Has a movie ever killed someone in the audience? Several films have been accused of this, but has it ever really happened? As a skeptical contemporary audience, we immediately think everything we hear about a movie is a marketing gimmick. Our distrust of any news that might play into the hands of filmmakers, such as an audience member dying, isn’t new to our generation either. Sure, we’ve been fooled before. We believed that The Human Centipede was causing a great many people to be ill in theaters. Is it true? Probably not to the extent that the filmmakers would have us believe. We also believed that The Blair Witch Project was real, but that didn’t last too long. So what about theater deaths? Are they urban legends? Are there other explanations or are these just plain truths?
There’s a reason why we believe everything is a gimmick, and, whether you know it or not, it all pretty much goes back to director and producer William Castle. Castle was the guy who popularized marketing gimmicks to generate buzz for his horror films. One of the most interesting gimmicks related to this list was used for The Tingler (1959). For this film’s release, Castle installed vibrating motors in seats, staged “screamers” and “fainters” in the theater, and set up nurses in the lobby and an ambulance out front. The “fainters” would be stretchered out of the theater in front of everyone in the theater. This ultimately led to rumors of people’s death, which can only help the box-office numbers. Still to this day, the ambulance gimmick is used for some movies. Plenty of reports have come out about people dying in theaters. We heard it with The Exorcist. Even though there was someone who fainted and broke their jaw, they never died, so we don’t care that much about it. Which reports were real and which were hoaxes? Who has actually died because of a movie? Laughing to death, scared to death, it doesn’t matter to us; we just want death. We also want to send our condolences to the families of those who actually did die. Here are 15 movies that literally killed their viewers.
15. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Last year, some reports started flying around on social media and even some news sites, that a man had committed suicide because Star Wars: The Force Awakens cast a black man, John Boyega, as the star. As insane as this claim was, people believed it and shared it and it took off. The reports claimed that the 53-year-old man, Bobby-Jo Garrison, was a massive Star Wars fanatic and just couldn’t live in a world where there was a black cast member. It seems that he thought Billy Dee Williams was just really tanned, but that’s neither here nor there. Even though this was proven to be another hoax, there are still people who believe the reports. But who can blame them? If you were exposed to any of the crazy racism that went on when the casting was first announced, you might have accepted this as truth as well.
14. A Fish Called Wanda
One of the most famous occurrences of someone dying while watching a movie came when audiologist Ole Bentzen, died while laughing at a scene in A Fish Called Wanda. Reports suggest that Bentzen’s heart rate rapidly climbed to between 250 and 500 beats-per-minute, but it’s curious how they got that information. Was someone in there checking this guy’s heart rate as he died? The death happened in a Denmark theater during the scene that Ken puts fries in his nose. Apparently, this scene reminded Bentzen of an inside family joke and that’s why it got him so good. The laughter led Bentzen to fall to cardiac arrest and has since become an urban legend passed around the world. Good marketing for the film, too.
13. Raju Gari Gadi
Last year, around Halloween, a teacher, C. Amarnath from Attapur, went into a theater in Bahadurpura to watch the Telugu horror film Raju Gari Gadi. When theater crews came in after the film had finished to clean up before the next showing, they noticed that Amarnath was dead. Reports suggest that he probably died from cardiac arrest during the film; whether it was encouraged from fright or an accelerated heart rate is anyone’s guess. There were only about 20 people in the theater at the time and other viewers stated that they believed he was only sleeping. Since this was so close to Halloween and the man was watching a horror film, we immediately question the truth behind it, but no matter what, this type of news can only help the film.
Early reports came out about a man, described as a “transient,” who went into a screening of Twilight Eclipse by himself and died during the film. At the time, police said, “There are no obvious injuries to this person… And we are looking at this as an unexplained death.” Fright, laughter, or boredom? What could have caused this death? It turns out that the death was caused by alcohol. We don’t know what really went down in that theater, but we can surely guess. Everyone knows that alcohol makes most things more enjoyable. Unfortunately for this poor guy, he kept trying to make Twilight better, but, no matter how much he drank, the film just stayed terrible. When he finally put that last swig to his lips and found the bottle dry, he realized that this would be the best the movie ever got, and that’s where he gave up.
11. Harry Potter
It’s tough to put the blame on a Harry Potter film for this one, but we’re going to anyways. Earlier this year, Tesla’s fancy autopilot feature in their cars claimed its first victim. Joshua Brown, the 40-year-old driver of the vehicle, was cruising down the highway on autopilot at a very high-speed when he crashed into a truck and died. Reports say that the reason he never realized he was about to crash was because he was “playing Harry Potter on the TV screen.” In the films, Potter is responsible for the deaths of many of his friends, but you would never expect the film to kill someone. It is sad that the man died in the accident, but is it also a testament to the quality of the films? Are they so good, you won’t be able to take your eyes off them, even while you’re driving? Only time will tell.
10. Grand Masti
When 22-year-old Mangesh Bhogal went to see the Hindi comedy, Grand Masti, he almost definitely expected to laugh, but how could he have known he would laugh to death? Well, that’s just what we’re told happened. Take it straight from the mouth of Rakesh Shah, the director of the theater where the young man died, “During the incident, I was at the box office when one of our employees informed me about the incident. The youth was with his girlfriend and they were watching the 6pm show of Grand Masti when he suffered a stroke,” explained Shah. “Those who sat beside the youth said he was laughing his heart out and it was then that he suffered a major stroke. He was rushed to Cardinal Gracias Hospital at Vasai West, where he was declared dead before admission.” The people behind him described that he was “laughing his heart out”? Seems like a poor choice of words by those people.
