|The Breathless masks|
As part of this year’s Mayhem Horror Film Festival, the ever imaginative Thrill Laboratory will be back with new ways of experimenting on Broadway’s audience. We caught up with Brendan Walker – or Dr. Brendan Dare – to find out what he has up his sleeve and to pick his brain on the science and art of being thrilled and why we all love to be scared out of our wits.
You were at Mayhem last year with the modified electric chairs that measured physical responses to fear in the audience, what have you got planned for this year’s festival?
It’s going to be a little more low-key, we’ve got some gas masks with lenses that can view 3-D films – Dare-o-vision – and they monitor respiration. I’ll have my team with me, Nurse Myers and my orderlies and we’ll select audience members. After showing them how to wear the gas masks, I’m hoping to take the whole audience through some breathing exercises and show them how to combat panic attacks. As with last year, I’ll be there doing a live transcription of the film and we’ll have the four subjects breathing rates projected outside the cinema along with cameras showing facial expressions – which will mostly be eyeballs rolling around inside the gas masks.
So why gas masks?
It’s an interesting area because breathing and breath play is really quite powerful if you become anxious or aroused or excited or panicked you lose voluntary control and your body takes over and starts breathing for you. The feeling of being in and out of control and trying to combat that adds a real tension. It’s bizarre because an audience seems to be absolutely intrigued by seeing the un-seeable in somebody else – I find it fascinating. During the film we’ll expect that people will be breathing quite normally for a lot of the time but we’re looking for moments of panic or fear and how their breathing patterns change because up until now we haven’t studied and collected large amounts of data so it’ll be fun but will also back up a lot of stuff we’re doing with interactive rides and experiences as well.
The ride I’m currently working on is called Breathless; it’s a big rope swing that’s powered by the gas masks. If you breathe in harmony with the swing then you’ll make it swing higher and higher, but when it gets too high you start panicking and this makes the swing go haywire. It’s about losing control and finding out exactly where those thresholds are. I’m trialling it in a warehouse in London at the moment, but hopefully it’ll generate interest and then maybe I’ll be able to tour it next year. I had a first go today – it was fun. I wasn’t interacting with it, it was on an automated mode, and I was thinking how nice it felt and pleasurable until the computer scientists started messing around with it and it became erratic and really quite scary.
You hyperventilate; your breathing becomes shallower and quickens. Some people think that you’re getting too much oxygen, but what happens during hyperventilation is that the blood vessels in your brain are forced to contract. It’s almost counterintuitive because you’re breathing very quickly but it’s very shallow so it starts to starve the brain, or rather puts too much carbon dioxide into the brain and that’s the dizzy, light headed sensation you feel – it’s carbon dioxide poisoning.
|Brendan Walker on his Oblivion tests at Alton Towers|
I was initially interested in thrilling people from a standing start where you’re emotionless. If I suddenly manage to increase your arousal or pleasure very quickly then you get a sense of thrill. It’s the acceleration of those two factors. But if you manage to pull someone lower, actually give them a displeasurable sensation, for example, thinking they’re going to be murdered, and then give them a relief from that, “no I’m not going to get murdered and furthermore it was a comedy moment” or it was never going to happen. It’s that trajectory from being really fearful into relief and possible beyond into pleasure itself that gives a much more marked sensation.
|Dr. Brendan Dare with Nurse Myers and his orderlies at 2009 Mayhem Film Festival|
|Brendan Walker - not scared of much|
I’d actually resigned myself to the fact that we’d be dead so reaching the ground and being alive was a massive sense of elation. I think that I’ll find it hard to beat – from certain death to “I can’t believe that I’m alive!” I remember vividly that certain senses became really heightened, like, jumping out at 12,000 feet even though it’s above the Californian desert was really cold, but I remember my face warming up as we got lower and lower and closer to the desert floor. I remember the change in temperature changing quite quickly across my face and taking it all in but at the same time thinking that I was going to die. You throw all the things together: the sewing machine, the ominous video, the guy not speaking English, what was supposed to be a nice experience started turning into something out of a horror movie.
Come and watch Thrill Laboratory experimenting on their guinea pigs on Friday 29 October at Broadway for the viewing of Pirhana 3-D at 11.30pm
You can watch Brendan's latest TV exploits in Titanic: The Mission on 4OD