'Tis the season for scares, and over the last few years, the Paranormal Activity films have provided quite a few of them with their found-footage chronicle of demonic forces terrorizing several generations of a family. Following in the cloven, heavy footsteps of its predecessors, Paranormal Activity 4 hits theaters just in time for Halloween (October 19), and given all of the backstory leading up to the latest installment of the record-breaking horror franchise, it's understandable if you need a primer on everything that's happened so far.
With that in mind, we've put together a recap of everything you need to know about the franchise and what its characters have gone through to get to this point – but be warned: if you haven't seen any of the previous films yet, this will contain MAJOR SPOILER for the first three PA films!
A Family Affair
While the first Paranormal Activity focused on a series of terrifying events that transpired around Katie (Katie Featherston) and her boyfriend Micah (Micah Sloat), the 2007 film hinted at deeper roots for the unexplained phenomena occurring in their lives. Subsequent films revealed a frightening connection between Katie's ancestors and the mysterious demon, with Paranormal Activity 2 revealing similar events that plagued Katie's sister, Kristi, and Paranormal Activity 3 going all the way back to the girls' childhood.
A History of (Demonic) Violence
By the time the credits roll on Paranormal Activity 3, we're led to believe that the mysterious, heavy-breathing, body-throwing, chandelier-shaking demon received a standing invitation to Katie and Kristi's family reunions by their grandmother, Lois, who was part of a coven of witches. After making a deal with the demon involving her family's firstborn male heir, Lois' daughter Julie and Julie's boyfriend, Dennis, failed to live up to their side of the bargain and provide the necessary Y-chromosome for the arrangement. Of course, Julie and Dennis didn't actually know anything about the deal, so whose fault is that?
Nevertheless, the demon causes no small amount of trouble for Julie and Dennis before they realize – far too late for the poor couple – that their failure to produce a male heir has made them disposable to Lois and the demon. Julie and Dennis meet gruesome ends in the final moments of Paranormal Activity 3, which serves as a prequel to the events in the first two films.
Over the course of Paranormal Activity and Paranormal Activity 2 we learn that the birth of Kristi's son, Hunter, has prompted the demon to come collecting what he's owed, and as Kristi and her husband Dennis learn, welching on a deal with a demon – even if you aren't the one who made the deal – is never a good idea. Even after Kristi and Dennis think they rid themselves of their unwanted guest from hell by passing it on to Katie (which is a pretty uncool move, if you ask me), they get a visit from a demon-possessed Katie a few months later – and immediately after the events of Paranormal Activity – who kills them both and steals Hunter.
And that's where Paranormal Activity 4 picks up a few years later...
If the trailers for Paranormal Activity 4 are any indication of what to expect from the film (which is sort of the whole idea behind trailers, so it's a safe assumption to make), we can expect to see a lot more of our demon pal's wacky hijinks in the new movie – including more drag-you-into-the-closet fun and creepy-shadow-in-the-background antics. At this point, though, we still know precious little about the demon itself and what it wants with Hunter, who now goes by the name of Robbie after being kidnapped by demon-possessed Katie at the end of Paranormal Activity 2.
What we do know is that Kristi grew up calling the demon “Toby,” and there have been a few hints that the demon had more than just Kristi's offspring in mind from the start. A few key scenes from Paranormal Activity 3 indicate that the demon was supposed to have been wed to one – or both – of the girls at some point, which may have happened in the time between the events of Paranormal Activity 3 and Paranormal Activity, which also involved some brainwashing that caused the girls to forget their old buddy Toby and all the mom-and-her-boyfriend-were-killed-by-a-demon stuff.
We also know that the demon is fond of drawing creepy symbols around the homes it haunts, and that it occasionally shows up as a shadow or, as the second Paranormal Activity 4 trailer suggests, via the magic of Microsoft's Kinect sensor.
We know that both Katie and Hunter factor prominently into Paranormal Activity 4, but the trail of bodies left in the demon's wake leaves little chance for any other returning characters in this film. However, it's worth noting that Kristi's stepdaughter Ali – who first discovered the connection between the demon, the witches coven, and Hunter's status as the first male born into their family – was away on a class trip when Kristi and Dennis met their grisly ends in Paranormal Activity 2. So there's the potential for her to return and save the day in this fourth installment, though it seems unlikely.
The New Victims
The next target of the demon's shenanigans will be a teenager named Alice (Kathryn Newton), her boyfriend Alex (Matt Shively), her mother, and her brother, who make the incredibly nice but incredibly doomed decision to bring Hunter/Robbie into their home after their new neighbor, Katie, goes to the hospital. As you can probably expect, weird things start happening when Hunter/Robbie and his imaginary friend (let's call him Toby) move in, and the film looks to put some new twists on the tried-and-true scares that have made Paranormal Activity one of the most successful horror franchises of all time.
And there you have it, folks: a Paranormal Activity primer. Say hello to Toby for me.