'Paranormal Activity' vs. 'Blair Witch': In the end, which one is better?

blair-witch-paranormal-activity_l-1The smash-hit haunted- suburban-house thriller Paranormal Activity may not be a sequel to The Blair Witch Project (that movie already came out, and was best forgotten). But in spirit, at least — cheesy paranormal pun intended — there’s no denying that it’s a complete and total Blair Witch companion piece. Super-duper-low-budget shot-on-video vérité spook show. Starring no-name actors as antsy squabbling twentysomethings who record their every interaction on shaky handheld camera. As they look to document tangible evidence of an old-fashioned, otherworldly demon — a witch! a ghostly spirit! — that the audience virtually never sees. Which is part of what’s so freaky. Except that by the end we sort of, kind of do see it. Which is even freakier.

The comparison, of course, hardly ends there. There’s the matter of…low-profile indie creepfest turned film festival triumph. Released with an ingenious grassroots Internet marketing campaign. Which helps to bring about the ultimate word-of-mouth hit: a sleeper turned crossover megaplex blockbuster that whips all those bloody/CGI-overkill/big-budget horror films at their own manufactured-fear game.

So now that Paranormal Activity has trumped the odds to become a triumph of popular cinema, one that’s every bit as remarkable and zeitgeisty and chattered-about as Blair Witch was a decade ago, it’s time to pose that simple, irresistible, and — to me — critically vital question:

Which movie is better?

As a fan of both films, I confess that I haven’t entirely made up my mind yet. In fact, here are a few of my back-and-forth thoughts:

The Blair Witch Project did it first. Originality counts for a lot, and Blair Witch gets points for inventing the whole peekaboo-vérité, form-follows-function, monster-mash-as-MTV-reality-show vibe.

The two characters in Paranormal Activity are more fun to watch. The Blair Witch crew, apart from the fact that I totally bought their authenticity, never made that much of an impression on me; they were a tad nondescript. But the two Paranormal actors, spiky/winsome Katie Featherstone and nattery/glum Micah Sloat, pack a yeasty little couples drama, which they more or less improvised, into the movie. Their interaction is tense, affectionate, cranky, and alive, even when they get on each other’s nerves (or, on occasion, ours).

Most memorable iconic shot: In Blair Witch, it’s that kid literally dripping with fear while talking into a flashlight. In Paranormal, it’s that endlessly repeated and varied black-and-white surveillance-cam shot of the bedroom — a slowly dawning view of primal terror on a time-code.

Blair Witch convinced a lot of folks it was real. Ten years ago, that was an amazing stunt to pull off.

Paranormal Activity is “only” a movie. Which reminds you, 10 years later, that you don’t have to believe a horror movie is real to believe in it.

Blair Witch is subtler. It’s not just about witches, demons, monsters — it’s about the terror of night, the godforsaken weirdness of the unknown. Which is exactly why a lot of folks hated it; they thought it was too much floating-dread atmosphere and not enough payoff. But that, to its fans, is exactly what made Blair Witch so shivery and artful.

Paranormal Activity is scarier. Let’s be honest: When we go to a horror movie, even one that glories in its lack of special effects, we want to see the thing that scares us. We want to know what’s under the bed, what’s behind the door — and Paranormal Activity provides that catharsis.

So now it’s time for everyone to put on their film critic hat and decide: Which movie is better? Paranormal Activity or Blair Witch? And why?

Comments (333 total) Add your comment
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  • Stephen S.

    The Blair Witch Project is better in EVERY WAY IMAGINABLE! I seriously can’t believe people actually think Paranormal Activity is scary. I’ve seen disney movies that are scarier! I’m sorry, but it takes more than weird noises and bumps to scare me. It is seriously one of the most overhyped and overrated movie of all time! It baffles me that people actually find it to be scary!

    • Uhh

      Then what scared you about The Blair Witch Project? Being lost in the woods is scarier to you than being stalked by an invisible demon? I vote Paranormal Activity because the camera isn`t flying around the entire time.

      • Lucy

        the constant movement of the camera was one of several reasons why I disliked TBWP.

