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LOS ANGELES — Last year, after being the dominant horror franchise for four consecutive years, “Saw” was upended by “Paranormal Activity.”

Coming off four previous openings of more than $30 million, 2009’s “Saw VI” was caught off guard by the surprise success of “Paranormal,” debuting in second place to a weak $14.1 million.

This weekend, Saw’s serial-killer character Jigsaw is looking for some vengeance.

“Saw 3D,” the seventh and promised final entry in the annual series, is the only new movie opening this weekend in nationwide release. It comes one week after “Paranormal Activity 2” launched to strong ticket sales of $40.7 million.

Though it’s highly unlikely that the new “Saw” would reach those heights, people who have seen pre-release surveys say it has a good chance of beating the second weekend of Paramount Pictures’ “Paranormal Activity 2.” The film is expected to sell $20 million to $25 million worth of tickets, while “Paranormal” will probably drop to $20 million or less.

Independent studio Lionsgate, which has made huge profits off the low-budget “Saw” movies over the last six years, went to great lengths to ensure that the last installment would not end the series with a whimper. In addition to shooting the picture in 3-D, which helped nearly double the $11 million budget of the previous films, the studio announced that there wouldn’t be any more sequels.

“We knew after last year that if we made another sequel we had to make it an event, which is why we produced it in 3-D and said this will be the final ‘Saw,’ ” said David Spitz, executive vice president of distribution.

Surveys indicate that awareness of and interest in “Saw 3-D” are higher than for last year’s entry, giving Lionsgate executives hope that the movie is well positioned for the weekend. They should know by early Friday morning, as shows start late Thursday and continue after midnight.

Young male horror fans, traditionally the core of the “Saw” audience, typically come out right away for pictures they’re excited about. Late Thursday and Friday shows could be crucial for the new movie, as many young moviegoers could be out at Halloween parties Saturday night.

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Saw 3D holds back on ludicrous plot twists and even the 3D effects, which are, oddly, almost tasteful.
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On the outside, Paranormal Activity 2 may seem like one of those atypical instances where the second helping is as satisfying as the first. In actuality, it's like having the same meal twice, only the next time around, the lack of real flavor is painfully palpable.

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