- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 29, 2005

ach week the Browser features some pop-culture places on the World Wide Web offering the coolest in free interactive sounds and action.

Online haunts

Do ghosts exist? Until Penn & Teller find one — check out the famous duo’s series highlighted on the Showtime Web site (www.sho.com/ site/ptbs/home.do) for any breakthroughs — I am strictly part of the skeptical demographic.

However, plenty of paranormal propaganda exists in the televised realm this programming season, which translates into a bunch of boo-tiful sites where multimedia addicts can bask in the cyber-spooky.

Let’s start with the WB’s “Supernatural.” The show lives up to its name each week as Sam and Dean Winchester run into mythical monsters ingrained in American folklore while searching for their mysterious missing father.

The show’s Web site (https://supernatural.warnerbros.com) is as puzzling as the New Jersey Devil. Visitors are initially taken, via a video montage, to the outside of a haunted farmhouse (fog, oscillating music passages and flashes of spectral forms are abundant) with the famed vehicle used by the brothers, a 1967 Chevy Impala, parked in front.

A silver pentagram on a necklace swings back and forth as interactives load. The primary page allows the brave of heart to peek into the passenger side of the Winchesters’ car. Moving a mouse pointer around various parts of the inside can rev the engine (move over the accelerator), unleash moaning static (touch the radio) or view a reflection of the undead (move the rearview mirror).

Additionally, fans can page through the missing Mr. Winchester’s very detailed journal, found in the back seat, complete with beastly illustrations, newspaper clippings, witchcraft iconography, audio surprises and entries discussing his wife’s death. (A magnifying glass can be used to enlarge images.)

More fun includes reading a notepad filled with a glossary of the bizarre, including explanations of terms such as banshee, wraith and succubus; figuring out a lock combination to open more content; and accessing the car’s trunk to open a notebook computer and either check out some paranormal research links or enter a pass code to tap into a Hunter’s Blog.

Next, the CBS show “Ghost Whisperer” stars Jennifer Love Hewitt as Melinda Gordon, a woman who sees and communicates with the dead. The program’s underwhelming Web site (www.cbs.com/ primetime/ ghost_whisperer) looks more like a fashion plate for Miss Love Hewitt than reflection of a creepy TV experience.

Most annoying is the space devoted to the merits of co-executive producer and medium at large James Van Praagh, who sells his craft and show through a link to his self-congratulatory blog.

Only some tasty clips highlighting the show in the Real Player format resurrect the site. Snippets include a set tour by Miss Love Hewitt, Mr. Van Praagh investigating whether the program’s production offices are haunted, and multiple cast and creator interviews (yes, more of Mr. Van Praagh).

The multiple-choice quiz “Is Your House Haunted?” rounds out the site and at least pokes a bit of fun at the ghostly propositions, but it also seriously reminds visitors that pesky spirits can affect electromagnetic fields. Is that why my monitor has a giant blob in the middle of it? Wait, it’s just a softly focused production photo of Mr. Van Praagh.

Finally, famed investigative journalist Carl Kolchak is re-imagined from his 1970s supernatural television roots in the ABC thriller “Night Stalker.” The program’s official Web site (https://abc.go.com/primetime/ nightstalker/index.html) gives visitors a chance to rummage through Kolchak’s office while he is off trying to find out the cause of his wife’s brutal murder. Cyber-investigators have access to a filing cabinet, a scrapbook, bookshelves and a fax machine — all containing information on the show.

As visitors click around, they will focus on pulling down and reading clippings from a bulletin board. As they continue to explore, autopsy photographs appear that can be dragged to a wall map to further reveal pieces of an illustrated monolith. Once the illustration is completely exposed, a secret wall safe pops out, and sleuths must click on a keypad to crack the code. Opening the safe produces a key to open the Personnel section of the filing cabinet.

Additionally, visitors can drag a DVD into Kolchak’s notebook computer and watch a trailer of the show on the tiny computer screen, a pretty neat effect.

The site’s ambience includes a fair number of screams, a panicked message from a colleague, slightly graphic photos of corpses and ghostly images of victims.

Unfortunately, two problems ruin the online Kolchak experience. First, I could only get access to the office using the Safari Browser for the Macintosh. Unbelievably, my latest version of Internet Explorer on a Windows XP system did not work.

Also, the creepiness factor was ruined thanks to a large, brightly colored banner advertisement hanging out on the right side of the screen, touting a menopause diet pill. Maybe that’s really the scariest part of all.

Have a cool site for the online multimedia masses? Write to Joseph Szadkowski at the Browser, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send an e-mail message (jszadkowski@washington times.com).

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