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From Paranormal Activity to Truth or Dare: the Blumhouse school of seat-gripping horror

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There's a new name in horror, and it's called Blumhouse. Formed by producer Jason Blum, it's cornered the market in high-concept, low-budget chills, often mixing intelligent commentary with seat-grabbing shocks to startling effect. If we said they're the producers of the Oscar-winning Get Out and James McAvoy chiller Split, you'd know what we're talking about, right?

Their latest, Truth or Dare, is out now in Cineworld, introducing us to a group of ill-fated college students whose involvement in a supernatural game of truth or dare has nasty consequences. Each participant is blackmailed by a leering demon who compels them to participate – failure to do so results in a grisly death.

With plenty of memorably unpleasant moments, it's another eerie chiller from the horror specialists. So to mark the film's release in Cineworld, we're recapping some stone-cold Blumhouse classics, ones that had us sweating bullets and leaping out of our seats in terror.



Paranormal Activity (2009)

The found-footage thriller that spawned a (increasingly convoluted) franchise, Paranormal Activity is perfectly geared to saw away at people's nerves. Its discreetly unobtrusive home footage steadily gives way to bone-rattling terror as the two main characters realise they're besieged in their home by a demon. It takes special skill to make a shadow moving across a door, or a woman standing over her sleeping partner for three hours, into something terrifying, but such is the movie's skill in tapping into our primal fears. It was the debut movie from Blumhouse, and the one that set them on course to become the 21st century horror powerhouse.


Insidious (2010)

Another ghostly onslaught that spawned a blockbusting series (fourth movie, The Last Key, was released this year), Insidious proudly mixes jump scares with a love of the quintessential haunted house tale. Rose Byrne and Patrick Wilson give strong performances as the parents whose comatose son is trapped in another dimension known as the Further. Director James Wan forgoes the gore of his earlier Saw to instead conjure a deliciously creepy atmosphere, laced with some genuine shocks including the first appearance of the infamous 'Red Faced Demon'.


Sinister (2012)

You remember that warning about never watching home movies left in the attic of your new house? Try telling that to Ethan Hawke's struggling true crime writer, who moves his family to the site of a murder scene in this creepy spooktacular. Doctor Strange filmmaker Scott Derrickson's roving camera milks plenty of suspense from the darkened corridors of the house (eventually giving way to more standard ooga booga shocks), but the real horror lies in the home movies themselves. They're masterful slices of grungy, Super 8 mayhem that instil us with a genuine sense of fear (particularly the lawnmower one).


The Purge (2013)

Key to Blumhouse's success is its ability to diversify into the thriller realm. Although this home invasion movie does contain plenty of horror and shock moments, it also operates on a level of social satire. It explores the collapse of American society, as all of humanity's rage and violence is distilled into the annual 'Purge': one night where people can go insane and kill anybody they want to. The ambitious series has subsequently increased in its scope and satirical impact, with sequels The Purge: Anarchy and The Purge: Election Year taking aim at ever-more controversial targets.


Oculus (2014)

If you primarily know Karen Gillan from Guardians of the Galaxy and last year's Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, we recommend you check out her excellent performance in this underrated chiller. Deftly intercutting between two timelines, it introduces us to a brother and sister whose lives were torn apart by the Lasser Glass, an apparently innocuous mirror that may possess demonic powers. It also may have led to the deaths of their parents. Director Mike Flanagan brilliantly sustains the ambiguity as we're forced to confront whether the mirror is actually evil, or whether Gillan's character is distorting history as a result of her own inner demons.


Ouija (2014)

Have you ever messed with a ouija board? If so, this jump-laden offering may bring back memories, as a demon is unleashed to wreak havoc on an unsuspecting family. The first movie did decent business but received mixed reviews. The 2016 sequel, Origin of Evil, received stronger reviews and showcased strong direction from Oculus filmmaker Michael Flanagan.


Unfriended (2015)

If you thought a laptop screen was enough to shield you from pure evil, think again. One of Blumhouse's most innovative concepts is this, a movie that plays out entirely in chat windows as a group of teens are apparently stalked by a girl who committed suicide. Effectively playing on the detachment of the social media generation, it's a reminder that no matter where we hide, those skeletons in the closet will inevitably come tumbling out.


The Gift (2015)

Less a horror, more a throwback to the domestic invasion thrillers so popular in the 1990s (Pacific Heights, Unlawful Entry), The Gift is an accomplished directorial debut from actor Joel Edgerton. He stars as a stranger who inveigles his way into the lives of couple Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall, with horrific consequences for all involved. Beginning as one type of movie and steadily developing into a far more disturbing look at the history of bullying and macho behaviour, it has suspenseful atmosphere and brainy psychological insight to spare.


Hush (2016)

Blumhouse favourite Mike Flanagan returns with this devious suspense machine, the story of a deaf author terrorised in her house by a masked lunatic. Flanagan mercilessly toys with our expectations, utilising subjective sound to take us into the central character's point of view and increase the terror as danger looms. Actress Kate Siegel (who also co-writes) delivers a strong performance and the movie sustains its premise so well, it's kind of a pity it went straight to Netflix.


Split (2017)

The Sixth Sense director M. Night Shyamalan made his triumphant comeback after a series of flops with this disquieting split personality thriller. It's actually his second movie for Blumhouse, having made found footage movie The Visit back in 2015, but of the two, this one had the most impact. It rides on a tremendous performance from James McAvoy as a man harbouring 23 distinct personalities in his own head, and in typical Shyamalan fashion, few could have foreseen the crossover with the director's earlier Unbreakable during the climax. On that note, sequel Glass, teaming McAvoy with Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson, arrives next year.


Get Out (2017)

Following the release of Jordan Peele's triumphantly satirical horror-comedy, Blumhouse were not just seen as a purveyor of spooky entertainment. Instead, it was responsible for a full-blown cultural sensation, with the film yielding the first ever Best Original Screenplay Oscar for an African-American director. It's nomination for Best Picture meanwhile, almost unheard of for a horror film, was no less historic. Get Out therefore remains the most distinguished and prestigious of the Blumhouse output so far, a ghoulish blend of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and 12 Years a Slave that is as effective in skewering liberal racism as it is in honouring classic horror cinema. 


Happy Death Day (2017)

It's no Get Out, but there's a lot to recommend in this funny, scary mash-up of Groundhog Day and Scream. Jessica Rothe is excellent as the vapid sorority girl who undergoes the most twisted route to redemption imaginable when she's forced to relive her own murder again and again. Step by step, she uncovers clues to the masked killer's identity, learning more about her own relationships in the process. In typical Blumhouse fashion, the movie defied its meagre $4.8m budget to gross $122m worldwide. Little wonder the sequel is due to begin filming next month.

We hope that's got you in the mood for some good, spooky fun. If so, click here to book your tickets for Truth or Dare and tweet us your favourite Blumhouse movies @Cineworld.