7 scary films that have made viewers literally puke, faint and even die
French-Belgian cannibal film Raw recently is gnawing its way into cinemas around the world, amid a rash of pre-release buzz that it was so intensely gory and violent that it made viewers physically ill. No joke – when the film screened at the Toronto International Festival last year, paramedics had to be called to the scene.
But for many horror films, rumours of extreme audience reactions aren’t necessarily a cause for concern and can often work in the film’s favour. Using reports of audiences fainting or throwing up as free publicity goes way back in the history of cinema, with suspense auteur Alfred Hitchcock capitalising on the phenomenon to promote Psycho.
Raw seems to be taking a page from Hitchcock’s PR book, distributing sickbags at screenings at the Nuart Theatre in Los Angeles for patrons who dared to take in the edgy coming-of-age cannibalism flick.
The physical reaction, known as vasovagal syncope, occurs when the heart rate slows and blood pressure drops due to noxious stimuli like blood, guts and other heinous images. Convulsions can occur if you don’t realise it’s a fainting spell and try to keep your head up, so be sure to lie down and get blood back to the brain if it happens to you.
Here are a few other films that had audiences puking, fainting and, sadly, passing away in the aisles. Proceed with caution.
When the story of mountain climber Aron Ralston’s self-amputation after a five-day ordeal trapped under a boulder in Utah was released, the details in print were hard enough to stomach. Imagine using a dull pocketknife to sever your own forearm just to survive – and then of course, there’s the pee drinking. But even knowing what was coming didn’t lessen the intensity of the onscreen depiction in Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours. The film racked up a tally of up to 16 faintings at various film festivals and promotional screenings before it even hit cinemas, as well as a handful of seizures and panic attacks. Regardless of the gruesome severing scene, it racked up six Oscar nominations, the most deserved of which went to star James Franco for his lead performance.
The story of the blood-drinking Transylvanian count has transfixed audiences since Bram Stoker penned the novel in 1897. A 1927 stage production of the play in the United States, starring Bela Lugosi, resulted in people fainting and needing to be carried out of the theatre. Audiences fainted at the 1931 film, too, which was one of the first full-length supernatural thriller movies ever made. The terror turned out to be a huge publicity hit as audiences bought tickets just for curiosity. As a result we have Dracula to thank for the horror movie craze – and probably for Twilight, too.
Alfred Hitchcock’s most notorious film, and his biggest hit, Psycho defined word-of-mouth marketing upon its release in 1960, with shocked and titillated moviegoers telling their friends they’d have to experience the film themselves. Based on the gruesome true-life story of Wisconsin murderer Ed Gein, the horrifying, violent, ironic and sexy film launched a whole new era in horror/suspense filmmaking. Audiences had a multitude of reactions: screaming, laughter, running for the doors and passing out. Some New York City cinemas even called the cops. The release was highly controlled by Hitchcock and Paramount, with no pre-release reviews, and radio spots and signs in cinemas warning that no one would be admitted after the start of the movie. The air of mystery only added to the allure of the film, proving that Hitchcock is the unparalleled master of the audience experience both on screen and off.
Mel Gibson is known for his incredibly violent, religiously inspired films, and most recently, he was nominated for Best Director and Best Picture Oscars for the exceptionally gory WWII picture Hacksaw Ridge. But he’ll probably best be known for the intensely violent, bloody and gory crucifixion scene in The Passion Of The Christ, starring Jim Caviezel as Jesus himself. There were reported faintings and walkouts during the latter half of the film, but tragically, one woman died as a result of a heart attack she suffered during the climactic scene. Who’s to know if Gibson’s film is to blame for that, but perhaps it demonstrates the extreme emotional and physical effects a movie can bring.
Of all the films on this list, no other compares to the amount of intense reaction inspired by William Friedkin’s demonic child horror film, The Exorcist. Reports describe mass hysteria, people running out of the cinema, and fainting and vomiting in the lobby. With such news circulating, cinemas in London had ambulances on standby when the film premiered. Despite all of the extreme reactions, the film was a critical and commercial hit, with lines around the block at cinemas. It won two Oscars of the 10 it was nominated for, and remains an iconic cultural touchstone.
You mightn’t expect an art-house grief drama by a European auteur to inspire extreme physical reactions, but that’s exactly what happened with Antichrist. Lars Von Trier is known for his bleak, depressing movies that unflinchingly explore the darkest aspects of the human condition and this film, starring Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg as a couple grieving the accidental death of their child, was greeted with boos, jeers, walkouts and fainting at its Cannes premiere, thanks to a graphic scene involving smashing testicles and female genital mutilation with rusty scissors. Yikes.