Warning: this article contains spoilers for Paranormal Activity. Read ahead at your own risk!
The found footage genre has become well-established in the world of horror films, and the Paranormal Activity franchise has worked the formula to a science. The first film became a hit back in 2007, and the image of Micah hurtling towards the camera to end the movie became one of its most enduring shots. However, that wasn't always the way the film ended, and director Oren Peli recently lamented that they didn't use the darker original ending in which the cops shoot a possessed Katie. About the ending, Peli said:
The original ending, which if anyone's seen it, that is the one where the cops enter and end up shooting Katie, that wasn't a huge hit with the audience. Some people loved it, but they wanted to find something a little bit more --- that will be more universally loved. So, we tried a few different ideas...the idea that is in the final cut...I thought it was effective but I wasn't a huge fan of it, initially. But it played so well against audiences that I know...that's going to be the new ending. It's not the greatest feeling, and I tried to fight for my ending, but at the end of the day, the movie did work as a whole with the new ending. I've learned to embrace and love the new ending. Still prefer my ending, but I'm totally okay with the new ending.
Test screenings play a significant role in determining how a film will end, and while Paranormal Activity's darker original ending won over its fair share of fans (including the director himself), it wasn't enough to win over a majority of early viewers. Instead of the initial downer ending, the filmmakers went back to the drawing board to try out other options. In the end, they opted for a more kinetic final sequence that amped up the supernatural element of the film and ultimately kept the mystery alive for several more films to build upon.
Warning: spoilers ahead for The Descent and Get Out. If you have never seen either of those horror classics, then make sure to skip ahead!
The debate over the canon of alternate endings has become a somewhat commonplace practice among many fans of the horror genre. In fact, the Paranormal Activity ending in which Katie gets killed by the police (thus preventing her from subsequently appearing in the sequels) is far from the outlier. Two notable examples of this are The Descent, which features an alternate ending in which the film's heroine doesn't escape from the caves, and Get Out, which initially ended with Chris getting killed by cops after fleeing the Armitage estate.
So, what's the takeaway from all of this? Well, one thing worth noting about Oren Peli's comments during his appearance on Post Mortem with Mick Garris is the sheer amount of compromise that goes into making a horror film like this. Films of any genre are rigorously workshopped to perfection, and the process of getting one made is incredibly democratic. Oren Peli's original vision wasn't quite realized in Paranormal Activity, but he seems pleased with the reputation that the film has developed over the years.
You can check out the unused ending from Paranormal Activity below to see how it compares to the conclusion that made it to theaters.