I know I’ve already said in previous posts that I’d be leaving all of the Sundance updates to Peter seeing as he’s actually there and I’m here, half a world away in Oxford, England, and only dreaming of Skiing, Mormons and four-films-a-day exhaustion, but this one is of particular interest to me so I wanted to chip in on it.  I’m not sure if there’s more to this story than meets the eye, or if there’s even less, but either way I think it warrants discussion.

Last night, Paul Solet‘s horror film Grace was premiered at The Egyptian Theatre, Park City, Utah. During the question and answer session after the film, one of the festival volunteers declared “Must have been a good movie because we had two people faint during the screening”; sometime later, the film’s producer, Adam Green, sent an e-mail to ShockTillYouDrop, thus: “Two faints. One outside and one in the lobby. Egyptian owner confirmed that in 10 years it’s the first time it’s happened. Amazing screening.”

Grace does have a resonant premise with the potential to upset and unsettle deeply: a young woman, played by Jordan Ladd, has an accident in the penultimate month of her pregnancy, sadly resulting in the death of her unborn child. She decides to carry the baby to full term and deliver it, but at birth, the child appears to be miraculously resurrected. Soon she learns that the infant has a taste for human blood.  Mother now has to decide what she’s prepared to sacrifice for her daughter.

Supernatural aspects aside, I think pregnancy, still birth and even just successful child birth make potent subjects for a horror film and am very curious to see if Grace lives up to it’s inherent potential. Think of The Exorcist, for example, and how some very real power of that film lies in it’s relationship and low-level allusions to puberty – I would hope that Grace also succeeds, at the very least, on that level.

I’ve seen some hardcore fainting in the cinema before. In fact, when I was working at an Oxford cinema in 1995 I witnessed regular outbreaks of fainting that I could practically have set my watch by. On a short run of three Saturday nights, and each time during the main evening screening of Interview with the Vampire, two separate customers dropped. In each of these six cases an ambulance was called, as per cinema policy, and in each case the medics were able to confirm that these were genuine cases, not stooges or actors. Nobody fainted during any other screenings of the film – just at that time of day, on that day of the week.

I considered this an absolutely mystifying set of circumstances, almost a puzzle to be solved. Was the spate of fainting just the product of coincidence? Well, I don’t think so. I looked into the facts that separated these screenings from all others and it seemed to be, quite simply, that these were the only full houses. Other screenings came to something like 85% or so of a full house, but only during the three performances in question did we sell out. I spoke to a lot of people about the issue at the time, and I was told by an experienced manager of another cinema that there was a kind of critical mass in audience size, after which the people themselves heated the room up more than was comfortable and that then, on occasion, faintings would happen.  This being January, the AC wasn’t switched on – though, thankfully, I don’t think the thermostat was triggering the heating system either – and this was a fairly big and densely seated auditorium, capable of holding almost a thousand people. Seems to add up.

But other films were selling out during Winter too – why weren’t they filled with fainters? Well, the other important clue was the actual moment in the film when people dropped.  In each case, the scenes on screen felt hot, sultry, even sweaty. So, a few years on I asked, just conversationally, a University of Oxford Research Psychologist if I’d be right to assume a connection there, and she thought it was likely. Indeed, she was prepared to bet that the Vampire faintings had more to do with people getting carried away with the heat, rather than the bloodletting. Of course, these were off the cuff comments and she might not stand by them now.

All the same, I’m actually now convinced that Interview with the Vampire specifically has some power to make people faint. Over the years, I’ve bumped into many reports of audience members passing out at screenings of the film – far more, in fact, than I have for any other film, including (though not limited to) a large number of people passing out during the initial press and publicity screenings. I hope Neil Jordan is proud of himself.

To be fair, fainting at a horror film is hardly unheard of outside of those cases, with such terminally uncreepy nonsense as Saw, Saw III, The Blair Witch Project and Hannibal all being cited in the same Variety piece. Perhaps it’s quite easy to make a punter faint, or perhaps it’s more down to luck – all the same, Grace has just ended up with a prime piece of pluggable trivia, possibly enough to boost the box office significantly.

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