Monthly archives for May, 2012

Comp&^%$*($R V&@#$S and REVIEW: Butchers Blade by Tim Wisseman

Boy am I glad THAT is over!!

I’m sure many of you have noticed that it’s been roughly two weeks since my last post…well, you can thank slimeball virus creator for that! I swear, if I ever find some of these virus creators I’m going to beat them with a rubber hose!

So, because of said computer virus, I’m been out of commission for a while! ARGH! But now I’m back.

Before I get to this week’s review, I want to encourage all of you to download the second issue of Paul Romhany’s VANISH magazine. It’s incredible and for the life of me I cannot figure out what his reasoning is for not charging for such a great work.

OK, on to this week’s review, which will be a bit shorter than usual because I’ve got a 6 hour drive ahead of me for a gig tonight…

Butcher’s Blade by Tim Wisseman – available from Hocus Pocus for $199.95.

EFFECT: You show an antique-looking, very aged wooden box. Inside is some strange aged paper and an old, rusty menacing-looking blade in a wooden holder. You plunge the blade into your finger, blood pouring out everywhere! The audience can see the blade is pushed halfway through your finger! After ‘dressing’ the wooden with some of the ancient cloth from the box, you are able to show your finger is healed and you can open the blade and show the blade really is a solid blade.

WHAT YOU GET: The wooden box, the wooden butchers blade housing the metal blade, cloth, written instructions and aged papers to enhance the presentation.

QUALITY OF EQUIPMENT: Tim is known as one of the top guys in the field when it comes to creating wonderfully aged looking props and this bad boy is no exception. This thing truly looks like it comes from the 1800s or 1900s. The blade looks e-v-i-l!

INSTRUCTIONS: There are full color photographs accompanying the written instructions and though it was clunky, I was able to replicate the handling after a few tries. The photos REALLY help cut down on the learning curve and I’m sure after some dedicated practice the effect will become very smooth relatively quickly.

DIFFICULTY: The handling is simple enough but it does rely on choregraphed movements, so while this is not a finger-flicking type of handling, I feel a few weeks of practice will be necessary to really get this into your muscle memory so you can do it without thinking about it. If you perform Bizarre magic, you know that presentation is KEY and in this effect, since you are plunging a blade into your finger, presentation has never been more important…especially if you decide to go with the “possessed” plot suggested by the routine description.

ANGLES: You cannot do this this surrounded. Since this type of routine is obviously intended for more intimate performances, you’ll have to control spectators on your sides.

EXAMINATION OF PROPS: Sorry, due to the nature of the prop, you cannot let spectators handle the props. They can LOOK but cannot touch. You can easily cover this by talking about issues of safety – it IS a knife after all – but I don’t think I’m revealing much by saying the prop is heavily gaffed.

MY THOUGHTS & RATING: I love Bizarre magic! It’s what I first performed for friends when I first got into magic. The kind of craftsmanship in props like this simply was not available (unless I made it myself) very much when I was a kid.

I love the craftsmanship and thought that went into the construction of this! My rating is a rock-solid 8 out of 10, only because of some slight angle issues and the fact that during the working, there is a bit of ‘talking’ that can occur. It’s not a big deal and if this is performed correctly, your spectators should be so ‘out of it’ they won’t be focusing on anything but YOU..but I wanted potential buyers to be aware of it.

Like most of Tim’s stuff, this is a solid investment.

Peter Loughran’s Jitters VS WitchBoard: A Comparison

OK, readers, I’ll get this out of the way right up front: Peter Loughran & Sean Bogunia are freakin’ brilliant!

(I’m doing this week’s blog early as I’ve got a fellow performer friend coming in for out of town tomorrow night.)

Next week, look for a special pre-release special on my TWO new books!

Back to this week’s column…as the title would indicate, I’m going to compare and contrast Peter Loughran’s Witchboard with Jitters – both of which are designed to enable owners to freak out audiences witnessing a paranormal/seance performance.

Last summer, I visited Peter’s house to pick up a couple of props and got a sneak peek at Witchboard and it’s inner workings. I also got a chance to check out the Ouija board itself up close as well as all the cool electronics. Recently I ordered Jitters and after experimenting with it over the last 10 days, I’m in a position to compare the two and offer some thoughts for both.

WHAT YOU RECEIVE: With both packages, you receive a gimmicked Ouija board allowing users to cause the planchette to move across the board in a very spooky manner. With Witchboard, you can program the planchette electronically and are able to trigger the program with the remote control.

With Jitters, the Ouija planchette movement is not electronic, instead using Peter’s Shockwave principle.

