Monthly archives for October, 2010

White Star & Voodoo Doll

Hey Everyone,

A very SICK Cris Johnson here with more reviews. Yes, I wrote “sick.” I guess it comes from being around so many sick people – I’ve been bombarded with shows (that’s good) but since I’m in the north east part of the USA, everyone in schools is sick…including me. (Not good)

Quick housekeeping… the latest issue of “Cause & Effects” goes out next week. I just finished writing it and I have to say I am THRILLED! Good stuff, even if I do say so myself! It’s all about show disasters and how to handle them. Sign up TODAY by emailing me at crisjohnsoninfo@verizon.net.

On to the reviews!

Two reviews and both are SPPPOOOOOKKYY in honor of Halloween! Item number one is the Okito Voodoo Doll! It’s only $10 from Hocus Pocus. Here’s the link: http://www.hocus-pocus.com/magicshop/inc/product_detail.cfm?item=59

EFFECT: A small straw doll is placed in your palm. Eerily, the doll rises to a standing position! No threads or magnets. Ready to go all the time – zero set up.

WHAT YOU RECEIVE: You receive the doll itself which is gimmicked, along with sparse written instructions.

QUALITY OF PROP: Although it’s made of straw, this little guy is pretty tough. I’ve been using mine for 7 years. Treat it right – I keep mine in a small wooden box, which serves to enhance the mystery as well as protect the prop.

QUALITY OF INSTRUCTION: As I said, the instructions are sparse but serviceable. Nothing fancy, and in terms of routines, you’ll need to do this on your own.

DIFFICULTY: This is maybe a 1 or a 2 out of 10. This is not difficult technically, but this is a small bit of pain involved….nothing much, but you’ve been warned. You’ll also need a bit of misdirection for the “get ready” that allows you to perform this.

MY THOUGHTS: I still remember the first time I saw this performed. I was completely blown away and years later, I was delighted to find it online and buy one for myself. I love this prop.

Again, you really need to work out a routine for it to do it justice, but this close-up levitation can be done in full light at a moment’s notice. What’s not to love?

I’m not much of a close-up guy, but this has been a staple in my close-up act for years. (I tip the entire routine in one of my “Cause & Effects” books available right here at Hocus Pocus….shameless plug!)

I wholeheartedly recommend this. A 10 out of 10…providing you have a strong routine.

Review #2 is White Star by Jim Critchlow. It’s available for $59.95 from Hocus Pocus. The link is here: http://www.hocus-pocus.com/magicshop/inc/product_detail.cfm?item=10854

EFFECT: The performer is seated at a table opposite two volunteers. The performer places a small article in front of each person, such as an old coin and an old fountain pen (these are to act as ‘markers’).

The performer now takes out from his wallet, a small packet of old photographs which he quickly thumbs through as he mentions to the volunteers that they may recognize some of these as they have appeared in books or programs about the Titanic as they were all passengers on that ill fated liner. The packet is squared and turning to the first volunteer, the performer says that he is going to show him/her the photographs one at a time and if they feel somehow drawn to some, they should tell him and they will be placed in front of them and their ‘marker’.

The performer shows the photographs, one by one to the volunteers, who either decides to take one and place it on the pile forming in front of them or reject it. The rejected photographs forming a discard pile in the center of the table.

‘Look at this young lady please, what emotions do you think she is feeling…..’

When all the photographs have been chosen to be kept or rejected, the performer brings attention to the discard pile. Thumbing through the photographs the performer starts talking about specific photos (the person’s name etc) stressing how absolutely any of the photos could have been retained by the volunteers.

The performer explains that what they have both just done was part of an experiment. He also explains that he has found that the best results only occur when nothing is explained beforehand and that the results are always different (quite true to a point).

The performer then states that the old coin was taken from one of the bodies found in the wreckage of the Titanic and the fountain pen was used by a clerk to write out the list of all the survivors. The person with the coin is asked to turn their photographs over and in doing so they see each photograph has printed on its back, the name of the person, a few details about them and that they DIED! The spectator holding the fountain pen turns their photographs over and sees the similar details but all their photographs have SURVIVED printed on them! The discarded pile is turned over and shown that there is a complete mix, in no sequence of both the DIED and SURVIVED photographs!