      • Q

        The camera didn’t bother me. PA was also quite shaky during the daytime scenes.

        Blair Witch was just the better film. It had originality. The better mythology and more believable.

        The boyfriend is a complete douche in PA. I am sorry, but after the stuff that happens, I am calling the demonologist. I know that the demon is attached, but I am leaving that house and sleeping in a hospital or airport.

        Both films strain to give a reason for the cameras to remain on. However, Blair Witch does a better job of showing Heather as being obsessed with filming and using the camera as a coping mechanism. Micah seems to make a camera pact in PA. Yet, the camera remains on for the remainder of the film.

        Having seen both, Blair Witch is simply superior.

      • Ryan

        I found PA to be more believable because my family experienced a similar thing. With the exception of the last 15 minutes it was fairly accurate in it’s portrayal of someone who’s haunted by a demon. Blair Witch was fun and exciting but not in the least did I feel like it could happen…for spirits and demons to have the ability to harm someone they need time to wear their victim down…3 days is not enough time.

    • HMH

      Count me among those (few here?) who hated Blair Witch. Seriously, the thing that scared me most was the worry that — with the handheld camera work — I’d end up heaving my guts onto the theater floor, or in the theater restroom afterward. I’ve come to hate handheld cameras in movies ever since.

      • Stephanie

        You are not alone. I saw the Blair Witch Project when I was in middle school and was bored out of my mind. I can deal with shaky camera work but I felt like that was part of the ploy to make us scared which just didnt work. Paranormal activity scared the crap out of me though. Alot of people complain that not much happens at first but in that time we get to know the characters, become skeptical and then watch as things fall apart.

    • Dave

      PA scores as better because I could re-watch the movie again. TBWP is a one-time event – once you’ve seen it, there’s really no point in ever watching it again.

      • jean-huy

        seriously? the first hour was a freaking drag! Half of the people in the theatre were texting — DURING THE MOVIE!

      • ccf

        I don’t think people are giving the story of PA enough credit. Those two could have been any of us. They slowly pull you in, then you feel for what they are going thru.

      • Dave

        If you don’t have an attention span, you’ll probably think it’s a drag.

    • alan smithee

      The Blair Witch Project is a rip-off of The Last Broadcast.

      • Susan P.

        I didn’t dislike “The Blair Witch Project” because it was “too much floating-dread atmosphere and not enough payoff,” as Mr. Gleiberman suggests above. I disliked it because it was boring – nearly 90 minutes worth of a bunch of foolish kids running around the woods, saying the “F word” every 10 seconds and quivering in fear every once in a while? Yawn. One of the biggest ripoffs perpetrated on the movie-going public. You want suggestive horror? Try the original version of “The Haunting.” But then again, that’s probably not gory enough or expletive-laden enough for folks today.

    • BRIMSTON3

      This was THE STUPIDEST movie I have seen in a long time, and I agree that I have seen DISNEY movies that are scarier. I cannot believe you people think it was scary. Wow.

      • AshDurdin

        What Disney movies? I’m not disagreeing with you, I just wonder if you have any specific examples

      • PA>BWP

        Seriously I think I have seen this same comment twice, what Disney movie is scarier than PA or BWP?

    • Steve Mather

      TBWP kept me awake and thrilled, I fell asleep during PA. That tells me all I need to know.

    • Paul

      I saw PA last night and I don’t know if what I experienced was the same as some of you, but many people were laughing throughout the whole movie! I really wanted to be scared and spooked but it was so hard to when the audience is laughing during the “scary” parts. It honestly turned my fear into something funny and I couldn’t help but laugh too since everyone else was. Did this happen to others too? Should it have been a funny experience more than a scary one?? Or is that just how some people respond to being scared?

      • Paul

        I know what you mean! My friends and I went to see PA and we had a terrible audience that either laughed (I would like to think that is how they responded to the fear) at everything or had to explain everything to each other. I was still riveted by the movie but I know that I would have loved it even more if only we had an audience that wasn’t so disrespectful!

