Horrified parents and politicians in Italy are asking that children be barred from the devilishly scary movie "Paranormal Activity" following reports of viewers suffering panic attacks, irregular heart beats, trembling and vomiting.
While the scare alert may be a publicist's dream, officials as lofty as Italian Defense Minister Ignazio La Russa have joined the call for restrictions on children seeing the low budget phenomenon.
The $15,000 movie, which tells the story of a couple who become increasingly disturbed by a possible demonic presence in their new house, has already made close to $66 million worldwide.
Dared by the trailers which have been airing on Italian TV weeks before its release, Italians have been flocking to see the "terrifying" movie with some disturbing consequences. Dozens of panic calls were made to emergency services in Italy, especially in the city of Naples.
An emergency responder told Italian news agency Ansa that "several panic attacks lasting more than half an hour took place on Saturday" with kids manifesting symptoms of irregular heart beat, lack of air, fear of fainting or dying, insomnia, and anxiety. Some spectators reportedly had sudden trembling and vomit attacks.
"Sometimes even the arrival of an ambulance was not enough to calm their nerves," an emergency doctor said. He said the most alarming case was that "of a 14-year-old girl who arrived at the hospital in a catatonic state."
Parliamentarian Alessandra Mussolini, who heads the committee on children, urged the Minister of Culture and the Arts to do something about restricting the viewing of the movie so underage movie-goers would not be allowed to see it. She insists it has a "highly distressing content" and has caused "a number of cases of panic attacks and psychological problems among youths."
Italian Defense Minister Ignazio La Russa said he became concerned about the film when he saw his 7 year old's reaction to the disturbing trailer for the movie on TV which was aired during children's programming.
"It's a terrible thing. I took notice because my 7-year-old son told me, 'Daddy I'm scared,'" La Russa said.
One of Italy's consumer associations has suggested that kids who have suffered from any form of anxiety or psychological disturbance from viewing the movie should resort to legal action for damages.
Italy's leading daily paper Corriere della Sera quoted an emergency doctor in Naples, Giuseppe Galano, as saying "The cinematic style used by the movie produces anxiety and in people who are particularly prone to this, it can produce pathological reactions."
A top Italian neurologist and an expert in panic attacks, Rosario Sorrentino, said that when one is "genetically predisposed, certain places and mental states can provoke panic attacks. The movie house is already a place where these reactions are known to occur. Panic attacks can be triggered if the actual movie then causes further stress."
However with reviews like "one of the scariest movies of all times," "a potent fright-fest that will fry your nerves and creep you out," and "genuinely horrifying," many Italians wonder whether all of this is just part of the movie's hype in Italy.
A front-page editorial in La Stampa today entitled "Normal activity" questioned whether Mussolini or La Russia ever watch TV in Italy.