Clark Collis
October 21, 2010 AT 07:00 AM EDT

It was about 15 months ago that my colleague Missy Schwartz and I were invited, along with a handful of other writers, to see a screening of a new horror film, about which we knew absolutely nothing. After the first 20 minutes of footage I was half-convinced that the folks at Paramount, the company which was allegedly distributing the movie, had asked us along to watch the amazingly amateurish first attempts at filmmaking by the overly indulged offspring of a studio exec. By the time it was finished, I was entirely convinced that this obviously cheap, but utterly terrifying tale of a haunted suburban house could become an enormous hit.

The rest is scare-story. Paranormal Activity was first a sleeper success and then a bona fide box office phenomenon. A sequel was inevitable. And late yesterday evening Missy and myself reconvened to see the first ever U.S. screening of Paranormal Activity 2, at the AMC multiplex on Manhattan’s 34th street, one of a handful of venues around the country where the movie was shown for free to diehard fans 24 hours ahead of its official opening. The screening was introduced by the film’s director Tod Williams (The Door in the Floor) who, when chatting to EW beforehand, seemed bullish about the chances that his film would scare the hell out of the gathered, rowdy throng. “Normally in life you don’t want to promise big,” he said. “But I think in this case it’s okay.”

I’ll leave it up to EW reviewer Owen Gleiberman, who was also present, to say whether Williams’ confidence was justified by the film. And I certainly have no intention of spoiling any of the movie’s surprises. But I will say that for a goodly portion of the film’s length the assorted, ominous skitterings, crashes, and thumps emanating from the theater’s speakers were more than matched in volume by audience cries of “Oh, s—,” “No,” “Oh, my god,” “F— this s—,” and “Not the basement!” And I don’t want to read complaints that I’ve spoiled anything by mentioning the fact that someone ill-advisedly decides to visit a basement in the movie. The basement is introduced early on and it’s a horror film. You know someone’s going to make the big ol’ mistake of heading on down there!

Anyway, I have to go. It’s late, and there’s a weird clanging sound coming from my kitchen that I should check out before I go to bed. I’m guessing it’s just a mouse…

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