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Some Getting Sick From ‘Blair Witch’

August 12, 1999

ATLANTA (AP) _ You may want to pick up an extra bag with your popcorn at the concession stand before seeing the ``The Blair Witch Project,″ which is stirring up more than fear among some motion-sick moviegoers.

The low-budget horror thriller, mostly shot with shaky hand-held cameras, is raking in millions around the country. But it’s not a favorite of the theater workers who have to clean up the mess left by those who get queasy watching the movie’s often herky-jerky, first-person perspective.

``The first weekend someone threw up in the women’s restroom, the men’s restroom and in the hallway,″ said Kris Monroe, manager at Lefont Plaza Theater in Atlanta. ``It’s not pleasant to clean up.

``One guy _ he was really cool _ he threw up in the restroom and he just came out and asked us for a mop.″

The independent film, which has taken in $80 million since its release, follows three student filmmakers as they venture into the woods to track the legendary Blair Witch.

The mock documentary features footage supposedly shot by the students and discovered in the woods a year after their disappearance. Unlike many horror films, blood or gore is minimal.

The scenes that make people sick involve quick switches from close-up ground shots to views of the tree tops. And throughout the two-hour, seven-minute film, the picture is often grainy and out of focus.

News of the queasy reaction to the movie didn’t surprise producer Robin Cowie, who said people had panic attacks during the initial screening and at the Sundance Film Festival.

``We’ve heard different analysis of why it happens. Some simply may get a little motion sickness, that combined with the tension and the pace of the film,″ Cowie said. ``It’s such an intense roller-coaster ride. The buzz we’re hearing is it’s sort of a challenge to see if you can get through it.″

Dr. Helen Cohen of the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston explains: ``If you’re sitting still, you fool your system into thinking that you’re moving if objects are being moved back and forth in front of you. You assume that you’re moving.″

For viewers, especially those up front in the theater, their entire visual field is filled up by the screen. They have no visual cues to tell them that they are not moving, she said.

Someone vomits at just about every showing of the movie at AMC Colonial 18 in suburban Lawrenceville, said Bonnie Hunsaker, managing director.

``This past weekend we put up a sign that said the hand-held camera can create motion sickness and if you’re susceptible to motion sickness you may want to rethink your viewing choice,″ she said.

If people begin to feel ill, they should close their eyes for a moment or look away from the screen and focus on something else, theater managers said.

At the Kendall Square Cinema in Cambridge, Mass., assistant manager Nancy Campbell said she has started making announcements informing moviegoers to leave the cinema if they feel nauseated. Cinema staffers were upset about having to clean up the messy seats.

``It’s beyond the scope of service we like to provide here,″ Ms. Campbell said.

Charles Walston of Atlanta had the unfortunate experience of witnessing the reaction of one moviegoer while viewing the film at Atlanta’s Tara Cinema.

``I just heard a splat and I thought it was a Coke,″ he said. ``There was a little commotion behind the aisle. The woman behind us had gotten sick and it was all on the back of this man’s shirt.″

Price Tatum, 16, prepared himself before heading to AMC’s Galleria 8 in the Atlanta suburbs: ``I get queasy real easy so I took motion sickness pills.″

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