Over the years, I have lived in many apartments, several houses, and even a mobile home, but it wasn't until the fall of 2009 that I learned what not to do when at home with a ghost. That was when Paranormal Activity went into general release. I sat enthralled as Katie and Micah moved into a beautiful new home and gradually came to grips with a creature out of their nightmares, a demon intent on doing them harm.
In subsequent years, I eagerly watched the next three installments of the series -- a prequel (Paranormal Activity 2), an origin story (Paranormal Activity 3), and a sequel (Paranormal Activity 4) -- all the while taking notes on how to survive paranormal attacks. Here are the valuable lessons I've learned from Paranormal Activity and its cinematic offspring.
Make Sure Cameras Are Rolling -- As Many As Possible
The first movie featured only one camera, the second added security cameras, and by the fourth movie there were all kinds of devices capturing footage: smartphones, video cameras, laptop computers, even a Kinect. I recommend as many cameras as possible, to increase the chances of catching sight of ghostly images and provide visual evidence to doubting friends and/or family members. (And if you're handy with tools, an oscillating fan makes for a dandy camera stand.)
Remember to Leave the Lights on at Night
Night vision is fine and can certainly add a creepy vibe of its own -- especially for those who remember The Silence of the Lambs -- but it's much more unsettling to leave at least one light on in each room at night. Also, it's best to position the light so that it throws weird shadows across the room.
Beware Imaginary Childhood Friends, Especially Ones Named Toby
While some believe imaginary friends fill an emotional void for children, and others think it's just harmless fun, Paranormal Activity 3 taught me to be more alert when a child begins talking about a friend named "Toby" who is standing "right there" beside you. Toby is neither imaginary nor a friend, so take immediate action to protect yourself and your children.
Don't Ignore Mounting Evidence
As a man, I can confirm that men can be stubborn and shortsighted, like Micah in the first movie. (Sorry, buddy, you brought that on yourself.) But it's not just men; the mother in Paranormal Activity 3 and the parents in Paranormal Activity 4 choose to ignore a mounting pile of evidence that things are not right in the house and that their children are in danger. Don't do this, parents.
It's OK to Have Fun by Pretending to Be a Ghost
On the other hand, it's perfectly fine to jump out of a closet or touch somebody unexpectedly in order to frighten them. That's what friends are for, right?
Check for Demons Before Having Intimate Relations
This one is delicate and I won't dwell on it, but if you want to get your kicks by filming yourself and your partner having sex, the least you can do is make sure you're not performing in front of a ghostly audience, as in Paranormal Activity 3.
Don't Talk to Demons. but if You Must, at Least Don't Taunt Them
I don't mean to pick on Micah, but he set the tone for the entire series by not only ignoring the mounting evidence of a demonic presence, but then taunting the demon, thus rejecting the good advice of a psychic and helping to bring about a horrible outcome for his family. It's like finding a hungry lion in your bathroom, and then teasing him: "What are you going to do, eat me?" Why, yes, because that's what they do.
Don't Play "Bloody Mary" Twice, Even if a Little Kid Insists
Speaking of a bathroom, don't let a little kid convince you to play "Bloody Mary" in hopes of summoning a demon, like little Katie did in Paranormal Activity 3. Poor, foolish Randy. And poor, foolish you if you do the same thing, because the ancient game works, and then you'll have to suffer the consequences.
If the Ghost Gets Mad, Get Out of the House, Dude
Before you correct me, yes, I know that the ghost and/or demon is likely to follow if you leave the house, as demonstrated over the course of the series. But your chances for long-term survival improve if you put a little distance between yourself and things like chandeliers, furniture and staircases.
From the looks of it, I'm hopeful that Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones will tell us what to do to avoid death in the urban outdoors. You can bet I'll be watching, notebook in hand.