We’ve all heard the tales of people fainting at the site of something horrifying in a newly released movie (true), and most of us have heard the cliché tale of the audience that ran screaming at the site of the first cinema train hurtling towards the screen (false). When large groups of people come together for a shared experience, there is no telling what might happen, whether it is during a religious service, a movie, or even a trial. This list looks at ten times people reacted in a less-than-ordinary way when witness to various events.
See Also: Top 10 Incredible Recordings
Halloween jumpstarted the golden age of slasher films. Unusual for its genre it has won awards, been praised by critics and is as much loved 40 years after its release as it was when it first launched. It can be said that in some ways the film was an early viral success as it relied heavily on word of mouth for its popularity. As you can see in the video clip above, an audience unused to the slasher genre reacted far more excitedly than we would today. In fact, if I were in that audience I might be tempted to do a Michael Myers on some of the loudest!
An interesting fact relating to the film is that John Carpenter (the director) composed the entire music score himself in just three days. He was inspired by the scores of previous horrors such as The Exorcist and Suspira. There are now a total of eleven movies in the entire Halloween franchise with the most recent in 2018 which was a direct sequel to the first and ignores the intervening films. Another two Halloween movies are in the works for release in October 2020 and 2021.
This is not a list exclusively about films, but I believe that the three I have included on this list are very deserving of their places here. Saw III was released in 2006 and was expected to be gory. But on the opening night in Hertfordshire in the United Kingdom, ambulances were called three times to assist people who had fainted due to the film. Additionally, a man reportedly collapsed in another town on the same night so we can’t just say that Hertfordshire citizens are a touch more delicate than the rest of us.
Saw III is interesting in that it is either loved or hated by fans of the franchise. It stands out as somewhat unique in that way. It was shot in just 28 days and when they started they didn’t even have a complete script! But the coolest fact about Saw III is that the bathroom used throughout was actually borrowed from the set of Scary Movie 4 which, in turn, had modeled it on the bathroom in the original Saw movie. That is some kind of twisted meta scenario. Watch the clip above if you dare—it’s the pig scene and it is not pleasant.
Playboy of the Western World was written by Irish playwright John Millington Synge and first performed in 1907 at the Abbey Theatre, in Dublin. The play, written controversially in Irish English rather than the more common Gaelic, caused a stir before it was even staged due to the nature of its content in which a man attempts to murder his father twice whilst generally cavorting with a bunch of women of relatively relaxed moral principles.
Upon the first performance riots broke out and spread beyond the theater. Eventually the police had to quell the mob. The author writing to the leading lady declared “It is better any day to have the row we had last night, than to have your play fizzling out in half-hearted applause. Now we’ll be talked about. We’re an event in the history of the Irish stage”. An audio recording of the play is above for those who can understand the incredibly confusing accent.
In 1917, three children in Fatima Portugal claimed to be seeing visions of the Virgin Mary. They were greeted with some skepticism in a nation that was, at the time, in its newly established strongly anti-religious first republican stage. Nevertheless, the local Bishop investigated and gave a half-hearted approval, and the children had a number of further visions. News spread and the children (and Fatima) became a boiling topic of conversation between those who believed and those who didn’t.
Eventually the children announced that the Virgin they saw in their visions was going to appear in October and perform miracles so that everyone would know they were not lying. The day arrived and so did 70,000 witnesses including the world’s skeptical media. And lo and behold, according to all present (including the media) a miracle did occur:
“The sun’s disc did not remain immobile. This was not the sparkling of a heavenly body for it spun round on itself in a mad whirl. Then, suddenly, one heard a clamour, a cry of anguish breaking from all the people. The sun, whirling wildly, seemed to loosen itself from the firmament and advance threateningly upon the earth as if to crush us with its huge and fiery weight.”
Reporters who had previously written derisive articles about Fatima converted. The experience was, in their words, so terrifying, that they thought the world was ending. Two of the three children (who died in 1919 and 1920) were declared Saints in 2017, and the third who died in 2005 was declared a Servant of God at the same time, paving the way for her eventual canonization.
In 1995 America came to a standstill as the nation watched with bated breath to see what the verdict would be in the 11 months long trial of O. J. Simpson for the brutal murder of his wife Nicole Simpson. The video clip above shows us the immediate reaction of a crowd of people gathered in Times Square watching on the big screen. The reaction was split across racial lines, which was not surprising given the incredibly divisive nature of the trial itself in which the defense attorneys sought to use accusations of racism to win. Black Americans generally felt that justice had been done, whilst white and Hispanic Americans felt the opposite.
In a bizarre twist to the tale which can only happen in the US justice system, Simpson was found guilty of the crimes in a civil court two years later and was ordered to pay forty-one million dollars in reparation. In a further insane twist, Simpson went on to publish a book If I Did It which he called a “hypothetical” confession. O.J. ultimately received prison time for nine years on unrelated charges including robbery. He was released in 2017.
When technology finally allowed movie makers to include spoken dialog in their pictures, they were probably not expecting the reaction they (universally) got: laughter (and these weren’t comedy films we are talking about). At the first showing of the talkie drama War Nurse by Edgar Selwyn in 1930, the audience reacted in a very unexpected way during some of the most poignant moments: at one stage a woman is in the throes of pain during childbirth and she yells “I want my mother!” The audience wept with laughter. And so it went on, time after time. Every time an actor spoke: the audience burst into laughter.