      • w blackman

        your not the only one. Myself and others were laughing after seeing some some scenes that were supposed to ‘scare’ you. lol i saw the movie last night with a female. we firat sat in the back but soon i bought us down closer to the front… while i was excited to be ‘scared’ out of mind like the ads said you would! But was I? Hardly at all! But i’m not gonna lie the last two scenes where Katie got dragged out of her bed followed by the scene where she was possesed, yelled out for Micah, killed him, (etc, etc) still staya in my mind and haunts me a bit! i wasn’t scared but more like in some kind of shock from it… fine maybe i was a little scared. But what it comes down to is this, I’m not saying i didn’t like the movie but dont see it in thethers UNLESS you know the thether has good surround sound! unfortunately thats the way i saw it last night and throughout the movie myself and my date were saying that if the thether had surround, then we more likely would have been scared rather than laughing! Who agrees?

    • Jason Long

      TBWP sucked so much it pulled my organs out. paranormal activity is a very excellent movie in the way its presented, the budget they had, and the total experience the 2 actors had. o and thanks alot of all the insight to what makes the movie so horrible. comment n00b

    • Animal_fixer

      this was a great movie PA that is BW was not i do not like these movies but took all 3 teenagers to it and we were all scared like wow

    • David C.

      Yeah…..right. And the rest of us are just a bunch of wimps, right? Guys like you have NEVER SEEN THE MOVIE because YOU ARE TOO SCARED to make comments like this.

  • Kristyn

    I love both movies, but Paranormal Activity scared me so much. Even though I knew it was just a movie, the stuff that happened seemed like they could actually happen in real life. So many of the scenes have stayed in my head that I still get chills thinking about it.

    • Brian C.

      The brilliance of PA is that it’s still scary after you see it due to the relatability factor. Obviously we all live in homes / apartments where we sometimes hear noises. Not a lot of us spend significant time in the woods.

    • tvfan

      I agree, a home is more everyday than the woods. PA rules.

    • w blackman

      i feel the same way. after seeing it last night, the idea of the girl being dragged out the bed like that still haunts me… And the part when she was posssesed at the end, screamed for Micah downstairs and then nothing but dead silence… Literally! my two favorite scenes of the movie w/o question. when thinking about the budget of the movie i’m starting to appreciate it a little more now. when i walked out i was kinda dissapointed over all and thats due to the way media overly hyped this movie.

  • Brian C.

    In the original (non-theater) version of PA, you don’t “see” anything. Much better film and would be a better comparison for Blair Witch. Personally, they both freaked me out, though I think PA is a better “movie”.

    • w blackman

      what exactly happens in the non-theater version? i’m really curious after seeing it last night in the theaters.. my friend last night was telling me the same thing of another version. she told me something about the cops coming in and finding katie in the bedroom, with a knife in her hand, a day and a half after she killed Micah! is that true? let me know what u think

      • Luan

        Yeah, i had a copy of that one. IT’s true. The friend finds the guy downstairs as Katie is rocking back and forth for hours. Then the cops come, the demon runs for it and Katie is shot because she has a knife. I kinda wish i saw it in the movies and not like bootleg like i originally planned

      • Mimi

        OK, I just watched a copy and that’s the version I saw – Katie rocking in the bedroom, cops find her, etc. What’s the ending for the theater version?

  • Austin

    I saw Paranormal Activity days ago and it’s still as fresh on my mind. I still get nervous going to bed. I was young when I saw Blair Witch, but its effect on me was nowhere near the effect Paranormal Activity’s had. Paranormal wins hands-down for me.

    • ashley

      so i saw paranormal activity last night and honestly hadn’t even heard about it until a few days ago. so i went into the theatre not knowing what to expect, and i’ll admnit that until the end of the movie, i actually thought it was real footage. so it may be the fault of my own ignorance that i couldnt sleep last night..but i gotta give it to them for the camera work. you only really saw what was going on once the couple returned home for the night, and there wasn’t a really a storyline to fallow which made it seem much more real than the blair witch project

      • AR

        Sorry, I don’t mean to be rude, but why are there always people who think that this stuff is actually real? It’s playing in a movie theater. When have you ever watched a horror movie in a movie theater that was real? Of course it’s not real! Reality shows aren’t real either, in case you were wondering.

