The New Horror Kings

6:00 AM PST 12/17/2011 by Daniel Miller
Wesley Mann

Jason Blum, Katie Featherston & Oren Peli

During the THR photo shoot with the creative team behind the hit horror film Paranormal Activity 3, things got eerie: Several lighting rigs mysteriously activated, beeping loudly while their strobe lights flashed. Noting the rarity of such an incident, a technician suggested that radio interference might have been the culprit. As if on cue, Peli, creator of the found-footage franchise, and star Featherston said in unison, "That's paranormal activity." Their timing was perfect.

It's been that sort of year for Peli, Featherston and producer Blum, whose film has grossed $202 million worldwide against a budget of $5 million. Released on Oct. 21 by Paramount, Paranormal 3 opened with a $53 million weekend, shattering projections that had put it in the mid-$30 million range. With a domestic take of $104 million, Paranormal 3 played a hand in Paramount topping its previous record of $1.71 billion in annual domestic earnings, reaching $1.76 billion before year's end.

With a devoted fan base that comes out in droves, the supernatural franchise is looking more like a sure thing than the surprise it once was when Peli's brainchild -- a $15,000 indie project filmed in seven days in his home -- went on to gross $193 million worldwide. And with the end of Lionsgate's Saw franchise last year, Paranormal is poised to be the dominant horror property for the foreseeable future. "Our fans are really loyal and really excited, and it continues to be cool," says Featherston, 29, whom Peli found during an open-casting call. "I never get blase about it; I'm very thankful."

The budget-minded filmmaking for Paranormal 3 is the sort that inspires Peli, 41, who doesn't understand why some films cost so much money to produce. "It's a great challenge to try to make movies with limited resources because it really makes you think," he says. Blum, 42, who produced all three films via his Blumhouse Productions banner, believes the low-budget model can be applied to another genre: comedy. To wit, Blum, whose company recently teamed with Gold Circle Films to sign a first-look distribution deal with Universal, is producing Jay Chandrasekhar's The Babymakers, about a married couple who can't conceive and recruit their friends to rob a sperm bank where the husband once was a donor. "It'll be interesting to see how the idea of doing low-budgeted commercial movies fares with a comedy," he says.

The Paranormal trio continue to work together, migrating to the small screen for ABC's The River, an hourlong drama that Peli created and is executive producing alongside Blum and early Paranormal champion Steven Spielberg. The show, which debuts in February and will feature Peli's horror muse, Featherston, centers on a TV personality who has gone missing on the Amazon. Peli is mum on the prospects for another Paranormal film except to say, "We are never going to make a sequel … just for the sake of making a sequel." But then he adds a small tease: "It's safe to say there are discussions."

Photographed by Wesley Mann on Dec. 9 at Milk Studios in Los Angeles

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