Why Spielberg Thought His Paranormal Activity DVD Was Haunted

Horror movies have made us scream for decades, thanks to their many illusions. From dark, eerie-looking sets to seriously gruesome makeup and jump scares designed to pull us out of our seats, these movies are built with one intention — to frighten the viewer.

And then there's found-footage films, a subgenre that rejects all those elements, relying on in-universe cameras and amateur performances that blur the line between fiction and reality. It's always scarier when it feels real, and no level of CGI is as immersive as the experience brought about by the found-footage technique. It turns out these movies can terrify the best of us — even a filmmaking legend such as Steven Spielberg, who is known for his films "Jurassic Park" and "Jaws" and is no stranger to the horror genre (he wrote "Poltergeist," people!).

Remember "Paranormal Activity," the movie that made everyone believe they could be dragged out of their beds by an invisible entity? Spielberg had reason to believe that his DVD of the film was haunted, after a spooky occurrence at his home.

Spielberg's Haunted Home

As the legend goes, Steven Spielberg once thought his "Paranormal Activity" DVD was haunted. 

Before "Paranormal Activity" was the highly successful franchise it is today, the movie directed by Oren Peli was making waves at film festivals. Created on a mere $15,000 budget, the found-footage horror flick found its way to DreamWorks two years after being made. Co-founder Steven Spielberg took the DVD home to watch the film and decide about acquiring it for a theatrical release.

"Paranormal Activity" was filmed over seven days with a handheld video camera and depicted a young couple whose suburban home is infested by a demon. As per The Los Angeles Times, Spielberg faced a rather spooky encounter following the movie's screening. He was unable to access his own bedroom for no good reason — the door had been locked ... from the inside. After ruling out possibilities of a burglary, the filmmaker hired a locksmith to remove the disc from his home and delivered the DVD back to DreamWorks in a garbage bag, believing it was haunted. 

Despite his thoughts about the haunted DVD, Spielberg liked the film. DreamWorks was eventually acquired by Paramount, the company that ultimately released the film to audiences. It's easy to imagine that Spielberg's haunting experience is a clever marketing strategy, but the film's director rejected that possibility. 

Steven Spielberg Changed The Ending

While Steven Spielberg approved of "Paranormal Activity," he wasn't a fan of Peli's version of the ending. The movie initially ended with Katie rocking back and forth in the room while holding a knife after she murders Micah. This goes on for hours, and when the police find her holding a knife, she approaches them with the weapon, suddenly snapped out of her demonic trance, but is gunned down by them. Spielberg wanted a better ending for the movie before releasing it, so the studio gave Peli's team $4,000 to reshoot the ending.

The "Paranormal Activity" ending released at the movies saw Katie hovering over Micah's dead body as she gave the camera a menacing smile which resulted in yet another unexpected jump scare — a fitting ending for the movie. So when the film was finally released in 2009, it was immensely successful at the box office and spanned an entire franchise revered for its simplicity today. It's the most profitable horror movie ever made based on return on investment, even more than "The Blair Witch Project."