WHAT YOU RECEIVE: You get the beautifully produced photos as well as the well-produced 21-page instruction booklet which explains the basic effect as well as several offshoots. Jim clearly loves this plot.

Although the presentation mentions using ‘markers’ like an old coin and an old pen, they are not included. It’s important to be clear about this.

QUALITY: This is first class stuff and intended for professional performers, as evidenced by the quality. First rate, all the way.

DIFFICULTY: Here’s the great part: the primary Whitestar effect is dead-easy, which allows you to concentrate on your presentation. There’s been a lot of marketed effects advertised as ‘easy so you can concentrate on your presentation,’ and this one REALLY fits the bill. Interestingly, it’s even easier than the ‘Out of This World” original effect upon which this is based.

What’s nice about this version is the fact that there is no switching of the packets, as in “Out of This World.” That, to me, is the biggest selling point in terms of method.

The difficulty from a technical standpoint is 1 out of 10. The neat thing is, although good acting skills will enhance the routine (as in any good effect) here the storyline is so strong that the effect, if presented as Jim does, really carries itself. That to me is a great selling point. I personally reject most ‘Bizarre’ type effects because I don’t have the acting chops to do the effects justice.

Here, any competent performer would probably get a good reaction because of the subject matter. (Notice I said competent!!)

MY THOUGHTS: I bought this effect for a specific show I’m putting together for teens and as such I’ve been recently looking at a number of unusual effects I normally would not be considering. This was recommended to me by a friend, and after hearing the description, I was less than thrilled. I’ve never been a fan of “Out of This World.” Not because it wasn’t a good effect…quite the opposite – it’s a GREAT effect, but in my closeup work, I NEVER have the kind of table space for this kind of effect.

Also, because it’s a card effect, I feel it would not play as well from stage because the ‘action’ and revelation is on the table. So, from a visibility standpoint, for me, “Out of This World” fails miserably.

With Whitestar, the subject matter is always topical – The public’s fascination with the Titanic seems to be neverending.

My whole point in bringing all of this up is to let me you know, dear reader, that I’m not a fan of table tricks like this.

Then, I was able to see a video of my friend performing this. It floored me, and for the life of me, I could not figure the method out and my friend refused to tip it, insisting that if I wanted it, I should buy it.

I’m glad I saw it performed first, because once I learned the secret, I was delighted and very impressed with the working. I suspect that buyers, upon learning the secret before seeing it performed, would be disappointed. My advice is to NOT give into those feelings! This PLAYS well.

OTHER VERSIONS: As I mentioned earlier, Jim seems to have a fascination with this plot as he offers other variations in the booklet. Each is good in it’s own right. I personally prefer the main Whitestar effect, but it’s nice to have alternatives.

MY FINAL VERDICT: I’m going to give this a rock-solid 8 out of 10. This plays very strong even though it’s not my usual cup of tea. I’d rate it higher, but the sorting process brings it down a bit for me. Don’t get me wrong, the sorting is incredibly fair and the spectators do indeed have free choices of cards. To me at least, this necessary sorting of cards (the backbone of the presentation) may drag a bit without a superior presentation.

Who knows, maybe after I’ve mastered this effect, I may come back and revise my rating!

Next week’s review will be Bobby Motta’s TASTE.

Until next week…

Cris Johnson

Shivers Book by Gary Sumpter

Hello, all!

Before I get to this week’s review, just a few quick housekkeeping tidbits…

First, I performed Bobby Motta’s TASTE today for the first time and I have to say, I LOVE it! That review will be coming the first week of November, after I’ve performed it a few more times.

Secondly, I’m still taking signups for my FREE ezine, “Cause & Effects,” simply by emailing me at crisjohnsoninfo@verizon.net. Next month’s article will dealing with what happens when DISASTER strikes your show!

OK, on to this week’s s-p-p-o-o-o-k-y review! (Hey, Halloween’s coming!)

