Luis Bunuel once claimed that he kept rocks in his pockets during the first screening of Un Chien Andalou in case the crowd didn’t like what it saw. Whether or not that’s actually true, the audience reaction was never so bad that it came to violence. Apparently cutting open an eyeball wasn’t a real biggie in the 1920s.
Of course, none of that changes how ridiculously hard that short film is to watch. It’s grotesque, nauseating, and a great starting point for decades of filmmakers continuing to make audiences freak the hell out. That grand tradition was continued with a second fainting at a screening of V/H/S and it’s a tradition we’d like to celebrate with 8 movies that caused some strong physical reactions.
Kind of obligatory, but also surprisingly unconfirmed for the most part. There has always been a standing assumption that the shower scene caused a big panic in the theaters – and while it’s most definitely true there is little to actually go on factually. That said, it’s always mentioned when talking about the film. And hell, I’ve talked to people who personally saw this film in theaters and their stories were enough to warrant a place on this list. After all – there was truly nothing like this before.
One thing that is true is the fact that it caused a phobia of taking showers – most famously for Janet Leigh herself, who in 2000 claimed to still hold on to that fear quite tightly.
It makes sense – not only are you completely exposed, but there isn’t a single object that you can wield in defense that wont make the coroner belly-laugh later on. Also being naked and dead in any situation just doesn’t seem anywhere close to dignified. Dying nude in the shower is the karaoke of fatalities.
Apparently it’s happened more than once so far, people getting up during the first half of the film and fainting right on the spot. Some of it might have to do with the shakiness of the film’s found footage style, others have theorized that the reason this happens so often at Sundance is that audiences are much more inclined to watch a film at the festival that they normally wouldn’t sit through.
Either way, it’s not surprising because this film is not only gruesome but also extremely intense to watch. There’s rarely a still moment – not just visually but also story-wise. Being a series of shorts, the plot moves along much faster than most horror.
The short story format also creates something that I’m pleased to say has never been done in these found-footage type films: it actually made the situations more realistic. When you watch films like Cloverfield and Blair Witch you kind of have to wonder why they are still holding the camera two hours in, right? Thanks to V/H/S’s format, that isn’t an issue. Apparently fainting is, though.
We can all learn a lesson from this film. While there are those who may look grotesque on the outside, true horror lies within. So don’t be mean to circus freaks or else they will turn you into a duck or something. It kind of falls apart at the end.
Seriously though – it’s a great concept. The film follows two beautiful people who swindle a sideshow carnie for inheritance – the idea being that while on the outside these showie folk may look like freaks, it’s the two “normal” people in the film who are truly unbalanced. After all, there really isn’t a more perfect breeding ground for psychopathic behavior than the complacent position of beauty. In reality it’s the dude with no limbs who is going to be the interesting and approachable one.
None of this really stuck in 1932, however. And after a woman actually threatened to sue because of a miscarriage she claimed happened during a test screening of the film, the movie was cut down to 60 minutes. To be fair – that was probably less about the social commentary of it all and more about the brutal castration scene, but whatever.
Anyone who has seen the movie already knows which scene is most likely the culprit here. After a casual five minutes of internet searching I found two personal accounts of people passing out during this film, as well as a story about a boy having a seizure. Pretty messed up… well… not as messed up as performing automated surgery on yourself in order to remove an alien baby… but it’s close.
It was a scene that brought horror back to sci-fi – showing that just because something is a prequel doesn’t mean it has to be unoriginal. With all the plot holes you can take from this film, it still does exactly what it set out to do.
One pet peeve I have to share about this film is the reaction I’ve seen from a lot of people who seem to think that since the movie touches upon the creation of life it has some sort of bigger meaning to it. I’ve heard all sorts of theories about how this ties into the story of Jesus Christ and even heard someone say that the surgery scene was a parable for a woman’s right to choose. To all of that I say: squid monster.
Don’t get me wrong; the series have always drawn its visual horror from a heavy amount of sexual imagery. And there are comparisons to be drawn out of this film just like there are for any film out there – but why so much attention for this one? It’s just a monster movie in space, there’s not much more to it.