When Customers Getting Sick is a Good Thing – V/H/S Horror Movie Embraces PR Opportunity

As reported by MSNBC.com (Horror Movie Sickens Two at Sundance), two people who were sitting in on a late-night screening of the horror movie “V/H/S” at the Sundance Film Festival last week had to leave the film during the opening sequence and were treated by EMTs.  Now, normally, customers who become physically ill while consuming your product are NOT a good thing.  However, when you are a new horror film trying to pick up steam and you have a media-savvy co-writer (Simon Barrett), it may be just the thing you were looking for.

The reality is that the two people in question had just arrived in Park City after driving 8 hours and, given that they both got sick at about the same time, it is much more likely that it was due to other factors – altitude, dehydration, something they ate along the way, etc…  The first to get sick left for the lobby where he collapsed, unconscious, to the floor.  His companion followed him out and proceeded to vomit.

When interviewed, one of the co-writers of the film, Barrett, gave some very PR and media-savvy responses. Some of his quotes in the article were:

“Without spoiling anything, (the film’s first segment) ends with a particularly intense series of scenes that involve, among other things, an injury resulting in a compound fracture that is recorded from the first person perspective.” (OUCH!)

“while very funny in parts, it is also quite intense and gory…can probably be a bit difficult to take.”

“I doubt the couple would have fainted and vomited if they had gone to see (romantic comedy) ‘Your Sister’s Sister’ instead.”

Knowing full well that, in a world where many horror movie goers have grown up on the gore of the ‘Saw’ franchise, Simon Barrett’s quotes and eagerness to accept responsibility for the audience illness will likely pay huge dividends when the movie is released and marketed (the movie has been acquired by Magnolia Pictures – who have also distributed films like Joaquin Phoenix’s “I’m Still Here,” “Freakonomics,” “Food, Inc.,” and “Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer”), this tack has already paid off in a major article that makes it very clear that this is one disturbing movie.

And if there is one thing that seems to guarantee box office success in the horror-film arena, it’s disturbing.

3 things we can learn from V/H/S and Simon Barrett re: PR:

1 – Sometimes the best positives can come from what might be perceived as negatives.  Embrace the upside and focus on the elements of a story that play into your wheelhouse.  Making someone sick, when you are a horror movie, can easily be spun into a positive.

2 – Know your audience.  Many adults and non-horror-movie goers will likely be grossed out and disgusted by all this.  The core audience, however, in teenage males will likely take this as a dare.  If they can keep their dinner down, they are truly hard core!

3 – Be likable.  In this story, Simon Barrett could have easily been stand-offish, or over-the-top gross, or just plain uninterested.  However, his quotes were just descriptive enough to be shocking yet subtle and low-key enough to be likable.  He doesn’t belittle or make fun of the audience members who got sick – in fact he displays a level of understanding in a way that also challenges the core target’s ability to endure what he is throwing at them.

However, this story could have been even more compelling.  The folks behind V/H/S the movie don’t seem prepared to take advantage of this unexpected press.  There is no Facebook page I can find, and very little Twitter activity on their part.  This was an opportunity to create and cultivate fans in advance of a launch as a result of this story and, at this point, they’ve kind of missed it.


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