Monthly archives for June, 2010

Thread by Wayne Houchin DVD

Howdy, loyal readers!

I’ll get to this week’s review in a moment, but first, I want to once again give everyone who has checked out my amazing “Mother of All Predictions” book a BIG thank you! The orders continue to come in, making this one of my best selling releases of all time. It’s truly a ‘worker.’

This principle allows you to mail an UNGIMMICKED audio CD to a client WEEKS or MONTHS in advance. On the day of the show, THEY open the envelope, remove the CD and play it for the audience, using ANY ungimmicked CD player! The method is bulletproof and I credit much of it to mentalist Lee Earle.

Check out the link: http://www.hocus-pocus.com/magicshop/inc/product_detail.cfm?item=13021

Secondly, my next issue of “Cause & Effects” ezine is being prepared at this very moment. For all of you travelers out there, this issue will feature an EASY way to save money on hotels. It’s something most hotels don’t want you to know. I don’t believe for a second I’m the only one who knows about this, but every magician or entertainer who travels I’ve told this to did NOT know this, so if you’re not signed for “Cause & Effects,” do it TODAY!

Signing up is FREE and can be done simply by shooting me an email to: crisjohnsoninfo@verizon.net.

Future issues of “Cause & Effects” have been planned out nearly 3 years in advance, so I ain’t going anywhere any time soon!

Here’s this week’s review…it’s Thread by Wayne Houchin. It’s available for $29.95 from Hocus Pocus. Here’s the link: http://www.hocus-pocus.com/magicshop/inc/product_detail.cfm?item=10935

THE EFFECT: The performer swallows some sewing thread…and then pulls it out of his eye!

WHAT YOU GET: A very well produced DVD that outlines two different ways to do this along with a bonus explanation of how to do Wayne’s handling of the classic Gypsy Thread.

MY INTIAL FEARS: First of all, any time someone tells me that so and so created an effect for Criss Angel, my defenses go up. I will state here and publicly that I can’t STAND Criss Angel. It’s NOT because of his magic either. (If you must know, I’m a certified hypnotist. On Mindfreak, Criss Angel did some things in his hypnosis episode that could have seriously injured people and served as a bad example to any fledgling hypnotists out there. End of rant.)

Therefore, when I received this DVD, I expected to hate it. The DVD case cover looked gross – Wayne pulling the thread through his eye with a pained expression.

I do love geek magic, having been inroduced to it at a young age by Harry Anderson’s wonderful “Needle Thru Arm” presentation. To me, it’s the right way to present geek: it’s a glimpse into the performer as a real person, is funny, and had a reason for being. Plus, even though the illusion is so strong, Harry tells you that it’s still not real.

My problem with all of the “Criss Angel clones” out there is so many of these folks, on their DVDs, present an effect as just something to freak out strangers on a street – no presentation, no script and no freakin’ warning. It’s ambush magic. Bad, bad, very bad.

That’s what was going through my head when this DVD came. Now, to my thoughts…

PRESENTATION: The DVD starts and it’s apparent it has incredible production values. Most of it is filmed in a wonderful looking theater that screams ‘character.’ Wayne introduces his concept for the effect, in essence saying that as his opening effect, it allows him to share some of his very personal motivations and thoughts to the audience.

From there, we see a clip of him doing Thread for a group of teens and they predictably, in best David Blaine fashion, freak out. It’s a startling effect, no question about it.

Then we move to apparently how Wayne normally presents it in a stage situation. He is introduced, walks out and banters with the audience. He’s well spoken, at ease, and has good stage presence. He actually does the Gypsy Thread first as a lead-in to the Thread effect and surprisingly, the two link together pretty well.

His presentation really does serve as way to get to know this guy as a real person and I’m completely charmed, laughing at his jokes, his responses, ad-libbed, to audience members, and his verbal set-up of Thread is terrific: he warns them something ‘geeky’ is coming, but he doesn’t completely tell them what it is…only foreshadowing.

By the time the presentation is over, I see enough paralells in Wayne’s work with my own and I immediately see where I can easly add this to one of my shows for high schoolers.