    • PA>BWP

      AR Would you be kind enough to point out which people thought that PA was real? If anyone actually thought that PA was real then I feel it is my duty to point out that they might have been too young to watch PA

  • TJ

    Paranormal Activity, no contest. Blair Witch was iconic and is a classic, but Paranormal was WAY scarier and had better acting and more suspense.

  • john t.

    love both movies. i do think paranormal activity was better executed. i saw the original ending to PA, thank God they changed it in the theatrical release.

    • Derek

      I saw the original ending as well (but not the theatrical one….yet) and from what I read about it, the original was creepier. the theatrical version seems more “in your face” and more open ended. Although I also heard that the “Diane” excercism scene is not in the theatrical version, which I think is a very important scene. It was replaced for the photo scene (which I haven’t seen). Overall, PA does for the bedroom what BLAIR WITCH did for camping. I LOVE both. Fear of the unknown is much scarier than the “in your face” horror movie.

      • Louder Than Bombs

        Totally agree with Derek. Blair Witch and PA are the only two horror movies that have ever really freaked me out. I think most horror movies are pretty stupid and it’s not a genre that I am particularly fond of but these two worked so well. I still think Blair Witch is a better movie but PA was great as well.

  • Joe

    Blair With was not a good movie. The ending was the only interesting part of the whole flick. Whereas Paranormal had a great build up to a satisfying ending. Seriously, Paranormal all the way.

    • barbara

      I agree about Blair Witch, I fell asleep several times during the movie and when I was awake, I was hoping that everybody were hurry up and die, the ending was the best part of the movie. I have yet to see Paranormal, I hope it is better.

      • barbara

        Let me clarify, the best part was not the ending, it was tht the movie ended period.

    • alan smithee

      Got to disagree, Joe. ALL of BW was awful, including the ending.

      • gennie

        Amen Alan!! That movie had no redeeming features, and the fact that they used f*** every second or third word showed a lack of imagination

  • Joe

    *Witch

  • Matt

    Blair Witch could NOT have been more boring. I’m avoiding Paranormal Activity precisely because I hated Blair Witch so much. Maybe that’s not fair, but when I hear the comparisons, it feels like something to avoid.

    • legnayram

      Agree!

    • C Love

      Blair Witch was some Bull$hit. How anyone could believe that the movie was real is beyond me. Why would they( the movie industry)ever release a movie of people dying. Ding Ding Ding, I do want to see p.a though

      • Marc

        This is the thing with BW. When I saw it, it was not out in theaters. It was in a limited run and at the theater I went to had a display case willed with artifacts and dirt covered journals and tapes. Couple that with the editor of the film explaining where the ygot the footage from and thats how a lot of us fell for it being real. Once it got wide release and critics pretty much told people it wasn’t real, it lost that appeal of being real. PA is a really solid scare but I think what made people mad with BW was they expecting to SEE something. I don’t think BW was aweful. If it wasn’t for BW no one would have tried to up the ante and give us PA.

      • friend of phyllis

        But putting BW in context, it came out during a time period just after the boom of reality TV, when people were questioning how far the media would be willing to go…would the media actually show footage of people having sex, being injured, and even dying on camera? Several movies addressed the idea. BW was much more relevant to the overall cultural environment than PA is.

    • Roz

      Yes, avoid PA. It is NOT scary at all. I was diappointed when the movie ended!!

      • bdog

        How many movies are really scary to grown adults? PA was one of the 3 or 4 best I’ve seen.

    • Josephine

      Matt i think you should see it. it is nothing like tbwp. This let you wonder and be like whats coming up the stairs and since we have all heard those freakish noises in our house Its really dead on the actor man i loved micah he was that querky jerk that we all loved at sometimes and hated and rolled our eyes. i almost pissed myself laughing cause at the end when it says katies whereabouts are unknown all we hear is some teen say Yeah fcking unknown quite loudly. Anyways it would be a horrible choice to miss out on its not gross like most movies are now AND CAN YOU BELIEVE THE AUTHOR OF SAW IS 19 ????? he is sick.

