Oren Peli is a super natural as a horror-meister.
The guy scares the hell out of me.
But, as Oren knows, it's nothing personal; all professional.
After all, what's not to like about this 39-year-old sweet sabra of a one-time software programmer now programming hard-hearted spine-chilling chillers?
Peli pelts the movie-goer with popcorn flicks that seemingly pop out of the darkest recesses of the imagination, insidiously inspired by the unknown.
Take "Insidious" — if you have the lights on.
Opening the film in Philadelphia and elsewhere on April 1, Peli as producer rightfully fools audiences into thinking that his heart is in the right place, even as theirs jump out of their bodies. In "Insidious," the fright fan is taken inside a couple's home where their child lies sadly, inexplicably comatose.
It's the audience who's about to lose sleep over why.
"I like films that scare people," Peli says simply.
But there is nothing simple about the Israeli's extraordinary success, which started two years ago with some "Paranormal Activity" on his otherwise computer geek of a résumé.
That film, which he wrote and made for $15,000, was a literal shot in the dark that shed light on a new name in the fright-film fandango — a delirious dance between fans who want to run from their seats screaming and the moviemakers who cleverly accommodate them.
After grossing nearly $200 million worldwide, "Paranormal Activity" — shot in a darkened bedroom in his own home where things that don't go gently into the night are more demonic than Dylanesque — proved that the nightmare on Elm Street had suddenly switched addresses.
But did it have the zip code for Israel?
"There is really no Israeli horror film industry," acknowledges Peli. "Israelis have enough everyday stress; they don't need horror movies."
Film Turned His Head
Peli had somewhat of a need for them, growing up with some he couldn't get out of his mind, "like 'The Exorcist,' " he recalls of the film that turned his head. "I've been a fan of such films since I was a kid."
As a teen, he was teeming with ambition to succeed, so he left behind Ramat Gan at age 19 for more opportunities — if not apparitions — in southern California's Silicone Valley.
So how'd he wind up in Hollywood's valley of the dead — where only the shadow knows what happens when the lights go out, and, now, Peli, too?
He was bewitched, bothered and bedazzled by "The Blair Witch Project" (1999), a doctored "documentary" shot on a low budget with resultant high grosses. He then took a camera — "I had no experience as a filmmaker" — pointed it at the dark and illuminated his future.
It also helped that Peli found a special friend among early fans; footage of "Paranormal Activity" was shown in a video viral campaign that caught the attention of a filmmaker who took his poltergeists personally: Steven Spielberg.
"He played a major role in getting the film out there," acknowledges Peli of the mega-producer "who loved the movie" and purchased it for distribution — only after having his own paranormal experience.
Be frightful and multiply? The first gave way to the second and the third "Paranormal" is coming out this year.
Par for the course, Hollywood has taken a liking to their newfound movie king, who just may have his biggest fan base thousands of miles away.
"My family is still in Israel, and they're so proud of what I've done; they think it's pretty cool," he says, that their son the sabra's a spine-tingler.
Only one question they have: "Since when did you want to make movies?"
Since he made one. But even though the filmmakers of "Insidious" — director James Wan and screenwriter Leigh Whannell — saw their biggest success in the original "Saw," Peli is "not into blood and gore special effects, although there is a misconception that 'Saw' the original had that.
"It wasn't gory."
The gorier scenes of "Saw" were in the subsequent sequels.
Peli prefers his movies mind-bending rather than blood-curdling, hitching his star to Hitchcockian efforts.
"I respond to psychological effects," he say of the mind running pell-mell.
He enjoys and employs "those things that get under your skin" — and make his audiences' skin crawl.
A haunting he will go?
Peli gets his chance to do just that on the big — next up is "Area 51" — and small screens: "I'm shooting a pilot for ABC called 'The Driver.' "
He's in the driver's seat right now. But why, Oren, is the car driving itself? And the locks suddenly jammed?
Oren … Oren …