We love to exaggerate how scared we get when watching a movie. "I almost pissed my pants!" "I almost shit my pants!" "I almost simultaneously shit and pissed my pants! I mean, that movie had an ant man and a wasp!" But even that is downplaying the reality in some cases. It's not that uncommon for a particular movie or scene to result in audience members leaving the theater on a goddamned stretcher. Like how ...
127 Hours is the second most excruciating James Franco thing to watch after his performance in Oz The Great And Powerful, but unlike that movie, 127 Hours hit people with actual physical side effects instead of just emotional trauma. A reviewer who saw the film at the Toronto International Film Festival mentioned that three people passed out and one had a seizure during the arm-severing sequence (and he went out of his way to express that he didn't think it was a PR stunt, as some people suggested).
The editor of Vanity Fair later hosted a screening with Franco and the director on hand. People reportedly wept, and yeah, another dude went facedown, ass up over it. Knocking someone unconscious with your movie is like winning an Oscar for Best Oh God No.
No one is keeping a database of how many people nationwide had to be carried out of screenings, though Movieline put together a helpful timeline of known instances of people losing their shit (I don't doubt some were played up to hype the movie, but if you've seen it, you know why many if not most were legit). What I'm saying is that this is the movie to put on if you want your family to clear out of your fucking house after Thanksgiving dinner.
If you haven't seen The Exorcist, then your mother and I are extremely disappointed in you. Please go watch it immediately, as it revolutionized the horror genre and is the reason so many of us masturbate with crucifixes today. There's an undeniable sense of dread and terror that blankets the whole thing, the costumes and makeup are exquisite, and it also seriously fucked up a whole bunch of people.
A New York Times article from January 1974 recounts people standing in massive lines for up to four hours to get into the theater to see The Exorcist, with scalpers selling tickets for upwards of $50, or the cost of a medium-sized popcorn in modern theaters. It then goes on to say:
... once inside the theater, a number of moviegoers vomited at the very graphic goings-on on the screen. Others fainted, or left the theater, nauseous and trembling, before the film was half over. Several people had heart attacks, a guard told me. One woman even had a miscarriage, he said.
OK, clearly some of that is the guard fucking with the reporter. It's impossible to know how much. But then there's the condition called "cinematic neurosis," which is the phenomenon of a patient developing anxiety, dissociation, and potentially psychotic symptoms because of a movie, requiring the intervention of a mental health professional. There's a study that mentions a case caused by Jaws, one by Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, and five separate incidents caused by The Exorcist.
People affected by The Exorcist suffered insomnia, panic attacks, PTSD, and more. One had dreams about the Devil with a dick in his mouth (that is, in the Devil's mouth). And sure, we all have dreams about the Devil or Elmer Fudd or whoever with dicks in their mouths sometimes, but this was to the point that the person needed psychotherapy to deal with it.
Freaks was directed by Tod Browning (who also made Dracula) all the way back in 1932. It centers around a group of sideshow performers (mostly played by actual sideshow performers) who take revenge on a beautiful trapeze artist when she's a dick to one of them. It also features this scene:
To this day, I won't agree to anything during a work meeting without chanting "I accept it! I accept it! Gooble gobble! Gooble gobble!" That went over like gangbusters when I was asked to start wearing pants again.
If you're thinking "Putting real deformed people in a horror movie called Freaks sounds a little off," know that the audiences of 1932 were not feeling it either. It pretty much ruined the career of the director, and one woman claimed to have had a miscarriage while watching a test screening. She threatened to sue the studio, and their response was to recut the movie to make it less horrifying. Spoilers: That plan barely worked.
The newer version of the film had fewer murderous scenes, along with eliminating a classic Golden Age of Hollywood castration scene. Word is those scenes are lost for all time, so whoever edited out the shot of a circus strongman getting his dong cut off apparently took it home with them for their personal collection.
On one hand, it seems like old-timey audiences would be more jaded about blood and gore than we are now -- not from their movies, but from seeing at least one family member get dismembered by a thresher every harvest. But when the stage play of Dracula showed up in 1927/28 starring Bela Lugosi (who would later go on to play the role in the 1931 film), they did not take it well. The San Francisco Chronicle talked about a nurse on hand with smelling salts to help handle an average of 14 faintings per night. 110 faintings were reported in the first week. Lugosi's accent was THAT good.
This was just the beginning of a trend. In 1960, the French film Eyes Without A Face made audience members buckle like belts thanks to one particular scene involving a face transplant. It's about six solid minutes of a doctor cutting a woman's face off and peeling it away like a goddamn orange. Seven audience members fainted during the film's showing at the Edinburgh Film Festival, and those were Scots, for God's sake. They eat haggis on purpose.
It's worth noting that faintings are not strictly limited to impressionable audiences of yesteryear, either. Four audience members fainted during a showing of Lars Von Trier's Antichrist in 2009, possibly because they saw Willem Dafoe's dong. In 2016, EMS had to be called to a Toronto showing of Raw when a person fainted, because some people still aren't down with cannibalism.
Ghostwatch sounds pretty tame on the surface. It originally aired on the BBC in 1992 at 9 p.m., and featured recognizable TV personalities (if you're British). It was filmed like a typical live broadcast investigative TV show. The hosts were at a house which was alleged to be haunted, investigating the claims and more or less mocking the idea. Or so it seemed!
As the show progressed, the tenor went from goofy "This is a bullshit waste of time" to something more menacing. Calls from viewers -- which were fake, but no one knew that at the time -- began to incorporate elements from the "real" haunting that was being presented on the show. And it wasn't long before the studio went full apocalyptic ghostsplosion. One of the hosts gets dragged off and presumably ghost-murdered, and the studio lights explode as the main host gets possessed on camera and begins to rant gibberish before the camera cuts out. Sounds kind of cool, right?
Well, the 30,000 people who called the BBC within an hour didn't think so. And that was the least of their problems.
Eleven million people watched Ghostwatch, and it fucked many of them up royally. It went from silly to disturbing very quickly, however, when an 18-year-old boy with some learning difficulties who watched the show committed suicide days later. His parents said he had been obsessed with the broadcast, and believed the same ghost haunted their house. He left a note saying that if ghosts are real, then he'd be with them "always as a ghost."
Other children who watched the show were later diagnosed as having PTSD, proving things had gone severely off the rails. The remaining five episodes of Ghostwatch never happened, and it was years before the show ever saw the light of day again, because no shit.
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