This week, I review Shivers by Gary Sumpter. It’s available for $34.95 at Hocus Pocus. You can check it out here: http://www.hocus-pocus.com/magicshop/inc/product_detail.cfm?item=6077

EFFECTS: All of the effects are off shoots of the touching-without-being-touched-by-anything-you-can-see popularized by Banachek’s “PK Touches.” I’ve been captivated by this plot for years. I’ve used the PK Touches basic effect for stage around 500 times and I like it so much because it’s so unique – it’s not a vanish, it’s not a levitation, etc. When done properly, people are in awe. They don’t know what to think, and they often do not know how to react or how to process what’s happened!

WHAT YOU RECEIVE: A well-produced booklet of about 20 pages.

DIFFICULTY: As with many products of a ‘spooky’ nature, the technical needs of the effects are easy, but the real work comes from your scripting, mood, quality of your vocal tonality and more. Therefore, the technical needs of these effects range from a 1 out of 10 to maybe a 3 out of 10.

QUALITY OF INSTRUCTION: Some of the instructions/secrets are rather sparse in terms of length, but everything is more than adequate.

I’ll now walk through a few of the effects (though not all) and give my thoughts on the ones I have experimented with and/or performed…

Susceptible – The spectators eyes are covered with your fingertips. Despite them being able to feel your fingers, they feel touches on the back of their neck and head.

MY THOUGHTS: This is only useable for one on one performances. To do it in the daylight is silly, in my opinion, but if you’re working with just one person while doing a reading by candlelight, this can play very creepy if you work your way into the right mood. I don’t think most people will be all that amazed, so you’ll have to pick your volunteer carefully.

Relax – A spectator sits down and closes their eyes, you are watched by a group of other spectators. You stand well away from the spectator on the chair and you ask the spectator to remain quiet and in a moment you will ask them a very important question. You silently stroke your shoulder a few times. You then ask the spectator if they felt anything, the comments that they felt you stroke their shoulder, despite you being nowhere near them.

MY THOUGHTS: This is terrific and it uses the original PK Touches concept in a slightly different, more subtle way. It’s terrific and is a worthy off-shoot of the original effect. Probably my favorite of the booklet. I’ve done this and it plays incredibly strong. EASILY worth the price of the book.

Distant Touch – Standing well away from the spectator, you gesture towards them and they feel you touch them.

MY THOUGHTS: This is one of the strongest effects in the booklet in theory. I feel it’s only for stage, mostly due to the lighting concerns you must be aware of with this effect. Since this is only for stage, one might wonder why this effect, which uses a common magic prop that requires special lighting, is superior to the original PK Touch effect. I like it because it happens in ‘real time,’ with no timing delays. I prefer the original PK touches, but this might be a good version to try with the right lighting conditions.

Focus – One on One, the spectator feels something pushing them from behind, despite your hands being in full view.

MY THOUGHTS: Unless you have a VERY compliant volunteer, I can see the person jerking away during the touching, looking around and spotting the gaff. In my opinion, the weakest effect in the booklet.

Connected – An ‘experiment’ in paranormal communication that takes an unplanned turn. A lighthearted attempt at making contact with the spirit goes off on a diagonal as things leave the performers control.

MY THOUGHTS: While I have not tried this yet, it reads as VERY strong – the kind of effect that can really send shivers down the audiences’ back. It’s one of those effects that you can use sparingly but will ‘stick’ with an audience a LONG time, Potentially VERY creepy.

The Crying Child – A disturbing performance, centered around the spirit of a young girl.

MY THOUGHTS: While technically very easy, the main issue with this is the fact that you must have superior acting skills. Again, this reads as very powerful and the technical needs are relatively ‘easy’ but the true test is the acting.

The rest of the book has other practical, spooky effects but the ones I covered here are my favorites. Nevertheless, the remainder of the book has some great psychology.

The big ‘takeway’ with books of this sort is the necessity of good acting. I’ve mentioned that several times in this entry so far and it’s been deliberate. I’ve performed ‘Bizarre’ type magic in years past and it is indeed fun, but these days, I don’t do it much any more mostly because of the acting required to really give these effects their due.

I’m more of a comedic performer, and while I do some serious stuff, the vast majority of my work is geared toward ‘the funny.’

So, in closing, if this type of stuff is your cup of tea, I can certainly recommend it.

My rating: 8 out of 10.

Until next week, with more s-p-o-o-o-o-k-y reviews….