The reason for this was not because the actors had silly voices. It was not because of bad acting either. It was entirely because an audience so used to silence in film found verbosity in the midst of scenes that were rather self-explanatory, to be ridiculous. It left nothing to the imagination. It is one thing to use spoken language for a conversation, it was another to use it to interject mundane and unnecessary comments. One film reviewer rather smartly stated: “When the screen became audible it made silence the principal element of screen art.”
Susan Boyle is perhaps the best example of an audience reaction that spread well beyond the confines of her own physical location: she became an international sensation thanks to the Internet after auditioning to be a contestant on season 3 of Britain’s Got Talent.
She first appeared as a dowdy Scottish 47 year old woman “currently unemployed but still looking”. The intro to her performance is, as you would expect, somewhat mocking—a technique used in the media to create a greater contrast (and consequently a greater chance of going viral) between a before and after scenario. So yes, there is some manipulation in the production of Susan’s fame, but there is no denying it: that woman has a great voice.
On Youtube her audition received 2.5 million views in the first 72 hours, and the next day she hit the front page of Digg and Reddit—definitely not the audience you would expect to be adoring a middle-aged Scottish cat-loving, grey haired lady. She appeared as a contestant this year on America’s Got Talent: The Champions where she placed in the top 12 but lost.
Cleansed is a play by English playwright Sarah Kane who killed herself in 1999 by hanging herself with shoelaces in a hospital toilet. A somewhat unfortunate but poetic end when you consider the nature of her writing and the reason for this entry on the list: Cleansed is the tale of a university run by a sadistic madman. The story is filled with such delights as forced violent sodomy with a metal pole, a character whose tongue is ripped out, and involuntary gender reassignment surgery. There is also a bit of force-feeding, throat slashing, and suicide.
Not surprisingly when this play was staged in 2016 at the National Theatre in London it caused five people to faint in horror and more than forty people walked out in disgust. And unlike most of the entries on this list which have mostly affected audiences, the cast of this play have also described experiencing “very strange nightmares where very extreme events take place”.
Of the play, theatre critic John Gross sardonically wrote: “The play is miserable stuff—which is not to say, current fashions being what they are, that I can’t foresee Sarah Kane enjoying a successful career.” And no doubt she will . . . move over Shakespeare.
The Exorcist was filmed and released at a very turbulent time in the history of the religion it portrays: the Roman Catholic Faith. In 1973 the fallout from the reforms of the second Vatican council were beginning to become apparent. The film itself makes subtle reference to that in the character of father Karras who not only finds himself a councillor to an unending line of priests losing their faith, but he begins to lose his own. The desecration of churches under the supposedly-benevolent eye of Pope Paul VI, in which altars were stripped and statues destroyed, is also reflected in some metaphorical way by the desecration scene in the film.
This was the background to the release of, what remains to this day, one of the most horrifying artistic expressions of the power of evil. Once witnessed, you will never forget the head spinning or obscene crucifix stabbing scene. It is a miracle that the young actress playing Regan (Linda Blair) had no idea at all what was happening throughout.
Audiences at the time reacted just as you would expect. They fainted, they cried, they fled the cinemas. So well-known and frequent were these reactions upon seeing the face of the devil on the big screen, that ambulances were stationed at some movie theaters. Word got out and the lines to see the film were like nothing that had been seen before. Interestingly similar reactions occurred in the 2000s re-release of the picture. The video above shows actual footage of these reactions.
The grand opening of the ballet The Rite of Spring by Igor Stravinsky resulted in a very unexpected audience reaction: riots. They were, in fact, so bad, the show was stopped and the orchestra fled! Stravinsky was at the forefront of modern art in classical music and he decided that he would represent the wonder of the spring season in a way no one had before. To do so, he focussed on pagan rites to represent the agony of new birth.
This premiere performance was something extraordinary. The music was written by the greatest 20th century composer, and the costumes and sets were designed by Nicholas Roerich, for whom is named the Roerich Pact which asserts that the “protection of culture always has precedence over any military necessity.” The ballet was choreographed by the great dancer Vaslav Nijinsky (though Stravinsky himself hated the dances he created). For enthusiasts of the classical arts, this is virtually the second coming of Jesus Christ!
For audiences of the day it proved too much; this was, of course, two years before the world became partly immune to horror due to the great war. Stravinsky’s score was met with derisive laughter at the opening strains of its oboe solo but mirth turned to mockery and then to outright rioting by the time the piece reached its first movement: The Augurs Of Spring. The colorful costumes and sets combined with the bizarre writhing and thumping of the ballerinas to the thunderous cacophony of the movement was simply too much.
The piece is now acclaimed as one of the greatest works of 20th century classical music. Go figure! The video above starts at the moment that the rioting would have begun. Try to watch it with the eyes of someone who had only known such things as Swan Lake to be ballet; you’ll find it quite startling.
Thanks to reader HM8432 who, in the comments, pointed out this video for inclusion as a bonus. “On November 22nd, 1963, at a performance of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, conductor Erich Leinsdorf delivers the news of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination to a shocked audience. Leinsdorf then announces that the orchestra will play the Funeral March from Beethoven’s third symphony.”
The gasps of the audience are chilling and the performance of the Beethoven funeral march is incredibly moving in its dignity. What a dreadful moment for not just the United States of America, but the free world as a whole.