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SocietyMay 3, 2018

Undies, roast chickens, and lots of sex: Horror stories from NZ cinemas


After a cinema in Hawera banned patrons wearing pyjamas last week, ex-cinema attendant Alex Casey shines a light on much grosser stories from the back row of theatres around the country.

First published May 2018.

Something extremely weird happens to people inside a cinema. Maybe it’s the enveloping womb-like darkness that reverts grown adults to the spilling and crapping of infancy. Perhaps it’s the transportive nature of film that inspires people to eat an entire roast chicken and take their knickers off. Maybe it’s simply that most people are just managing to keep their shit together between each exciting blockbuster experience, purchasing a ticket simply to unleash hell on whatever innocent usher is on the closing shift that night.

Following the crucial global news last week, published on both The BBC and The Guardian, that a cinema in Hawera has banned their patrons from wearing pyjamas, a little part of me had to scoff. If three years working in a cinema taught me anything, it’s that a) yes, a man with a ponytail can indeed watch Vicky Cristina Barcelona 22 times and b) people wearing pyjamas are literally the least of your worries. Along with the blanket brigade and the slipper squadron, they are the chilled out customers. It’s basically everyone else that’s the problem.

Following this hunch, I asked some of my old workmates, as well as the intricate network of ex and current cinema attendant nerds known as ‘Twitter’, if they felt the same way about cinema clientele. I was inundated with stories. Horrible, horrible stories. Just like a pile of toenails neatly stacked on a cinema seat, I have gingerly picked through the detritus and assembled them in the following chronicle of horrors. You should all be ashamed of yourselves.


It’s the big one. The big S-E-X. The ol’ Sex, Lies and Videotape. It’s happening in cinemas around the country, and it’s happening during films you might not expect. Many people got in touch with tales of interrupting people mid-cinema coitus, during everything from the Nicolas Cage vehicle Next to Surf’s Up, a children’s film about a surfing penguin. One patron recalled being at a session of Species when the couple behind him “started really going at it.” He presumes it was Forest Whitaker that got them hot under the collar but added that “it didn’t last very long.” Related content: a pair of woman’s underwear – “the fancy type” – was once found by an usher after a session of Horton Hears a Who.

Confirmed aphrodisiacs


Look, I’m the first one to put my hand up and say I have power chucked in a cinema. It was in the 3D version of Titanic, and I had just eaten a roast pumpkin salad that I knew full well was about a week old. But at least I was able to make it to the bin.

Others have not been so lucky, and the ushers even worse off. Like the poor soul who worked during a session of Dark Horse, which featured a relatively heavy nosebleed scene. “I guess this customer was particularly averse to blood, because they projectile vomited all over the carpet. What followed was us discreetly trying to clean it up while the film played, because it smelt a lot.”

Elsewhere, a teenager hellbent on “Robo-tripping” – chugging a whole bottle of Robotussin to hallucinate – wrecked an Upper Hutt cinema bathroom halfway through a session of Alice in Wonderland. “He calmly walked out of the theatre, entered the men’s bathroom and power chucked bright pink goop all over the walls, floors, urinals, and sinks, then tried to clean it up with his hoodie.”

A similar hue ascended over what one ex-usher described as ‘The Shrek-tastic summer of 2001″, where novelty Shrek ears were sold alongside dangerously large combos for kids. “I am haunted by cleaning up red-Fanta-and-popcorn-spew to Smashmouth.”


Light a candle and say a prayer, because things are about to get even more grim. “And then there was the man who just shat all over the cinema,” a brave veteran recalled in one of several ‘code brown’ stories submitted. Much like Robocop from Upper Hutt, one gentleman in Auckland destroyed a theatre toilet – walls, floor and sink – before treading it into the cinema without telling anyone.

“It must have been all over his hands and feet. We had to sponge the seats and carpet where they had been sitting. That was a low point.”

And if you are about to call a priest right now, maybe redirect that call straight to the police. “Once I had to empty and clean a cup holder full of (presumably human) blood after a screening of Public Enemies. I don’t have any more information on how it got filled with blood.”


Popcorn is over. Just ask the guy who tried to bring a whole Hell’s pizza into an intimate arthouse cinema. Choc tops are over. Just ask the person who ate a rotisserie chicken and a watermelon during a screening of Fight Club. Alcohol laws are over. Just ask the guy who brought a dozen beers into a kids film and left all the empties on the floor. Smoking laws are over. Just ask the guy who lit up a cigarette during the English Patient and caused the whole complex to be evacuated.


It’s probably for the best that I just list this inventory of things that have been left behind in cinemas across New Zealand.

  • Used nappies
  • A drawing of a snake
  • Chocolate peanuts with the chocolate sucked off
  • A bottle of warm yellow liquid
  • Nail clippings x 100
  • Used sanitary pads
  • One shoe
  • Undies x 100
  • Leaves
  • A puddle of yoghurt
  • False teeth

All in all, I think we can agree that cinema-goers are mostly stink rats from the sewers of hell. And let’s not even get into the things that happen outside of the actual cinema, like the customer who watched two and a half hours of The Life of Pi and then complained that it wasn’t Les Miserables, or the two stoned men caught dismantling the ceiling of a theatre lift. One current working cinema attendant put it best when they concluded that “cinemas are wild and truly lawless places”. Forget about banning pyjamas, I think it’s time we seriously considered banning people.

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