I’m hooked – how about the instruction?

INSTRUCTION: Wayne proves to be a skilled teacher, carefully walking you through the two methods of doing the effect. One is called the “Geek Method” and is the one that from a technical standpoint is actually the easier of the two. The second one is pure sleight of hand and is tougher from a rehearsal standpoint because it’s a bit more involved.

He explains everything clearly, talks about the pros and cons of the sleight method versus the geek method, and happily for me, the camera angles go a great job of capturing all of the necessary work and details. Big thumbs up.

What I found so disarming about the DVD, though, is how honest and straightforward Wayne presents himself. He knows who he is and plays to his strength. He’s not trying to be the ‘dark and mysterious stranger’ that so many of these street magic thugs seem to be trying to be. Wayne presents himself with a casualness, humor and a little…geeky. Pun definitely intended.

I found his interviews on issues of character and staging fun to soak in as well.

Oh, and his handling for the classic Gypsy Thread? Simply, easy and effective. I don’t know if I will use it as a lead-in for Thread as he does, but it’s a nice bonus.

At the end of the DVD, proper credit is given to the origins of the the key concept of Thread as well as additional resources for Gypsy Thread. It’s not a complete list, but enough to get the viewer started. He knows his history and honors it.

PRODUCTION VALUES: As I’ve hinted, this is a first rate DVD. The action sometimes shifts to black and white footage and back to color, but it all works. It’s all very artistic. I’m told Theory11 puts out great stuff. This is my first experience with one of their products, but I have a feeling it will not be the last.

MY THOUGHTS: I’m stunned beyond belief. I went into this expecting to hate it, but Wayne Houchin has put out a great DVD. In terms of rating, I’m going to give this a 9 out of 10. I’d go a full 10, but the geek method of doing this can cause discomfort for some users and one will probably not know til one tries it for themselves.

Wayne does a great job with this and it’s been his opener for a decade. When I did a bit of research on this, I found so many users on other sites reviewing this just as I feared…stuff like “WOW! I got this today and did the trick a few times for my friends and freaked them out!”

They got it and performed it the same day? Exactly what I hate about this type of geek magic. I know it’s not Wayne’s fault if people do not properly prepare for an effect, but the fact is they do. To anyone reading this, I have a few tidbits of advice:

1. Practive ANYTHING magic-related until you can do it flawlessly.
2. Write a script or presentational hook, a reason for doing this. (No, “Hey this will freak you out” does not qualify in my book.)
3. Be aware of WHO you performing this for. I admit I’m adding this to my teen shows, but I have 15 years’ experience and know what my audiences like. This is NOT something to do at little Johnny’s 6th birthday party.

I usually don’t give warnings like this in my column, but I’ve read a LOT of “reviews” on this, so I have seen many who gravitate to it.

Overall, great DVD. I’m excited to start working on this for myself.

Next week, another review, so check back soon!

Questions? Comments? Review requests? Send an email to crisjohnsoninfo@verizon.net.

Best,

Cris Johnson, CH, C.M.NLP

Anthony Lindan’s Incredible Suit Jacket Escape DVD

Howdy, loyal readers! Cris Johnson here, back with another fun-filled review. Before this week’s product, a few housekeeping notes…

First of all, I want to thank my subscribers to “Cause & Effects,” my free monthly ezine. New subscribers are coming in all the time and I couldn’t be more delighted! Next month’s issue will feature an article on a sneaky way to save money on your hotels. I stumbled across this by accident and I’m happy to share it with you.

Secondly, I am actually considering doing something I’ve talked about for five years…starting an agency! Since I am primarily a school guy, I am on the road a TON, but I still concentrate mostly on the east coast. With that in mind, there’s a TON of the U.S. I don’t visit very often.

If you’re a professional U.S. magician, contact me at crisjohnsoninfo@verizon.net. I’m just in the planning stages now, but I promise to be fair with your best interests in mind. My (proposed) agency will target different markets, so it doesn’t matter to me if you’re a birthday guy, a closeup gal or a corporate entertainer. These are exciting times and with my 15+ years of experience, I’m sure I can launch an agency to great heights!

