The Unexplained: Can a movie make you panic?

The beginning of the mysterious scene from the 1896 film short, The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat.

The snippets of film could evoke elation, bliss, sadness, and at the other end of the emotional spectrum, anxiety, terror, and doom.

In 1959, a movie was released that starred Vincent Price.  The numerous shocking ads for the film stated that a parasitic mutant creature would be loose in every theater audience.  The only way you could save yourself was to scream bloody murder.  The terrible creature was incapacitated by human screams.

This is so hokey that you might think horror Gimmick King, William Castle, had something to do with it.  You would be right.  He produced and directed it.  William Castle made several of these movies with gimmicks for audiences.  It was his stock or shock, and trade.

William Castle and co-writer, Robb-White, probably thought these touches of realism would make the movie more exciting and bring in larger audiences.

During a dramatic moment in the movie, Vincent Price would announce to the audience, “Ladies and gentlemen, the creature is loose in the theater right now.  Save yourselves!  Scream bloody murder!”

Sara Marie Hogg

In 1896, film-making was in its infancy, with two or three film companies in the world competing to make the most interesting and exciting productions.  The Lumiere brothers were at the forefront.  Movies were not very long at the time.

Theater goers got to see maybe a few silent snippets that were each under a minute long—when they went to the movie theaters.   The clips may, or may not, be accompanied by dramatic organ or piano music, depending on how large the theater budget was.

These snippets were so entertaining to audiences of the day.  Now they appear jerky and crude to us, but when first viewed, they were modern marvels and could evoke elation, bliss, sadness, and at the other end of the emotional spectrum, anxiety, terror, and doom.

The pioneering Lumiere brothers had one such film that could produce some of the latter results.  It was only fifty seconds long and was projected on quite a small screen, only seven feet wide.  The name of the movie-let, translated from French, is Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat.

In the filming of the short movie, great care was taken to make the train rolling into the station look like exactly that—and not a film.  The people in the movie were not allowed to look at the camera.  They were told to go about their business.

The camera was on the train platform, very close to the track.  The riders were to mill about on the platform.   As a huge black train rolls into view and up to the platform, it travels from the upper right corner of the frame to the left – making an artistic diagonal on the screen.

What happened next is still a mystery.   There have been rumors persisting for decades that the audiences were so mesmerized and entranced by the fifty-second clip that they were convinced a real train was racing toward them and into the audience.  They screamed and yelled.  They jumped up—running for the exits and causing a stampede.

There has been rumor after rumor of one or more stampedes, events happening all over when viewing the Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat.


There are no records of anyone being injured or trampled.  There are no newspaper articles or hospital admissions connected with a theater stampede for this movie.

It is very hard to believe when you realize that the movie is grainy, in black and white, and shown on a seven-foot wide screen, but apparently, in the very beginning of cinematography, these primitive clips did have the power to get that kind of reaction.  They seemed realistic at the time.

Rumors of panicked audiences only made people want to see the film more.  Remember the long lines to get into the movie, Jaws?

Perhaps the movie train scene was not really believable, but jumping up was a gut reaction—much like when an unsuspecting person opens a can with a springy fabric snake inside.

There is no concrete proof that audiences went shrieking and scurrying to the back of the theater.  The rumors still persist that they did to this very day.


Please click HERE to find Sara Marie Hogg’s mysterious Dark Continent Continental on Amazon.

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