Best,

Cris Johnson

Harry Anderson’s Improved Needle Thru Arm

Hey everyone!

Cris Johnson here, back with a SPPOOOOOOKKY review! (Yes, the cheesiness continues!)

I’m on limited time (October is CRAZY busy!) so no house keeping this week – other than I’m still taking sign ups for my free ezine, “Cause & Effects,” which features articles each month for the professional performer. Sign up today by emailing me at crisjohnsoninfo@verizon.net.

OK, off to this week’s “Halloween – themed” review! I’m tackling a REALLY old product, one that’s been out forever – Harry Anderson’s Improved Needle Thru Arm! It’s available for $34.95 from Hocus Pocus and the ad copy is here: http://www.hocus-pocus.com/magicshop/inc/product_detail.cfm?item=625

One quick note: the reason why I love this month’s Halloween theme is that it allows me to delve deep into some older products. Just because it’s been around for a while doesn’t mean it’s not still relevant and that’s the case with this product.

EFFECT: You show a long needle and shove it into your arm! The spectators can see your skin stretch and then the wound bleeds! To finish, you wipe the stage blood off the wound and show you have no lasting hole in your skin!

WHAT YOU RECEIVE: The needle and bulb (which is removeable to contain stage blood), written instructions and suggestions. The package comes in a sturdy cardboard box to protect the needle.

QUALITY OF PROPS: The needle is very well made and looks great, even up close. Due to the nature of the prop (the needle is hollow) it is somewhat delicate. I’ve kept mine in the box between performances for about 13 years and my needle still works great.

DIFFICULTY: From a sleight of hand standpoint, I’d rate this around a 1 or 2, but the crucial ‘move’ needs some serious ‘motivation’ to cover and unfortunately, the instructions give you ZERO help here. Over time, I’ve come up with sufficient motivation in my scripting, but be aware that it will require work on your part. This brings me to…

QUALITY OF DIRECTIONS. Eh. It tells you how to do the trick and there are some good tips as far as getting into and out of the effect, but overall, the instructions are rather sparse. Additionally, two ‘secret substances’ are recommended. The first, which many of you probably know, is found easily. The second is something I was never able to find. Granted, I never tried the Internet, but initially, no such luck. I’d rate the instructions as a 5.

MARKETS: Do I even need to mention this? Adults or teens ONLY, please! I only perform this effect once or twice per year, usually at a night time teen event and ONLY after I clear it with my client first. This is NOT something to break out for 99% of gigs out there, ESPECIALLY in this PC era!

OVERALL THOUGHTS: Despite the lack of decent instructions and despite the lack of me being able to find the second ‘substance,’ I still like this effect. It packs a wallup and is something that looks incredible, even up close. I know Harry has put out a deluxe version for nearly three times the amount of this, but quite frankly, I don’t do the effect enough to warrant spending the money.

This is best as a parlor effect, (maybe 50 people) as from stage, (100+) not everyone would be able to appreciate the illusion.

The funny thing is, if you don’t know how it’s done, when you first hear the secret, if you’re like me, you’ll immediately think, ‘there’s no way that’s going to work,’ but the fact is, it does! People are blown away by this effect. It looks so real…and disgusting.:)

I’ll rate this as an 7 out of 10 – great illusion…one of my all time favorites… hampered only by insufficient instructions and (at the time) my inability to find the necessary ‘something’ that allows you to clean up the effect and show your arm unmarked at the end of the routine.

Until next time…

Cris Johnson

In Lizzie’s Hand

It’s October! Time to review some SPPOOOOOOKKYY products!

Okay, that was weak, even for me.:)

Nevertheless, I will indeed be devoting every review column this month to items of a ‘spooky’ nature.

Oh, housekkeeping first…

Next month’s ezine topic was originally going to be my take on mentalism’s hallowed “too perfect” theory, but that’s going to get pushed back a month. Why? Today’s show had the power go out!!

350 kids…and no power! How did I handle it? Also, in August, I had a gig for Verizon Wireless – a three hour workshop where I spoke to 150 people…like I said, for 3 hours. Two SECONDS after I hit the stage, the facility’s mic dies! How did I handle it?

the issue will be about handling things when DISASTER strikes YOUR show! My solutions weren’t dramatic or any deep ‘secret…’ more of a mindset thing.