On to this week’s review…

Today I’m reviewing Anthony Lindan’s Incredible Suit Jacket Escape DVD. It’s available for $59.95 from Hocus Pocus. Here’s the link: http://www.hocus-pocus.com/magicshop/inc/product_detail.cfm?item=13137

EFFECT: The performer, channeling Harry Houdini, embarks on a considerably LESS impressive outing: rather than escaping from a straight jacket, he’s going to escape from his own suit jacket. Two volunteers help handcuff the performer’s hands behind his back. A curtain is raised and lowered, showing the performer’s progress…or lack thereof. He eventually escapes, but the real emphasis is on sight gags and fun.

WHAT YOU GET: A very professionally produced DVD that covers the suit jacket escape in incredible detail.

MARKETS: Although I haven’t put this in my show yet, I’m working my butt off to get it ready for the fall. I have penciled this in to three of my different shows with a possibility of a fourth. I believe this will play equally well to kids, pre-teens and adults. It may play great for teens too, though I have no immediate plans to put it in my teen shows. I wouldn’t do it for daycare shows, but elementary school age through adults and you’re probably golden.

There are no off-color jokes or anything that would offend anyone, in my eyes.

DIFFICULTY: I hesitate to refer to any routine as “easy” but from a technical standpoint this is ‘easy’ to do. Any technical difficulty is contingent on what kind of quick release restraint you have. As I said, Anthony’s recommendation for gimmicked shackles is the same choice I made. I know there was a Harry Anderson routine put out a few years ago in which Harry used gimmicked handcuffs, though I’ve no idea of how fast they release. I only mention this so you know there are options.

I should also mention that your quick release restraint needs to be something you can both get out of quickly and get back into just as fast, therefore the old Siberian Chain Escape would be a poor choice.

ANGLES: This is beautiful, because of the curtain, you’re completely covered as you make your escape and/or set up the various sight gags throughout the routine. Plus, it packs small and plays big, to borrow a tired phrase.

INSTRUCTION: Anthony does an incredible job describing in detail all of the nuances of the routine. In the hands of a lesser instructor, I can see this being described on one side of a piece of paper, but Anthony goes into detail…REAL detail, the kind of detail that shows he’s done this at least 1000 times. He addresses such issues as filling dead time while the spectators lock you up, ways to minimize that potential dead time, reducing the dead time as you introduce the curtain, and so much more.

Additionally, the equipment he recommends is top notch. I’ve already purchased the shackles he recommends and they are first rate. Really, any decent quick-release restraint would work, but I really like the shackles, as they’re big, designed to LAST and are oh-so-simple to use. The spirit curtain (or “curtain of death,” as Anthony calls it) is well thought out in terms of the recommended construction.

MY BACKGROUND: I’ve been considering a straight jacket escape for a LONG time. I have a friend whom I’ve known for 25 years and he does a standard straight jacket escape. He does it in a very stripped down, concise manner, similar to a lot of working pros, including Jeff McBride’s wife, Abbi Spinner McBride.

Frankly, I’ve always considered it boring as hell. To me, there’s no hook, no reason for the escape.

Copperfield did the only straight jacket escape I ever liked, because it had real drama – he dangled upside down from burning ropes! I was captivated. There was a reason for the escape: Get out or die!

Most of us don’t have the staging or ability to pull off true danger, so as soon as you’re locked in a straight jacket (and you’re just going to escape, with no consequences if you do not), you’re in an anti-climax position. If you get out when you say you will, no one is surprised. If you do not, well, you’re a tool… in your audiences’ eyes.

With all of that in mind, I swore I’d never do a straight jacket escape unless I could write a really good script. One that was dramatic or funny…or preferably both!

After struggling with the concept for years, I put the straight jacket escape idea on hold until Bill emailed me about the suit jacket escape, so I got my grubby hands on this before it was even available at Hocus Pocus.

