Smell-O-Vision somehow lingers on

We recently reported that Smell-O-Vision seems to be back after a decades-long hiatus. 

  Yes, you can put it in the back of your television to disseminate fragrance and enhance your viewing experience with scent. Of course, years ago in Japan this was done in theaters as well.

At a theater showing the film The New World, a variety of scents were pumped through air-vents that enhanced the movie. According to the Associated Press, only certain areas of the theater had special “aroma seats” and they sold out quickly.


This actually wasn’t a new innovation, it was first done way back in the early sixties for The Scent of Mystery, a movie that was in “glorious Smell-O-Vision!”

“Smell-O-Vision” was only done in the movies twice, for The Scent of Mystery and for John Waters’s comedy Polyester. 

Smell-O-Vision was the innovation of Mike Todd, who also produced the film Around the World in Eighty Days, and developed Todd-AO big screen cinematography. (Todd was also Elizabeth Taylor’s third husband.) Todd was killed in a plane crash in 1958, and his son Mike Jr. took up the mantle.


The Scent of Mystery only played in New York, Chicago and L.A. where tubes under the seats, pumping out over thirty scents including wine, garlic, bananas, lemon, peaches, ocean breeze, incense, and a smoking gun. 

Reportedly the film had a “smell track,” which signaled what scents where to be released at the right time, and it would be especially funny to imagine the wrong scents at the wrong time.


For Polyester, considering it would be very expensive to pipe in scents into the theaters, so for Waters’s innovation, “Odorama” audience members were given scratch and sniff cards. 

The scents included roses, farts, airplane glue, a skunk, and pizza. The scents were numbered, and when the right number flashed on the corner of the screen, you knew what scent to scratch and sniff. (The ads for Polyester said “It’s Scentsational!,” and that “Smelling Is Believing.”)


In The Golden Turkey Awards, an early version of The Razzies, Smell O Vision was nominated for “The Most Inane and Unwelcome ‘Technical Advance’ in Hollywood History,” along with “Hallucinogenic Hypnovision” in The incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies (also nominated for Worst Title, and try to imagine fitting that on a marquee), “Emergo” for the original House on Haunted Hill, and “Percepto” for The Tingler, which won the competition.


In today’s day and age, could a filmmaker get 3,000 theaters to install tubes under the seats so the audience can smell the movie? Not real likely, which is why this kind of showmanship and film gimmickry now belongs to a whole other era entirely.


Or does it? You wonder if Jeffrey Katzenberg is gonna jump on the bandwagon for this as well, and say Smell-O-Vision is the savior of the industry once 3D soon coughs and spits to a halt.