When it comes to building buzz for horror movies on the independent circuit, there are few gimmicks more played-out than what I like to call the “Puke Promo” (aka the “Pass Out Promo”). Every so often, a story trickles out from a festival about a movie so terrifying, so repulsive, or so physically upsetting that it caused a handful of audience members to either pass out, vomit, or both. At last year’s Fantasia Fest, it was the body horror film Bite. Before that, it was V/H/S, and before that, it was Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist. It’s a marketing gimmick that has been around since at least The Exorcist, and one that has even started to branch into non-horror properties like that Joseph Gordon-Levitt tightrope movie.
Which is not to say that the Puke Promo isn’t an effective gimmick, because it most certainly is; who can forget Steven Spielberg’s infamous anecdote about the moment he knew Jaws would be a hit when a preview audience member rushed out, threw up, then ran back in to watch the rest? This year, the latest “too gross to handle” story comes out of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), where the latest film from French director Julia Ducournau, Raw, has apparently been pushing its audiences well past their breaking point.
Described by TIFF as the story of “A shy, vegetarian student at a veterinary college develops an insatiable lust for flesh as the result of a gruesome hazing ritual,” Raw is already beginning to pick up a big head of steam thanks to a recent story from The Hollywood Reporter which claims that paramedics had to be dispatched to a recent midnight screening of the film after a few of the theater’s patrons passed out during it.
“An ambulance had to be called to the scene as the film became too much for a couple patrons,” said Ryan Werner, who is handling the film’s marketing and was present at the screening.
As someone whose last shreds of sensitivity were torn away during my first viewing of A Serbian Film (that’s right, *first*), it still boggles my mind that a person could be so upset by a movie that it would cause an involuntary physical reaction within them yet also too aware of the social awkwardness involved in walking out of a theater to actually do something about it. I’m not saying that these weak-willed audience members were planted by the filmmakers and/or studio to get some free publicity, but I guess I’m just saying that we are living in an era where the line between truth and sensationalism in *any* story is more blurred than ever. I blame it all on that danged reality television.
Regardless, the gimmick seems to have paid off for Raw, as the most recent screening was not only “mobbed” according to the Reporter, but “also had top agents and managers on hand jockeying for the attention of director Julia Ducournau, who is currently unsigned.”
And so, The Puke Promo has sprung its trap on us yet again. I like to think that it’s such an effective strategy for marketing horror films because horror fans, like heavy metal fans, are inherently a bit competitive when it comes to flexing their muscles within their genre. We like to challenge ourselves, in a way, and next level-gross movies like Raw are basically our blackened Finnish death metal bands that we use to correct any poser who dares say that the new Avenged Sevenfold record is “the heaviest sh*t of all time.” It got me to see Antichrist, it got me too see Bite, and it’ll get me to see Blair Witch even though I already know it probably won’t be any good. Heavy lies the burden of the snooty horror film enthusiast, truly.
Raw will next screen at Fantastic Fest, followed by Mayhem Film Festival, Celluloid Screams, Beyond Fest and the Sitges Film Festival.