Upon review, I immediately thought, “That’s the answer I’ve been looking for.” I love it because it’s delightfully absurd! The plot is silly, which I love. It involves volunteers throughout the routine, not just for the locking business. The comedy is what gives the journey, the road to the successful escape, a way to hook the audience. Really, no one cares if you can escape ANYTHING. You’ve got to engage them in some way, and laughter is a way to hook any audience into any routine.

I only point all of this out because if I, an ardent anti-straight jacket guy, can appreciate this routine, then anyone can.

MY THOUGHTS: First of all, the routine is very funny. That being said, Anthony has stripped this routine down to make it the most travel-friendly ‘big’ routine possible. By his own admission, he left a lot of possibilities out.

This is a great routine because if you do it exactly as Anthony does it, you’ve got a winner…but if you’re the least bit creative, you’re going to start going through this and come up with ways to really add bits of business, additional sight gags, props and more… and whatever else from your own personality. This is a good thing – no, correction, this is a great thing. As Anthony runs it, this is roughly a 5 minute routine. A 5 minute routine that I can drop right into my act for sixty bucks? That’s a steal, in my book.

However, because this routine and premise is so open to possibilities, I can see me easily stretching this to 10-12 minute routine and still leave the audience begging for more. This routine is a blank canvas…

I personally don’t mind a bit of setup, so with me, once this goes into my set list, I know I’m going to expand, change it, and truly nurture this until it’s my own. The possibilities are endless and I haven’t been this excited about a new product in a LONG time.

A 10 out of 10.

Next week, due to reader request, I’ll be reviewing another DVD, this one called “Thread.” Yup, it’s the one where Criss Angel swallows and then pulls thread out of his eye. Kinda brings me back to my old Bizarrist roots with Tony Andruzzi…

Until next week, send all questions, comments and additional review requests to crisjohnsoninfo@verizon.net.

Best,

Cris Johnson

Brad Manuel’s Buckethead

Yo, what up, readers?

OK, that was SAD. Just wanted to change things up a bit….

Cris Johnson here with another review! A few housekeeping things…

First, my new audio CD prediction effect, The Mother of All Predictions, continues to sell like hotcakes! This uses an UNGIMMICKED CD player (any CD player on the planet) will work and you can predict ANYTHING. The ad mentions my own presentation, but really, you’re only limited by your imagination. Here’s the link: http://www.hocus-pocus.com/magicshop/inc/product_detail.cfm?item=13021

My ezine, “Cause & Effects” features an article examining David Copperfield’s live show and just a few things magicians could take from it to improve their act. Sign up is FREE! Shoot me an email to crisjohnsoninfo@verizon.net.

Today’s review will be a bit of a departure for me as this is unabashedly a kids’ effect. On to the review…

Today’s review is Bad Manuel’s Buckethead. It’s available for $149.95 from Hocus Pocus. Here’s the link to the info: http://www.hocus-pocus.com/magicshop/inc/product_detail.cfm?item=1816

EFFECT: Bring a child or adult spectator on stage to help you with your next trick. But before they are to help, they must expand their mind a bit. And you have just the way to do it. A bucket-like container with a flat oversized top hat is placed over their head. Next you insert a tube into the side of the bucket and attach an oversized bellows style pump. Now the fun begins. You begin to pump and squeeze the bellows, each time you do, the top hat begins to inflate atop the bucket. Your audience will die with laughter as the hat slowly becomes fully inflated. But wait! The best is yet to come! Open the front hatch of the bucket, and the spectator’s actual head is seen inflated several times its normal size! They look just like a human cartoon!

WHAT YOU RECEIVE: The pump, the special bucket, the hat, written instructions.

QUALITY OF PROPS: The pump is very rugged and very heavy (more on that later) and very well made. the hat is made of good solid material and the bucket is made from your usual household bucket. The clear panel that allows the audience to see the volunteer’s face is a bit on the flimsy side and while strong, does scratch somewhat easily. Fortunately, it comes with that white cover to facilitate the big reveal for the effect but it also serves to protect the clear panel. Don’t throw other props into the bucket for transport to your gig and this effect will hold up over time.

MARKETS: This is obviously designed as a kids’ effect, although when I was performing this regularly, my wife insisted I should try it in my adult shows! I never did, but the idea is there.

