Innumerable billion-dollar industries have risen around humanity's unceasing impulses to eat and fornicate. Society reveres defecating, pissing, and farting as the most hilarious acts a person can commit. But when was the last time you heard anyone talk about puking as if it were important?
Perhaps more than any other function of the human body, vomiting has gone woefully underappreciated. While most of us ignore the essential nature of retching, Hollywood has embraced its versatility as an effective narrative device. A hearty chunder provides a wallop of a punchline in some contexts; in others, it can cause blood to curdle, as proven by scenes in The Exorcist, The Fly, and others from horror's crème de la crème. And sometimes, like in Drag Me to Hell, vomit can make us laugh and scare us out of our socks at the same time.
To pay tribute to tossing your cookies, we sought out the behind-the-scenes stories of five of the most memorable depictions of regurgitation ever recorded on celluloid, by sifting through old interviews and conducting three new ones. If any of what follows brings forth a bilious dry heave, we advise you to cherish this sickness. Despite its inherent sanitation and aesthetic concerns, vomiting is goddamn life-affirming.
Stand by Me
To entertain his preadolescent friends during a reprieve from their quest to find a corpse, Gordie Lachance (Wil Wheaton) invents the campfire tale of Davie "Lardass" Hogan (Andy Lindberg) halfway through this timeless adaption of Stephen King's The Body. By Lachance's account, Hogan extracts unholy retribution from the townspeople who've mercilessly mocked his weight for years by exploiting their weak stomachs and hair-trigger gag reflexes at the Great Tri-County Bake Off & Pie Eat. He chugs a bottle of castor oil and a raw egg before competing in the blueberry pie-eating contest, ensuring that a dessert explosion interrupts the completion of his fifth pie. The sight of Hogan's hurling prompts a similar reaction from his opponents, which grosses out the crowd, causing their own collective gastrological ejection. Oddly, the contents of everyone's stomachs look quite a lot like blueberry pie filling, regardless of whether they were participating in the contest.
"It would seem there was some sort of blueberry pie giveaway before the part of the scene that we see," said Lindberg, over the phone from a summer camp near Portland, Oregon, where he currently serves as director. "In real-world terms, there was some bakery in Eugene. Their truck would show up with buckets of blueberry pie filling and racks and racks of freshly baked blueberry pies. That's what we put our faces in."
Lindberg says Stand by Me presented him with the opportunity to move to New York or LA and try out a career as a child actor. While he looks back on the film and his subsequent 15 minutes of fame fondly, he stuck around Oregon until he got older. Perhaps devouring 200-250 blueberry pies during a five-day shoot while sweltering in a fat suit didn't inspire much hope for a sexy, glamorous lifestyle in Tinseltown. The scrapes on his nose, self-inflicted after repeatedly slamming his face into honest-to-gosh real pies topped with rock sugar, didn't help either. "Someday, when my nose looks like J.P. Morgan's, I'll know what to blame all the injuries to my nose on: pie," he says.
Since solid CG effects weren't an option in the mid-'80s, some trial and error transpired before the crew could adequately simulate firehose-like barfing and effectively cover their cast in a pie-filling-and-cottage-cheese concoction. Eventually, a makeshift mechanism comprised of a 10-gallon cylinder, a plunger, three to five dudes shoving the plunger down, and a rubber tube taped to Lindberg's face proved sufficient.
And because you're wondering: Yes, the experience absolutely ruined Lindberg's ability to enjoy blueberry pie. He can do plain blueberries or blueberry muffins, but definitely not blueberry pie.
"I've successfully avoided it for the most part [since then], but there were instances where my gag reflex triggered because somebody served me a cobbler that was mostly blueberries," he says. Not that it's a big loss: "I've always been a cake guy, truth be told."
Team America: World Police
Actor-turned-espionage agent Gary Johnston is down on his luck 57 minutes into Team America: World Police. He blames himself for the thousands of unnecessary deaths that resulted from his squad's hilariously botched covert operation in Cairo. So, in a fit of self-loathing, he abandons the rest of Team America, rendering them fish in a patriotic barrel for an attack orchestrated by Kim Jong-il. Despite being a puppet, Johnston responds to a total bummer of a situation in all-too-human fashion: Stumbling out of a random drinking hole, he upchucks roughly 10 times his own tiny body weight's worth of split-pea soup and bacon bits, then crumples onto the asphalt.
