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Mayhem: Thrill Lab

HUMAN guinea pigs are being strapped in to a specially designed wheelchair in the Thrill Laboratory at Broadway, as part of the Mayhem Horror Festival, to assess the effects of scary movies on the mind and body. SIMON WILSON laughs at horror movies, so it wasn’t going to be a problem. Oh dear...

I FELT sick, weak and terrified.
And we’d not even started yet.
The idea was simple enough: Watch a collection of clips from a few horror movies and let Dr Brendan Dare test how it affected my heart-rate, sweat level and facial muscles.
“We’ve been allowed by the festival directors to conduct experiments to analyse the effects of extreme horror,” says Dr Dare in his Thrill Laboratory.
“We monitor heart-rate and how sweaty your hands get so if you are experiencing horror or fear both of those bio-signs will shoot up.
“But it could also be a sign of extreme pleasure so we monitor facial expressions to tell us whether you are experiencing shock or joy.”
The lab has been set up in the corner of the Broadway Cafebar and it’s the sight of the psychophysiologist and his team, all in white coats apart from Nurse Tanya - who looks up from her knitting to give me a sinister grin - that make me feel like a puppy being dragged on its leash in to see the vet.
The wheelchair, in which the ‘patient’ is to be strapped and hooked up to unspecified monitors, was the proverbial straw.
I was already sweating, limp and in fear of passing out. There was a horrifying slump in the guts.
When they had to send one of the team to find out why I was hiding in the toilets, I knew I couldn’t go through with it.
“I was surprised because you were our first patient,” says Dr Dare.
Nurse Tanya isn’t much better with the words of comfort.
“There must be a trauma from your past that this experience reminds you of.”
Adds Dare: “Even though this is only a demonstration, it clearly highlights that fear is quite subjective. What may scare you won’t scare someone else. The idea of being restrained in a wheelchair some people can find distressing. Or medical monitoring have a similar effect.”
But it’s only theatre. Albeit, effective theatre on, ahem, some people. They’re playing at doctors and nurses aren’t they? There’s no such thing as a psychophysiologist, surely?
“Yes. It comes more out of psychology than physiology,” he grins.
“But it effectively relates the physiology of the body, whether your heart rate is pounding, whether you muscles are twitching, to the psychology of your mind.”
He trained at the Imperial College in London and will have scientists from the University Of Nottingham assisting during the duration of the festival, he says.
For me it was to be just a taster of the experience. The volunteer ‘patients’ will each be sat through a whole film at the festival. They include the classic British shocker Hellraiser and Stephen King’s prom-based terror Carrie.
Five volunteers have signed up.
“I’m interested in the microdynamics of emotional experience. I enjoy watching other people’s fear.”
Good luck to them. I’ll stick with Corrie and the armchair.
I wonder of my teddy bear is still in the loft...

The Mayhem Horror Film Festival continues at Broadway in Broad Street until Sunday. For details go to

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