... and then there was The Prism, adding to the endless list of art that staggered beyond the fourth wall and into notorious new countries. That horror movie, the one about an eye that sees your heart's desires and replays them forever in your mind, soiling your dreams through dull repetition; subject matter akin to any number of similar flicks, and yet that one emerged out of a particular sticky ghetto and exploded, overlapping a certain idea of myth with a certain idea of reality. Little seen, but oft discussed, the anecdotal evidence surrounding The Prism is always secondary and frequently false: Banned Worldwide. Well, banned at least in every country in which it was likely to appear, (the US, the UK, Japan) and in those with the theatrical gumption to throw their disgust into the fray (Nicaragua, Andorra). Contains footage of a real death. This was never proved. Seems unlikely. So scary that it induced death through heart attack to one hundred victims. Here, the tale of the movie continues along any other number of infamous trajectories. What horror movie didn't claim to have brought a fatal chill to a viewer? Except, here cold evidence is available: The sleazy picture house in Detroit that caught fire in 1974, killing 23. The feature: The Prism. The low-rent gangster that was found dead in 1978, and the prostitute charged with the murder who begged, over and over, to be taken to see her favourite movie. That movie? The Prism. The bust on the Brooklyn warehouse in 1980, that was supposed to be breaking up a hive of criminal activity, instead found three dead bodies and a projector spraying images on the brick. Those images, that movie, of course, was The Prism.
The suicides, lines of tangled twine that cannot be questioned. The dead projectionists, blurred by murder. Still, the film seemed like a false bottom, a salacious urban idea, an apocryphal glance.
Until: 1988, after receiving a tip-off, police in LA raided a downtown picturehouse and found an audience wearing tin-foil hats watching the movie. All fifteen were arrested. Three died in custody. Seven spent time in mental facilities. Two jumped off a bridge together. One died of a heart attack a year later. The print was destroyed, they say.
Michael Mann's Bust (1989) was to tell the story of that police raid on that LA cinema, but the project was abandoned when a stuntman died on set in a fire. Jeff Dandy's Black Movie (1993) was a film based on these events, with Cliff Robertson playing the director 'Jeff Michaelmann' in a cheap attempt to recreate a cheap attempt et cetera. Both of Takihiro Rodgers' attempts at the story, the original Japanese version 罵倒された映画 (loose translation: The Cursed Film, 1995) and the American remake The Tainted Celluloid Strip (1996) resulted in their respective production companies going under. Both companies' presidents had twenty-one year-old daughters who died of sudden illnesses upon the release of each movie. When Wes Craven publicly voiced a desire to make a film about The Prism, he felt pains in his chest and suffered a subsidence of inspiration. The lives of the LA raid victims was told at length in the HBO mini-series The Fifteen (2003-07). Star of the show Biff Hutchinson died on the night the series finale was screened. He was 22.
Others didn't die. The patterns of a curse are vague and inconclusive.
But art is nothing if not superstitious, and The Prism has become an unmentionable in Hollywood, a 2-d black and white bogeyman, a squealing Macbeth shrouded in gossip. With her unsolvable 'crimes' it is a Ripper myth in situ; the superstitious fear of those party to it's opening make it a 2-d tomb of King Tut; the parade of deaths attached to art suggest a visual Gloomy Sunday; the potency of her syllables make The Prism an avenging and spiteful Monty Python's Funniest Joke In The World lethal in complete form, known only to those who subsequently die. The lack of plausible witnesses make her a white hot monster of Loch Ness, poisoning waters and pricking curiosities. It serves as yet another prism through which we see humanity's taste for unsolicited tales, speculative afterworlds, and death.
It is said that Alistair Crowley's bones were burned and spliced into the original print of The Prism. It is said that alleged war criminal Radovan Karadžić showed a poor video copy of The Prism to prisoners taken at the siege of Sarajevo. It is said that The Prism doesn't exist, that the story of her birth is completely fictional, a fabrication to titilate and amuse. It is said. As is so often the case, something is said and hangs in the air, awaiting denial. Even if a story is disproved, the air is still bruised by contact.
'Cinema history, and indeed all history, is a catalogue of such black patterns. Life is so. Sometimes, the patterns are easier to read than at others. The Prism had a pattern that was stark, bold evil, witnessed by men and women of any nation.' So said Chester Harlton, the legendary occult expert, in March 2001. He died the following May.
The New York Post has, to this day, an unclaimed $10,000 payment for any journalist who wishes to view and write about The Prism. It sits in the safe of former editor Phillip Greenbaumer, who in typical grandstanding fashion posted notice of his intent in a front-page spread in 1980. The headline: Crusading Journalist Required, May Die. Without a known print of the film the money is unlikely to be claimed, of course. But if one were found, would our thirst be sated?
One suspects not.
The Prism Production Details unknown.