This sequence, and the graphic sex acts conducted earlier in the movie -- especially the footage featured in the unrated cut -- stand as defining scenes in Trey Parker and Matt Stone's Team America, as well as the grossest things marionettes have ever done in a mainstream film. "My agent got disgusted by the vomiting and walked out. She couldn't handle it," recalls lead puppeteer Scott Land of the premiere screening. "She's not my agent anymore. She got out of the puppet business. Everything went digital."
"My agent got disgusted by the vomiting and walked out. She couldn't handle it. She's not my agent anymore."
Team America itself serves as a glorious example of analogue effects. Land credits unplanned equipment malfunctions for adding extra pizzazz to the end of Johnston's bender. When the bucket containing synthetic sick runs low, our hero's mouth sputters regurgitant like a gummed-up faucet just before one of his strings breaks and he falls into a heap. Though of course he wasn't expecting a broken string, Land managed to shake the marionette in accordance with the surprisingly erratic flow. By that point, Land had already ad-libbed loads for Johnston and other characters -- a feat he's especially proud of.
"That was the beautiful thing about working with Matt and Trey -- you didn't rehearse," he says. "The Muppets will rehearse and rehearse and rehearse, and even though it looks perfect, it loses something. Generally, a great entertainer will say, 'I don't rehearse. Let's just do it the first time out.'"
Like most scenes in Team America, the barfing took two or possibly three takes in two hours, by Land's recollection. And while he'd be glad to make Team America 2, he doesn't foresee the opportunity presenting itself, partly due to Parker and Stone's disinterest and partly due to the bottom-line realities of modern Hollywood.
"Not even Disney can make a viable film with puppets. The Muppets aren't even popular enough anymore," he says. "Matt and Trey took a stab at it and made something amazing, but when we started shooting, they thought we would finish in two months. Well, it took four, so they didn't get a vacation, and went straight from Team America right into South Park.
"When we started, they said they hated actors. After we finished, they said, 'Actors aren't so bad, but we f@#$in' hate puppets.'"
Problem Child 2
On an episode of Gilbert Gottfried's Amazing Colossal Podcast!, Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski -- who went on to pen Ed Wood, The People vs. Larry Flynt, and most recently, The People v. O.J. Simpson -- stated they wrote Problem Child 2 as a Pink Flamingos or Federico Fellini movie for kiddles. This arty, absurdist mentality might explain the existence of the Problem Child movies, but that's not the same thing as justifying or rationalizing the Problem Child movies.
Throughout the second entry of the series, titular problem child Junior Healy (Michael Oliver) remains far outside the walls of a facility for homicidal children. His inexplicable freedom puts everyone within a five-mile radius in peril: Junior rigs a gas grille to explode in a neighbor's face within the movie's first 10 minutes, and later electrocutes a woman attempting to date his father (John Ritter).
Then, upon learning that he fails to meet the height requirement for a carnival ride called the Crazy Dance, the nightmare disguised as an 8-year-old slithers behind the controls and cranks the speed toggle to a setting clearly marked "danger." Soon, the acceleration overwhelms the passengers' food-processing systems. The riders all projectile-disgorge, converting the Crazy Dance into a gigantic lawn sprinkler of spew. The many witnesses to this catastrophe follow suit, not unlike the aforementioned Stand by Me bystanders, and the entire carnival is soaked in liquefied dinner.
Eric Edwards, who was 25 at the time, played Murph, the problem child's 13-year-old nemesis and one of the spewing Crazy Dance passengers. Edwards reports the vortex of puke required 10 or 15 takes during the chilly January of 1991, with a substantial cleanup process between each take. According to him, the crew charged with quickly mopping up the set are the real unsung heroes of Problem Child 2.
"They would rush me back in like 10 or 15 minutes to the hotel. I'd shower [off the cream-of-mushroom soup, which stood in for his most recent meal], go back, go in hair and makeup, and start from scratch," he says.
Conspicuously, different colors and textures appear in the deluge of chunky liquid rushing out of each Crazy Dance rider's face. Perhaps this is proof of the filmmaker's devotion to realism -- every Crazy Dance passenger couldn't have eaten the same thing before the ride, right?
Instead, Edwards speculates that the variety of vomit was born primarily out of necessity. It's quite plausible that Problem Child 2's team had to use any materials on hand that could possibly simulate vomit: According to the actor, "You never have enough puke for one of those scenes."