You also receive the Ghost Controller and three modules which allow you to turn on and off plug-in electrical devices in the client’s home. You receive the remote control and are able to program everything to trigger a pre-planned program, allowing you to have “hands off” spirit occurances, such as lights turning on and off, radios turning on and so on.

With Witchboard, the Ghost Controller is built into the Ouija board, meaning you have nothing to hide. With Jitters, the Ghost Controller is it’s own separate device.

Jitters also comes with Peter’s Entity, allowing you to cause objects to move on their own without threads or strings.

In addition to all of that, both packages come with two disks – one is an audio CD you can load into the client’s CD player for a cool ghostly effect when the player turns on. The second disk is a DVD allowing you to cause a ghostly image to appear on a static-filled TV screen.

MY BACKGROUND: I’ve spent years participating in and designing haunted houses and private party seance recreations…in fact, I actually started my  performing career in Bizarre magic, then I made my way to closeup, then to kids’ magic, and finally to stage, so my career path was a little strange!

When my cohorts and I used to do seances and haunted houses, the technology was very limited. While there were devices available to control lights and appliances, we had to do everything manually. You did not have the option of programming a perfectly timed out program and triggering the entire program with a push of a button, so things have really come a long way!

RATING: Both items are a 10/10, just to get that out of the way!

EXTENDED THOUGHTS: Now we get into the real meet of this blog…which one is better?

First, unlike a magic routine like a levitation or sleight of hand sponge ball routine, both Jitters and Witchboard need to be looked at as a means to an end. Let’s face it, while presentation is King, even a boring presentation of the $100 Bill Switch would get solid reactions out of people. Jitters & Witchboard is completely different. If you sit your friends down and say, “Watch this!” And lights go on and off, they’ll simply roll their eyes. Witchboard & Jitters are a means to an end and really require a great deal of psychology & atmosphere setting. Both of these packages are used to amplify and enhance a mood…not create it.

With all of that out of the way, I’ll compare the Planchette movement. You definitely have more control over the Planchette with Witchboard and you can pre-program movements to spell out words which is REALLY neat! With Jitters, the movement is more limited, which is to be expected as Jitters is nearly $1000 less.

I don’t believe there’s an advantage over either, however. If you’re doing a more theatrical type of event, spelling out words is really cool. If, like me, you want to shock people, a sudden jerky movement of that Planchette is all you need. After working with Jitters for a short time, I’m able to cause the Planchette to suddenly flip over and launch itself completely off of the board! This is all I need. As Eugene Burger says, “Less is More.”

While you do have the option of making the Jitters Planchette move slower than that, spelling out complete words will be quite a bit more difficult because of the limited range of movement with the Shockwave principle. But again, for me, less is more, so it does more than I need.:)

Both boards are visually very appealing – both are quite large, made of wood, polished and have that rustic ‘old world’ look, like an antique. Peter’s craftsmanship is amazing.

The Witchboard board can also rock itself via program, like old school table tilting. This is VERY cool and is not offered on the Jitters board.

However, Jitters comes with the extremely cool Enity device, which is not included with Witchboard. I have owned a separate Entity for years and can assure potential buyers that this is REALLY neat – I’ve used it for adult and kid audiences and it always works reliably and gets a great reaction. In fact, the Jitters version is even smaller, meaning you can hide it more easily without losing any programming features!

Entity allows you to cause more ghostly activity in different parts of the room, with the Ouija board doing it’s thing, the Entity doing it’s thing, and the Ghost Controller doing stuff elsewhere. Your options really are unlimited.

While the Ghost Controller features (programming up to three things to turn on and off in the room) are identical in Jitters and Witchboard, the major difference in the two is as I said the Controller being built into Witchboard, meaning you don’t have to ‘hide’ the controller.

With Jitters, the controller is separate and is roughly 8″ x 5″ x 2″, so while it’s a separate device, it’s still easy to hide in the room.

I had a heck of a time trying to decide which package to get, as I liked the more versatile control of the Ouija planchette, but since I travel so much, I ultimately went with Jitters, as It would be extremely easy to get the Ghost Controller into an airline carry-on suitcase, whereas the Witchboard unit would have to be checked…and knowing TSA, ultimately destroyed!

So…which one is better? I’d say neither is better than the other. As a purchaser, you’ll have to weigh your needs and go from there.

DIFFICULTY: After only a few minutes, I was able to easily program the electrical appliances in my house to turn on and off and with the ghost DVD, even though I’m expecting it, when it kicks on, it’s really spooky! The instructions were very easily understood.

The device is reliable and very user-friendly….plus, you can store two programs, giving you even more options! Consider this scenario: have one program set up to turn the lights off and the TV on…but you get to the house and the client has you set up in a room with out a TV…well, with your second program, you have different delays programmed for those “without a TV” performances.

