Paranormal Activity franchise has always tried to create an air of mystery. You know nothing about the plot going in. There's never an opening studio logo and each film gives the impression like you're watching something classified. That's changed a bit with Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, the first film in the series to actually open with the Paramount logo. Some of the players involved have also been offered up for interviews – which usually doesn't happen – and we leapt at the chance to speak with Christopher Landon, who serves as writer-director on The Marked Ones.
He has also been part of the series since Paranormal Activity 2, helping shape the franchise's mythology.
We first spoke to Landon during the press tour for Disturbia, which he penned, and he proved to be an excited and avid fan of horror. Inside, Landon chats with us about how he became involved in the series, how a test screening for Paranormal Activity 3 paved the way for The Marked Ones, how there is an end game in place for the series, where he's at with Boy Scouts vs. Zombies and he talks about a proposed Christine remake that never came to fruition.
Shock Till You Drop: Let's go back a bit, how did you get involved in this series to begin with? Did you go in with a pitch?
Christopher Landon: It was such a random experience. I'll take you back a bit further. I started working on another project with Jason Blum a long time ago. And, he calls me up one day and tells me he's going to watch this scary movie at his house and wanted me to see it. So I show up to his house and the movie is called Paranormal Activity. We watched it together with a few others and it scared the crap out of me. I turned to him and told him it was amazing. A year later, it comes out and becomes this massive thing. When they started to make Paranormal Activity 2, they started shooting and shut down production for a little bit because something wasn't working. Paramount invited me in with a group of writers to a roundtables. Adam Goodman of Paramount loves to tell this story because all of these writers were sitting around a table and I was in the corner until I just blurted out, "This is all wrong!" [laughs] In that moment, I pitched Adam the scene where Kristi gets dragged out of the nursery and down the stairs into the basement. He thought it was a cool scene. I wrote the scene and from that point forward, they brought me on and I was on set and writing scenes. We changed the story quite a bit in a short amount of time.
Shock: And you've been in there since then. So, I have to ask, do you know where this is all leading?
Landon: Yeah. Look, it started when we were making Paranormal 2. We started making this mythology and it worked as a think tank for us. It was really when we were making the third film that things started to crystalize. I had an endgame in mind which I had pitched to the group and they loved it. We've been working toward getting to this finish line. But there is an endgame at play here. I think the frustration is that we got a little lost in the fourth film. I think that was frustrating for the fans and The Marked Ones was my opportunity to get it back on track. To answer some questions and ask some new ones. We have a lot more story left to cover, we're hoping the fans allow us to keep going there. We had an idea as to where we wanted this to go for some time now.
Shock: What was it like to sit in the director's chair for this one?
Landon: I was pretty versed and familiar by this point and I had the pleasure with working with all of the other directors on the series. We worked closely. Side-by-side kind of close. Not that I was directing those materials, but I was part of the process in a way. Directing this one felt very natural to me. I was excited to present a different story and take it in a new direction. Being able to work with these actors and crew is just a great experience. We're making a scary movie and it's dark and strange, but the process of making it is fun.
Shock: With The Marked Ones, talk to me about the genesis of this whole "playing to the Latino community" thing because that's such an angle dominating the film…
Landon: The studio was aware of it. The genesis of the whole thing was when we did our first test screening of Paranormal 3. There was a young Latina girl in the focus group, she was about 15-years-old and she was so versed in the franchise. She knew every character, everything about the mythology and was so passionate about it and she started reference stuff from her own family, her own life, culturally, and every time we do a test screening we'd all get together after and drink and talk about what everybody had said. We kept going back to this girl. Her background was so tethered to this franchise, it felt like a natural extension. I knew the one thing I wanted to do, I didn't want to make a movie intended solely for a Latin audience. I think there's been a bit of a misperception there. Even though it looks like we were making a movie to win over a [demographic] that wasn't really the approach. It was, for me creatively, an interesting entry point for our story, to our mythology. I intended to make a movie for everybody. It was key for me that everyone connect and relate to the characters. It just adds flavor and makes it feel fresh to do it this way.
Shock: For you, personally, where did Paranormal 4 miss the mark?
Landon: Four was a tricky one. I was off writing and gearing up to shoot The Marked Ones when they were about to make the fourth film. That's why there is another credited writer on four. When I came on to four, I had literally no time to get it back into what it needed to be. There were a lot of different elements at play. We were struggling with the fact we were a fourth movie and there were a lot of balls in the air. It didn't come together as a whole. I think there are some fun moments and great scares and we got some stuff right, but where we really dropped the ball is we didn't advance the mythology and left the audience in a narrative wasteland. A bit part of my job on The Marked Ones is to win people back and let them know we're going to keep pushing things forward.
Shock: There's a team on Paranormal 5, obviously, but do you have a creative hand in it at all?
Landon: I don't. I'm about to go and make another movie called Boy Scouts vs. Zombies, but I feel like the the franchise is in strong, capable hands. Gregory Plotkin, who is directing, he's been the editor on all of these and if there's anyone who knows these movies, it's him because he has to sit with all of the footage all day long. I think he's going to take it in a cool direction. We obviously have discussions about it because we want the movies to be connected. So, we were talking at the end of [The Marked Ones] because it's going to be tied to what they're doing in the fifth film.
Shock: And how is Boy Scouts vs. Zombies coming along?
Landon: Great! We're casting right now and we start shoot the first week of May. It's going to be awesome, it's such a fun script. It's got a Superbad meets The Walking Dead kind of vibe.
Shock: When we last spoke, weren't you developing a Christine remake back in 2007 or something?
Landon: I tried so hard to convince Sony – because they own the rights to the book – look, sometimes I write crappy things – I'll be honest about my work [laughs] – but I wrote one of the coolest treatments ever for a remake. I couldn't get past the idea of doing this movie. The book was much more of a possession story. It was so cool. I'd love to make that movie, I love the book so much.