Tuesday, June 1, 2010

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.


Cris Johnson

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