Additionally, if you have your own seance room, you can have hidden speakers in the walls, behind bookcases, etc and have frightening animal sounds seemingly surround the guests in the dark (because of the stereo speakers hidden in various parts of the room!

Or maybe you’re set up in your own theater and don’t want to pay a lighting crew…you could have the Ghost Controller set up to trigger some cool lighting effects as you are being introduced. In other words, you don’t have to limit yourself to just seance or paranormal shows with the electronics.

For instance, I use an Entity device in my Recycling Magic Show!

As always with anything from Peter Loughran, I am blown away by the quality. I couldn’t be happier with my purchase and can’t wait to start scaring people!

NEXT WEEK: Butcher’s Blade by Tim Wisseman. (I’m building my own seance/paranormal show so I’ve been busy buying all kinds of goodies!

Two NEW Books Coming and REVIEW: Astor Epic

Hello loyal readers!

Before I get to this week’s review, I want to tip you all on TWO new books I’m releasing. The first will be a book on producing demo videos for your work very inexpensively yet effectively and the second book will be Volume 3 of my Cause & Effects series! Keep your eyes open for a pre-release special on both books sometime in the next week or two!

On to this week’s review: Astor Epic by Astor. It’s available for $298.95 from Hocus Pocus.

EFFECT: It’s the classic Mental Epic for the 21st Century! You ask one spectator to think of three pieces of information (or you ask three spectators to think of one piece of information each) and you write down your prediction for each piece of information and cover it with one of the number slides.

After each prediction is written (and covered) and the answers are written openly, one by one you reveal that your predictions were exactly a match. NO double writing, NO sleight of hand and NO forces!

WHAT YOU RECEIVE: You receive the gimmicked board, a dry erase marker, DVD instructions.

QUALITY OF BOARD: The board is gimmicked up the wazoo, but the board is built VERY well. With proper care, this will last a long time. In other words, don’t throw it at the bottom of your road case!

QUALITY OF INSTRUCTIONS: I found the DVD instructions to be adequate. Production value was nothing to write home about, just a simple one camera shoot. The lighting could have been better, but you can see and understand everything. Fortunately, the workings are simple enough that learning this is not an issue. The written instructions (and accompanying pictures) are well-written, but due to the nature of the effect you get a lot of “Panel A, Panel C,” and so forth, which reads very boring-ly! (Yes, I know that’s not a word!)

EASE OF USE: This is where this prop really shines – the working is so easy it’s disgusting. I rehearsed with this for about a week, practicing over and over, maybe 100 times or so before I performed it for the first time this week. Honestly, a person could almost – ALMOST – do this right out of the box. I hate saying that because even the simplest effect needs good blocking, scripting, motivation and also getting the physical movements of the routine into your muscle memory so you don’t hesitate. That being said, this is a dream. There is, however, one trade off…

THE ONE DRAWBACK: For a pure mentalist, this board definitely looks like a prop. The fact that the numbered covers slide up and down may be even more worrisome to some mentalists. Plus the board cannot be examined.

Personally,  I feel that for 99% of all stage work (and much closeup work as well) the whole “can it be examined” things is wayyyy over rated. I’ve lost count of how many times in a stage effect where I’ll have a volunteer on stage and give them the opportunity to shuffle an ungimmicked deck of cards and the person doesn’t do it.

Previously, I owned Richard Osterlind’s Ultra Board, which was another way to do Mental Epic type routines without forcing anything. Osterlind’s Board was very nice, and it was ungimmicked, meaning it could be examined, but I like the working of this board much better. There are NO suspicious actions and the entire time you’re doing the routine, you are actually writing where you’re supposed to be writing, so eagle-eyed spectators won’t see your hand position shifting.

THE FINAL WORD: The real test is, how does this fly in the real world? I’m proud to say that I performed this for one of the hardest audiences there is – 200 surly middle-school kids! The group was around 12 years old. They were supposed to be a little older, but the client changed things on me, and despite this little snag, I can report that Astor Epic KILLED. There were gasps, spontaneous applause, and the volunteer I used looked legitimately shaken. Great first performance!

So, a mentalist looking for completely innocent looking ‘props’ may shy away from this, but for me, it’s the perfect solution to a routine I’ve been considering for years, having owned different Boards in my day.

If you get the opportunity, go to Youtube and check out various demos of this product. I was completely clueless on how the third prediction was accomplished until mine came in the mail.

RATING: This gets a 9 out of 10. It’s just about perfect and I do love it. It looks like a magic prop, but that’s the only ‘drawback.’

NEXT WEEK: I rate Peter Loughran’s fantastic Jitters package! Stay tuned…