Movies That Make Audiences Faint: A Brief History

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Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours opens in theaters tomorrow, and thanks to a storyline that involves James Franco having to amputate his own hand after getting it trapped underneath a boulder, there have been numerous reports of fainting and even vomiting in the aisles at early screenings. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing: in fact Entertainment Weekly is asking whether it’s a compliment. Of course this isn’t the first time that a film has caused theatergoers to feel queasy enough to pass out. Granted there’s always the possibility that these incidents are simply carried out by paid actors, aiming to garner the film more hype (the practice of planting fainting actors in theaters dates back to the 1930s). Regardless here are eight other films that elicited some unpleasant physical reactions.

Dracula (1931)

Bela Lugosi’s classic portrayal of the blood sucker was apparently too much for some in the early days of the “talkie.” In an introduction o a reprinting of the novel, Joan Acocella explains that, “ladies were carried, fainting, from the theatre.” Robert Pattinson eat your heart out.

Psycho (1960)

When Alfred Hitchcock’s movie premiered in theaters, it was shocking to audiences, who had never really seen a slasher flick before. During the shower scene in which Norman Bates repeatedly stabs a helpless Marion Crane, many people fainted. It is also said that numbers of Americans stopped taking showers altogether. Not that Hitchcock cared. When a father wrote him complaining about his daughter’s new lack of hygiene, he allegedly responded with, “Send her to the dry cleaners.”

The Exorcist (1973)

In perhaps the most famous case of theater fainting, 1973’s tale of two priests attempting to exorcise a possessed teenager created quite a stir. Theatergoers reportedly fainted, screamed, and vomited during the film — specifically the arteriography scene, when the medical tech inserts the needle and blood spurts from the girl’s neck. One theater owner in Toronto said he had a plumber on call to clear the toilets. There are other rumors that people suffered heart attacks, and even one sad report of a woman having a miscarriage.

Interview With The Vampire (1994)

Before the Twilight saga vampire flicks were a little darker. Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt’s good looks weren’t enough to keep critics in their seats for a press screening of 1994’s Interview With The Vampire. Paramedics were called after people started fainting in the aisles, while others flocked to the lobby to escape the film.

Saw III (2006)

Apparently the third time was the charm with the Saw franchise. The UK release of Saw III saw three separate calls to emergency services to help those who had passed out while watching the film. As one spokesman for an ambulance company said, “If you know you’re squeamish, don’t go.” You can’t buy that kind of publicity.

Grace (2009)

Two people fainted at the premiere of Paul Solet’s horror film Grace at the Sundance Film Festival (according to the theater owner, it was the first time that had happened in 10 years). The film follows a mother who finds out the child she’s pregnant with has died, but decides to deliver anyway. Miraculously the baby is alive, but can only survive on human blood. Adam Green, one of the film’s producers, reported the fainting, but not without adding that it was an “amazing screening.”

Frozen (2010)

Filmmaker Adam Green strikes again! This time, in a storyline a tad reminiscent of 127 Hours, three skiers stranded on a chairlift are forced to make drastic choices or they face freezing to death. Thanks to wicked frostbite, scary wolves, and multiple broken bones, things allegedly got so grotesque that numerous faintings were reported at its Sundance screening.

The Whistleblower (2010)

A movie doesn’t have to be in the horror genre to leave viewers squeamish. Rachel Weisz’s latest thriller, The Whistleblower, is a film based on the story of a Nebraska cop who goes to Bosnia as part of peacekeeping mission. There, she discovers a horrible system of enslaving young girls for sex, which apparently was depicted so intensely one theatergoer fainted in the lobby.