Here, in the ‘markets’ section, I do have to address a limitation of this effect. In my experience, after having performed this hundreds of times (I bought mine back in ’03 or so…glad to see it’s back) I have found that this will not play too well for very large audience of 400 or so.

I believe the issue is the clear panel. Because of the nature of the effect and illusion, visibility is hampered because of the said panel. I don’t think I’m ruining the effect by saying that the “secret” to the kids’ heads looking so large is exactly what you think it is. It’s not a weakness, just an acknowledgement.

Anyway, because of the nature of the illusion, the visibility, for me, was poor the further back the audience sat.

With that in mind, I found this to be perfect for audiences of 100 or so or less. it kills for birthday shows, daycare shows, smaller family shows, etc.

ANGLES: There are no angle considerations, although if anyone is to the sides or in back, they won’t see the humor of the effect.

MY THOUGHTS: As I said, I bought this several years ago and used it constantly for 4 years or so. If I hadn’t insisted on transporting the pump and other heavy props, I’d still have it today. It was my own fault that the clear panel got scuffed up and not a reflection on the quality of the prop. DON’T transport things by using the bucket and it will last quite a few years.

Also, the clear panel is covered by the white panel that is inturn held on by velcro. If you leave the bucket in your car, the velcro on the white panel may come off if it gets too hot. that’s a limitation of velcro and the “sticky” stuff and not a reflection on the quality of the prop. try not to let it sit in your car for days at a time.

Also, I do not recommend putting the bucket on anyone younger than 5 or 6 as they may become frightened. It’s not a scary effect, but some kids are scared of their own shadows.

Is this effective? In my experience, it kills. It’s certainly not a “fooler,” as even the smallest child knows what’s causing the illusion, but in this case, it’s played strictly for laughs. This is a sight gag and nothing more, but do not let that sway you away from the effect. When I was using this, I constantly had both kids and adults telling me it was so funny and was their favorite parts of the show.

This effect is a lesson worthy of study: It does not matter what you do, as long as you entertain your audience.

If you’re looking for something to make your audience laugh, I can think of nothing stronger. Based on my experience and having performed this hundreds of times, I give it a 10 out of 10.

I know this review may be shorter than what I normally write, but this is a much simpler effect and there is not as much “secret stuff” to dance around.

Until next week, send all questions, comments and gripes to crisjohnsoninfo@verizon.net.

Best,

Cris

French Guillotine

Howdy, Loyal Readers!

Cris Johnson here, back with a new review earlier than normal this week. I’ve got an INSANE amount of driving / performing to do this week, so the earlier I can get my blog done, the better.:)

First, a few housekeeping notes…

My NEW product, “The Mother of All Predictions,” continues to sell like hotcakes! Check out the ad copy here: http://www.hocus-pocus.com/magicshop/inc/product_detail.cfm?item=13021

Secondly, the June issue of my ezine, “Cause & Effects,” is ready to go and will be emailed tomorrow. If you aren’t already on the list, shoot me an email: crisjohnsoninfo@verizon.net. This issue is all about what David Copperfield can teach any magician. Good stuff!

OK, onto this week’s review…it’s the French Guillotine, available from Hocus Pocus for $695. Here’s the link: http://www.hocus-pocus.com/magicshop/inc/product_detail.cfm?item=2614

EFFECT: Invite a spectator on stage and reveal the GUILLOTINE. This alone will garner lots of laughs! Lock their head into the stocks and bring out a small trash can and place it in front of their head (just in case). Finally, when you pull the release, the blade comes careening down (which will garner screams from the audience) and CRASH! The blade goes completely through the spectator’s neck and comes out the bottom! What a visual! The spectator is then released from the stocks safe and completely unharmed!

WHAT YOU GET: The Guillotine, removeable ‘feet,’ written instructions and (apparently) a wooden carrying case.

BACKGROUND: I’ve been using this for about 7 years, having bought it the first year I went ‘full time’ and as such, there MAY be a few differences in mine compared to the new ones, based on the ad copy, but I’ll get to that a little later.

