by David Christopher Bell
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.
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.
This film is one of those brutal spectacles where quality was given preference over quantity. There is little horror, but what bits remain are aimed right where it hurts the very most. Specifically, the genitals.
It’s no surprise that the film got more than its share of walkouts, as well several audience members surrendering to gravity. It’s not as if the film isn’t already macabre in its overall mood and story, but they had to go ahead and throw in graphic mutilation scenes of both male and female private parts. Total bummer. Good horror though.
Not only did this piss off the audience, but the jury as well, who went out of their way to give the film an ‘anti prize’ at Cannes after its showing there because of what they claimed to be misogynist undertones within the film. I may be dense – but I didn’t notice such things. Then again – all I can remember about this film is Willem Dafoe’s penis, a log, and a general feeling of uneasiness.
3. 127 Hours
You can watch limb after limb being torn off in any given horror film out there and not feel a thing – but the moment someone comes along and actually puts that injury into context it’s a way different story. 127 Hours did just that. It did it very slowly and very seriously, and in result we got to see one of the harder to watch moments out there. Don’t believe me? Ask the three people who fainted during the first screening, or perhaps the one dude who suffered a seizure from it. At its most relevant the fainting total went up to 13 as the movie screened across the country.
It’s the double whammy of a situation that not only appeals to the phobias of your average arm-loving citizen but also has an extra layer of intense claustrophobic terror. Personally – the worst part of the entire ordeal wasn’t the scene itself, but everything leading up to it. Anyone going into this film knows damn well how it’s going to end, so watching the struggle that leads up to it is like watching people try to keep the Titanic afloat. You know from the start what needs to be done, and you know that it won’t be pretty.
From what I’ve heard, director Gaspar Noe would have been disappointed if audiences didn’t walk out of this film at its Cannes screening. It would have meant that he either didn’t do his job right, or the human race is way more desensitized than anyone could have ever known. Luckily for humanity, 250 people ended up leaving the theater during it – 20 of which apparently had to be given oxygen due to fainting. Holy shit.
Of course, having seen the movie there are several factors at work here. It would be one thing to have graphic depictions of rape and violence – but it’s a whole other circus when the entire film looks like it was shot by a lunatic. The camera swings back and forth through a series of tracking shots as if it were literally hanging by a rope. It takes astronaut-level control to get through each scene without feeling at least a little dizzy – and couple that with a man getting his head caved in with a fire extinguisher, well… it’s tough. Not to mention that when this movie first premiered at Cannes, it was early on a Saturday morning. Imagine waking up to this.
1. The Exorcist
This movie had everything. According to a 1974 article by Judy Klemsrud in the New York Times, “It’s been reported that once inside the theater, a number of moviegoers vomited at the very graphic goings-on on 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.”
There were even riots outside the cinema as people scrambled to get a seat.
Of course this is one of those things were it’s hard to tell truth from fiction. Director William Friedkin himself tried to downplay the problems the film was causing saying, “I’ve heard reports of people fainting or throwing up during the picture, but I don’t think there has been a significant number of such occurrence.” But even at it’s very modest, the reports about audience reactions involve – at the very least – vomiting and fainting.
One of the funnier details is that one of the problem scenes didn’t turn out to be what you’d think. The real sick-inducing scene came when the doctor puts the needle in Regan’s neck and causes blood to spurt out. Apparently it got people pale to watch. Really goes to show that you can masturbate with a crucifix all you want, but all it really takes is a little bit of blood in just the right way to make someone fall down.
What’s your favorite disgusting scene?