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The Invisible Man - A Black Art Illusion

a.k.a. The Greatest Stunt I Never Pulled
by Stu McIntire


While making preparations for my 1996 haunt, I had come up with several theme possibilities. I decided on a sure crowd pleaser - the classic horror movie creatures.

There are several characters to choose from, of course. Eschewing the graphically violent icons of the modern era (Freddy, Jason, Leatherface, Pinhead, et al), I went with the "monsters" of days gone by. I settled on the Wolfman, the Invisible Man, a Psycho room (no Norman Bates), the Mummy, and the Bride of Frankenstein.

Now most of these characters are pretty easy to adapt into a haunted house scene or set. A forested area for the Wolfman; the Bates Motel for the Psycho; an Egyptian scene for the Mummy; a lab scene for the Bride. What, then for the Invisible Man?

The scene I designed never materialized. It was the greatest stunt I never pulled.

To be convincing, I determined that the Invisible Man would have to disappear before my customers' eyes. No Pepper's illusion, no projected images, no false walls to hide behind. How to accomplish this? Why, the black arts, of course!

You probably know the concept, even if you've never heard the term. Mummenschantz is a popular troupe of performers who use it in amazing ways. More close to home, haunts and séance sideshows have used the idea for many years to make objects float before astonished eyes - as if moved by unseen spirits.
It is a simple illusion to create. The secret is to make the set as black as possible (the original material of choice was a backdrop of black velvet). Ceiling and walls are covered completely in black. The black background serves as a perfect camouflage since the actor or actors are clothed completely in black as well. Objects can be moved by hand or by threads or wires and appear to be floating in mid-air. Since these items are meant to be seen, they are often covered in bright hues or a stark white to maximize the contrast against the dark background. With the finished set lit carefully to show only those objects meant to be seen, the illusion is of props infused with an animated life of their own.

I could have moved props around the room to make it appear the Invisible Man was carrying or throwing them, but that was not enough. The final design called for the actor to go from visible to invisible in short order ... surely a concept rife with all kinds of possibilities!

The idea was that the actor would be sitting in an armchair, wearing a robe and plenty of bandages. Faced with the intruders (audience) the Invisible Man would become agitated and verbally threaten the onlookers. At this point, he would begin to unwrap the bandages from his head. Amazingly, there is nothing beneath the bandages! Furthermore, as the Invisible Man removes his robe, there is no body underneath! Once the actor is completely "undressed," he becomes altogether more threatening to the audience. Unseen, but heard, the customers would not know what to expect. Now would be the time to move objects around the set, or even to segue to the next scene.

This is all accomplished, of course, by dressing the actor head-to-foot in black clothing, including a black hood over the head. Without the robe or bandages, the actor blends into the backdrop ... becoming invisible! Simple, yet effective. The effectiveness of the illusion need not end there. Now the Invisible Man is a wild card. Throughout the rest of the haunt, sudden noises ... whispers in the audience's ears ... props lifted by unseen hands ... all can be attributed to the Invisible Man. You can do this with the use of hidden speakers and wires since an actor is not required to pull off these scares. The main thing is that you've put the thought in people's minds that the Invisible Man can be (and is) anywhere and everywhere. The rest is just toying with their psyches.

Why is this the greatest stunt I never pulled? Primarily because several people I talked to were of the opinion that the undressing sequence would be too time consuming. I needed to keep the line moving and my solution was not necessarily the best solution. We opted for a different approach (which was well received) and this scheme was shelved for possible future use. I now believe this is still a good plan, but perhaps better suited for entertaining people as they stand in queue (a great Disney "secret). If this is the last thing your customers see before entering your haunt, they will have been entertained while you are able to control the flow of the crowd as needed.

Here are a few last minute scene enhancements:

Elsewhere in your haunt, you can rig dummy invisible men. Suspend a pair of dark glasses from the ceiling at eye level and the Invisible Man is standing there! You can do the same with an identical robe over a wire frame, with a pair of gloves, a pipe, or any other accouterment.
If you think a man disappearing before your eyes is effective, how about the opposite? Simply reverse the process, having the actor dress instead of undress, and a man materializes from the air!

Perhaps by sharing this scene idea with you, what was the greatest stunt I never pulled will be the greatest one you ever did ...

Good luck, and stay motivated!

Copyright 1999 Stu McIntire. All Rights Reserved.


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