'Paranormal Activity' has not-so-normal rollout

Studio is expanding horror pic while 'Saw VI' hits theaters

Paramount appears committed to an abnormally aggressive expansion of its suddenly hot "Paranormal Activity."

Betting heavily on fan fervor for the microbudgeted ghost story, the studio is expected to send "Paranormal Activity" into a boxoffice buzz saw on Oct. 23. That's when Lionsgate will release its horror sequel "Saw VI," and Par will broaden "Paranormal Activity" to 2,000 playdates.

Promoted largely via viral marketing, "Paranormal Activity" posted an otherworldly $7.9 million from 160 playdates last weekend. The inexpensive Slamdance film fest acquisition totes a $9.1 million cume including prior midnight-only engagements.

Par will expand the film to roughly 800 engagements on Friday and appears on track for the teen millions this weekend. But the distributor hopes to get "Paranormal Activity" more than 2,000 runs this month, and the early word has Par feverishly seeking exhib commitments for a week from Friday.

The situation has some recalling the out-of-nowhere theatrical surge of another Little Horror Pic That Could -- 1999's "The Blair Witch Project."

Whether Par can mimic Artisan Entertainment's $140 million-plus domestic success with "Blair Witch" remains to be seen. But as with that film, there is a wide array of opinion on the ideal distribution strategy for "Paranormal Activity."

Par is playing its cards close to the vest. But the studio appears to be splitting the baby by avoiding an immediate expansion into wide release, while committing to as wide an expansion as possible in two weeks.

An immediate wide release might have prevented the inevitable backlash from critics and others, though to date reviews have been largely positive. It also would avoid an overlap with the "Saw" sequel, whose prerelease tracking suggests the Lionsgate pic will bow as big as its franchise predecessors.

But even the coming weekend features an unfortunate audience overlap with Sony Screen Gems' horror thriller "The Stepfather," though "Paranormal Activity" carries an R rating and "Stepfather" is rated PG-13. The session will likely be topped by Warner Bros.' PG-rated fantasy "Where the Wild Things Are," and Overture also will unspool Jamie Foxx starrer "Law Abiding Citizen" in wide release.

"Everybody has an opinion on what they should be doing," a distribution exec at a rival studio said Tuesday. "But there's no question that it's a nice problem to have for Paramount."