QUALITY OF PROP: First of all, this thing looks absolutely lethal onstage. It’s gorgeous, even up close. They really did a good job with the looks of the prop. Secondly, my unit has been through hundreds or thousands of performances and it continues to work like a dream. The action of the blade dropping, as the ad copy claims, is smooth as silk.

ANGLES: As long as someone’s head (or more accurately, neck) is in the stock, you can do this surrounded, as there’s nothing to see.

That’s the good news…now onto to a few ‘quibbles’ I have…

AD COPY: The first thing wrong with the ad copy is that they claim the unit stands a full 7 feet high. Not true, It stands 6 foot, maybe 6 ‘ 2″ at the most. I stand 5′ 7″ and the unit is roughly 6 inches or so (maybe less) taller than me, so no way is this 7 feet. Quite frankly, the prop is so attractive and looks so great on stage that I do think this is a very minor flaw in the ad copy.

Secondly, the ad copy states you can test the blade by letting it drop before putting someone’s head/neck into it. Well, let me clearly state that unless there is something (whether it’s a person’s neck, a watermelon or a basketball) then you CANNOT drop the blade without revealing the ‘secret’ to your audience, so the ad copy is wrong on that count.

Finally, the ad copy states that the prop comes with a wooden carrying case – when I bought mine years ago, it did not come with such a case. Now, in all fairness, I honestly cannot remember whether the ad copy mentioned a case back then or not. I’m guessing it did not, because back in 2003 when I bought it, money was VERY tight and I read over any ad very carefully (as we all do) before deciding on such an investment.

I’m going to give the ad as well as the makers the benefit of the doubt and assume that the addition of the wooden case is a recent addition. BTW, this effect needs such a case. The finsh of the prop looks fantastic and having a case will certainly help keep things in tip-top shape. I wish I had gone to the trouble of getting a case, any case, years ago for my prop, as it’s been scratched and scuffed a LOT over the years, but that’s my fault. It still looks great from a mere 4 feet away.

PROS & CONS: First, the pros. OK, the best thing about this prop is the fact that it looks so deadly. I haul it out during my show under cover of a large dark cloth. I then slowly pull the cloth off and the audience gasps when they see the large blade.

Secondly, this thing is totally safe. Obscenely safe. There’s no way possible this thing can hurt you. More on that later, but even if you were to slam the blade down onto yourself, it’s not heavy enough or sharp to hurt you. You could turn a 5 year old loose with this thing and the only way he could hurt himself is if the prop toppled over on him. Totally safe.

Thirdly, despite being 6 feet tall, the prop folds in half, to around 3 feet in length, meaning it fits into any car. Also, while the ad copy claims 3 minutes to set up, I can do it in one minute. You unfold it, screw the feet on and stand it up. Easy.

Now the cons…

The fact that this is so safe is also its biggest downfall. In my way of presenting an arm chopper effect, I first use the prop to cut a carrot or some such food in half and then I get the person to place themselves in harm’s way. Therein lies the problem with this effect…

You can NOT cut anything with this prop, making the ‘buildup’ a little tougher.

Now, I probably should have asked about this before I bought the thing, but once I got it, I fashioned a way to make use of it which I’ll share: I do my side-splittingly funny armchopper routine with a small arm chopper (The routine will be released soon in a NEW book I’m releasing – cheap plug) and, claiming that the audience in the back couldn’t see the arm chopper, I then bring from the back the 6 foot guillotine as a way to allow maximum visibility.

This plays great, and because I try not to focus on the negative, I’m giving the readers of this review a way to use this prop effectively even though it does not cut anything.

OVERALL REVIEW: Out of necessity, I took what was a sub-standard prop (only in functionality, in my view) and crafted a winning routine out of it. The fact that this prop is so incredibly safe is a major, major positive in my book. Still, to those out there who want a prop that cuts things, you simply can’t with this. I’ll give it a 6 out of 10. It looks fantastic, does what it was designed to do very well, is well-built, but ultimately has limitations to keep in mind.

Until next time, send all comments, questions, etc to crisjohnsoninfo@verizon.net.

Best,

Cris Johnson