  • Burp’n Slurp

    I have to say, OG, you have some valid points. But if it is up to us to decide, well I definitely would choose PA. Its so much more relatable, and the scariest part is how much it hits close to home (pun?). I think its more scarier because of the fact that everyone has at one point or another thought about what happens in their homes at night. Everyone has that curiosity about what happens when they are at their most vulnerable- in their sleep. And to come up with such a high concept, with such a low budget, and almost no Hollywood meddling, I have to say – this is movie-making at its finest. This is what I want to see in a movie, and I’d pay another $12 to go see it at 11:00pm in a big empty theater.

  • gina

    Blair witch by far better!! Blair witch made you believe it happened.Paranormal was the worst movie I have ever seen.I was laughing. How anyone got scared is beyond me.Go to a haunted maze or haunted house and you’ll get more scared.Blair witch had the web site about the town legonds ect that fed into its real

    • haha

      i’ve attempted to watch the blair witch project 3 times and i’ve never got past the first hour. ill admit i laughed a few times during PA. but only when the girl gets out of bed and stands there for more than 2 hours, and you slowly see her turn into a nut case. but this “ghost” or “demon” if you will, had me jump out of my seat more than once. I guess i can’t compair the two since i’ve never actually seen blair witch, but i do know that i’d rather laugh at a scary movie than fall asleep

  • casey

    PA!! hands down..the scariest movie I’ve seen yet! I saw it last week and I still think twice about going to bed.

  • mg

    Paranormal Activity was a tighter story, but made the (at this point) cliche choice of the disclaimer at the beginning. So many horror movies are doing it now, and it is irritating beyond belief. When Blair Witch did it, it was new and spooky. Now, you are telling me before the movie even starts that the main characters die in the end. Thanks for cutting the tension in half.

    Blair Witch — because last one there’s a rotten egg!

  • alex

    Blair Witch spooked me for days. The image at the end, of the kid in the corner, and the girl’s endless primal screaming haunted me for days. Maybe being 10 yrs older jaded me because I did not find Paranormal Activity one bit scary. Honestly, most people were laughing during the movie. You get a couple jolts that are forgettable but Blair Witch left me disturbed for days.

    • Ellipsian

      I have to admit that I was a laugher, Alex: the last twenty minutes or so of “PA” got totally ridiculous to me and all of the nail-biting tension from the first half was washed away by my eye rolls. Yeah, I had a hard time falling asleep that night, but I agree: when I permit it to, “Blair Witch” haunts me still.

      • Uhh

        I saw Blair Witch when I was 12 years old and it was a huge disappointment. I didn`t find it scary in the least. It still exists in my mind as one of the largest failures in movie history, despite the box office totals.

        However I will agree that the climatic scenes of PA were a bit sillier than they were scary. But the tension of the build up still made it a very scary movie. 

      • Mark

        to Uhh: I have to admit, I’m impressed with your vocabulary and ability to form complete sentences.

        That’s impressive for a 22yr old.

        keep it up!

    • Anne

      You hit the nail on the head Alex regarding BW. The kid in the corner, the girl screaming as though her throat is being ripped out, plus the bloody handprints all over the walls….wow, it still gives me chills. I haven’t seen PA yet, but I think I’d like to. I’m kind of wimpy about scary movies, so I’ll probably be terrified even if everyone around me is laughing.

    • Liz

      I have to agree, I was young when I first saw Blair Witch but it has stuck with me. I still have trouble camping alone in the woods. Ha! My GF makes fun on me all the time because I wake her up when we’re camping to go to the restroom with me! I was traumatized by BW!

      • friend of phyllis

        No offense, but I’m not convinced that a 12 year old can or should be the judge of what is scary or not. Subtlety, realness, and the slow buildup of tension is kinda lost on 12 year olds…scary to them means a grisly murder every three minutes or else it’s boring.

  • kreyonkid

    Hey, i liked both movies! Loved the camera gimmick. Heather from BWP and Katie from Paranormal did a great job pretending not to act. It doesn’t hurt that they both have big boobs, hehe, just kiddin! Go see the movie!!

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