Children are not actually terrifying, of course. Twelve-year-olds pee on the floor, scream profanities, and throw up on their psychiatrists every day, and no one thinks anything of it. But in 1973, the moment the demon Pazuzu -- inhabiting the form of Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair) -- replies to Father Karras (Jason Miller) that his mother's maiden name is a bright-green pile of retch, any audience member who had yet to question the inherent goodness of children certainly rethought it.
"I had really had enough of the vomit," Blair, who was 13 at the time of her career-defining role, told IGN in a 2014 interview. "I'm not going to lie. It was warm, stinky, smelly, thick, gooey. It was the one thing that just was, like, pushing me over the edge."
"I'm not going to lie. It was warm, stinky, smelly, thick, gooey. It was the one thing that just was, like, pushing me over the edge."
According to the online archive Behind the Exorcist, makeup artist Dick Smith custom-created a contraption to pump a concoction of green oatmeal and pea soup directly out of Blair's stunt double's mouth. The result made Regan/Pazuzu's upchucking appear more scattershot and convulsive than the streamlined regurgitant revenge seen in the original final cut. Apparently, director William Friedkin preferred that Regan heave directly into Father Karras' face, as opposed to doing the technicolor yawn all willy-nilly. Plus, Smith's device felt cumbersome to the already imposed-upon Blair. So they edited in an oatmeal/pea-soup smoothie to blast from the bedridden fiend, before immediately cutting to a shot of Miller soaked in fake puke.
The violent squeal emanating from Regan alongside her spew originated not from the bowels of hell but from borderline domestic abuse -- which, it would seem, everyone in the '70s thought was hilarious. In his autobiography The Friedkin Connection, Friedkin recalled that composer Jack Nitzsche observed his girlfriend napping on a sofa, and exploited the opportunity to scare the living bejesus out of someone.
"[Nitzsche] placed a microphone on the floor next to her, ran across the studio and jumped on her back, landing with both knees," wrote Friedkin. "Her shocked reaction is the sound we used when Regan throws up."
The Meaning of Life
At the risk of immediately losing credibility with all the film buffs who could probably make convincing cases for The Exorcist, I declare Monty Python's The Meaning of Life my personal favorite upchuck experience detailed here. Calling it the best movie might be a reach: After the financial successes of Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Life of Brian, the quintessential comedy troupe returned to sketch format for Meaning, forgoing a cohesive narrative in favor of loosely connected, concentrated blasts of surreality.
In the sloppiest of that lot, a glutton of planetary proportions dubbed Mr. Creosote (Terry Jones) waddles into a fancy restaurant, then power-chunders all over the floor, the menu, and a lady summoned by an extremely accommodating waiter (John Cleese) to mop up the sick. Following this display, Creosote inhales enough food and drink to feed a midsize New England suburb for a week, and to cap off this atrocity, the waiter serves Creosote a thin mint. Like most people who eat a thin mint, Creosote explodes, decorating the entire establishment with his entrails and their ample, chunky contents. None of this goes over well with Creosote's fellow patrons, needless to say.
In a 2013 interview with The Guardian, Terry Jones says the face of his 1,000lb man -- forged by makeup artist Christopher Tucker, who was previously credited with making John Hurt's head look like a gamma-radiated scrotum in The Elephant Man -- required three hours to apply. In a chat with the media conducted even further back in time, Jones says three Creosote suits were constructed for the scene: one for walking, one for sitting, and one for exploding.
It's likely that several substances played the role of Creosote's organ juice throughout the week-long shoot, but minestrone soup was a key ingredient. A catapult-like gizmo tossed as much as 30 gallons at once at the defenseless clientele. Jones' fellow Python Michael Palin estimates that "thousands" of gallons of pretend-sick ultimately flew across Paddington's Seymour leisure centre. Though the background players appear horrified in the scene, Jones stresses that they were enjoying themselves quite a bit.
"Everybody wanted some chucked at them," Jones tells The Guardian. "Although it became a food fight, we could only throw it at those extras who had not-so-decent costumes on."
Palin notes that the room -- which resembled a nightmarish crime scene once Python got through with it -- hosted a wedding less than a day after the production left the premises. Thanks to the efforts of yet another heroic cleanup crew, as far as anyone knows, the happy bride and groom had no inkling how honored they should've felt to occupy the same space that housed both a Monty Python's highpoint and a virtual flood of vomit.
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