This story is a bit confusing, but we’ll present it in the way it was reported. In late 2010, a group of students in India got together to watch a horror movie marathon that consisted of Blood, Ghost, Atmakatha and Aliens. One of the students, M Prabhakar, got up to go to the bathroom. Soon after, he came out of the bathroom screaming in shock. It was then that the young man collapsed in the movie room, but no one noticed him there until after the marathon was complete. He was then rushed to the hospital where he was declared dead. Now, we have so many questions. Why did he scream when coming out of the bathroom? How did he die? How did people know he screamed but didn’t know he collapsed? Wouldn’t someone ask if everything was alright, like whatchu screaming about bud? It seems a little weird is all, but we’ll blame this on Aliens.
When Tod Browning decided to make his cult film Freaks, he chose to use real sideshow performers to make the impact on the audience all the more powerful. The result was massively controversial. People complained, the cast and crew revolted (not wanting to share the screen or the set with these performers) and the audience members were sickened. Famously, one woman threatened to sue the filmmakers and the studio because she suffered a miscarriage during a test screening. While this is stretching the “died while watching” classification a bit, we’re still going to count it because technically the film did result in a death. Because of all of this bad press, Freaks needed to be drastically cut and edited and the final film was not well received. Even though it gained a following years later, the initial version of the film was lost.
7. The Passion of the Christ
Mel Gibson‘s The Passion of the Christ took some criticism for its violent portrayal of the last 12 hours of Jesus’ life. It was called shocking and excessive, but probably the harshest criticism came when a woman died while watching it in theaters. It’s unclear if the 56-year old had any pre-existing heart conditions, but witnesses say that she suffered a heart attack during the climactic crucifixion. This bloody moment is intense, but it seems a bit crazy that someone would suffer such a biological response to it. Maybe it’s partly because of the emotional investment to the character being portrayed on screen, but we can’t be sure.
6. A Two-Headed Man
Sometime in 1997, a theater in Kayes, Mali was filled with children watching the film A Two-Headed Man. The news reports suggest that during the film, the theater lights went off, which freaked everyone out. One child, probably thinking the fictional world was crashing in on reality, screamed at the top of his lungs, which sent everyone into a panic. The crowds of children began running frantically for the exits, trampling anything and everything in their path. In the end, 7 children were trampled to death in a horrific scene. While it can’t be put on the film entirely, you have to think that if these kids were watching a comedy, they might not have reacted with such fear and panic when the lights suddenly went out.
There were reports after James Cameron‘s Avatar came out that some sad and lonely people were contemplating suicide because the fictional setting, the planet of Pandora, was not real. Luckily, nothing came of that because that would be so stupid, but there was one death attributed to the film. A 42-year-old Taiwanese man died of a stroke when watching the 3D film. Even though the man had a history of high blood pressure, Dr. Peng Chin-chih suggested that, “It’s likely that the over-excitement from watching the movie triggered his symptoms.” It’s probably not the type of publicity that Cameron envisioned for the film, but at least someone was excited to watch that movie.
4. Get Em’ Young
In a sad twist of fate, 78 children all, except for one, under the age 16 died while watching the short and ironically titled comedy film, Get Em’ Young (1926) in Laurier Palace Theatre in Montreal, Canada. After the film had started, one of the viewers discarded a cigarette, which caught the floorboards on fire. The audience were so consumed by the film that, by time they realized a fire had started, it had grown too large and out of control. Due to the ensuing rush to get out of the theater, the doors were blocked because they opened inward and everyone attempted to push their way out. By the time the fire department had worked their way in, the fire, the stampede and the smoke had done the damage.
3. The Conjuring 2
In both the most recent and the most publicized event on this list, a man passed away while watching The Conjuring 2 in Sri Balasubramaniar Cinema in Tiruvannamalai, a town in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. The story suggests that the man complained of chest pains during one of the film’s most frightening scenes and he fainted soon afterward. An ambulance rushed him to the hospital but it was already too late. He was declared dead at Old Government Hospital. To make matters weirder, the man’s cadaver was ordered to be sent to a medical hospital, but somewhere along the route it and the driver of the transport disappeared.
No, no one died while watching this film that we know of, but we want to include it because it was advertised as such. For William Castle, no gimmick was too far-fetched. As we discussed above, having people faint in theaters was a great way to drum up interest for The Tingler, but the film he made before The Tingler was designed to make people believe that you could actually die from watching it. The film was called Macabre, and it was released in 1958. To make some hype for the horror film, Castle took out a large insurance policy from Lloyd’s of London that issued a $1,000 life insurance policy to every viewer when they bought a ticket. The policy promised to pay out in the off chance that they died of fright while watching the film. Effectively this was a dare; see if you can last. Castle wanted people to chicken out. The more scared non-viewers there were the more brave viewers there were, and both the scared and brace would be talking about the film. You can’t lose.
1. The Creeping Unknown
If you were to ask the Guinness Book of Records, there has only ever been one death as the result of watching a horror film. While people will doubt this claim, we will treat it as one of the most truthful reports. The film, The Creeping Unknown, was originally called The Quatermass Xperiment. It was a 1955 British film that was based on the BBC serial The Quatermass Experiment. Since the film received an X-rating, the title was changed to focus on that. When the film came to U.S. in 1956, not many people were familiar with The Quatermass Experiment, so they changed the title to The Creeping Unknown. Then on the 6th of November, 1956, a nine-year-old boy died while watching the restricted film. It was said he died of a ruptured artery and the film’s scares were partially blamed. Whether the cause was the film or not, the reports showed the world that people can die from fright.