It’s going to be a GREAT issue! sign ups are free by emailing me at crisjohnsoninfo@verizon.net. (By the way, in the end, both shows kicked ASS!)

Now, on to the reviews…because I’ve been sleeping on a crappy hotel bed and my back is killin’ me.:)

Today I review…In Lizzie’s Hand by Bruce Kavlar. It’s available for $35 from Hocus Pocus. Here’s a link to the ad copy: http://www.hocus-pocus.com/magicshop/inc/product_detail.cfm?item=1073

EFFECT: While reading a copy of a letter supposedly written by Lizzie Borden (who was accused of murdering her father and step-mother), the performer is ‘possessed’ by something and slams his hand down on the paper. After he takes his hand away, there is a bloody handprint on the paper…and NO marks of any kind on the performer’s hand.

WHAT YOU RECEIVE: 25 sheets of special paper with Lizzie’s ‘letter’ printed on each. You are receive a special something used to make a something which is used to make something….which enables you to leave the hand print. how’s THAT for cryptic?? You also receive a thorough booklet of instructions and background on Lizzie Borden.

QUALITY OF PROPS: The paper looks and feels like regular paper (unlike flashpaper, which NEVER passes for ‘regular paper.’) Good stuff. My only quibble is the fact that you need to buy refills….I don’t have an issue with purchasing refills, but my fear is I will fall in love with an effect and find it’s no longer produced. Fortunately, the first time I bought this effect was 5 years ago. I just re-bought it again a few weeks ago and Voila! It’s still around. Whew!

QUALITY OF INSTRUCTION: Bruce does a good job giving you the basics needed for the effect in addition to other ideas. The Borden background info is a nice bonus. 10 out of 10.

DIFFICULTY: Depending on when you perform this, this can either be a 1 out of 10 or a 10 out of 10. Let me explain…if you open with this effect, the physical requirements of the effect are simply slamming your hand down on the paper…or just resting your hand….slamming is NOT necessary, so to me, not being forced to ‘act possessed’ was most welcome indeed!

However, the requirements of the effect dictate that you must put something on your hand. It’s invisible to the eye, does not have anything to do with heat, and leaves no marks on your hand. However, finding the justification to do this in the middle of your show will require some scripting, choreography, and planning on your part.

It’s not terribly difficult, but it’s one of those things I can see some performers not putting any thought into and therefore subjecting the audience to seeing the performer ‘doing something behind the curtain’ and not being too subtle about it.

The time you DON’T need to spend practicing any moves for this effect would best be spent working on scripting and motivation. I’m just sayin’.

EFFECT ON AUDIENCE: This does not get the type of effect that a dove steal gets, nor is it necessarily supposed to. I myself do not perform spirit magic, but I did purchase this effect for use in a more…’scholarly,’ educational type of show, and effects in such a setting (seance, spiritualism, bizarre magic performances, etc) are often more subdued.

This effect plays well, but the biggest thing to work on is your acting skills, especially if you want to use the ‘possession’ plot that Bruce advertises. I have, in my lifetime, seen exactly ONE magician with the acting chops to really pull this off. And no, it wasn’t anyone you’ve ever heard of.

I sure as hell don’t have that kind of acting ability and therefore will be using the effect in a more subdued fashion, as my friend Jim Kleefeld recommends in his wonderful “Tales From Beyond” package.

MARKET: Don’t do this for little kids’ birthdays, OK? Can we all agree on that? LOL Otherwise, I think this will play best for high school, college or adults’ groups…again with the proper PRESENTATION. (Yes, I’m stressing that a LOT. This effect NEEDS a good presentation. It will DIE if you try to simply let the effect play itself. Trust me.)

I can recommend this effect for the simplicity, but the practicality leaves it a little wanting – unless you’re opening with this, some planning will be necessary to plan on how you will do the ‘dirty work’ as discussed in the instructions.

RATING: I’ll give this a solid 7 out of 10.

Until next time….more s-p-o-o-o-o-k-y magic next week!

Now I’m off to rest my back. More shows tomorrow…I’m grateful for the work, just wish my back would ease up….:(

Best,

Cris Johnson