Today I'm going to tell you how to pull off two legitimately scary card tricks.
The number of genuinely scary card tricks are miniscule. This is because when magicians try and evoke an emotion, they generally do it in the most hack, obvious way. So, if they want a trick to come across as "romantic" they overload it with heart imagery, and maybe some flowers, and a bunch of other hokey bullshit. And if they want it to be scary they make it about vampires, or use little plastic skulls, or talk about the devil. It's all just more bad story presentations where the cards are anything but cards. "The Jack of Spades is Jack the Ripper" -- that type of garbage.
The problem is that scaring people is not generally conducive to the way magicians want to perform. They want credit. So things seem a lot less creepy when the magician is clearly responsible for what's going on. Like imagine you've been asked to keep watch over a sick, elderly woman in an old house far out in the country. It's late. You're sitting on the sofa, drifting in and out of sleep, when you hear a tap-tap-tapping on the window behind you, and then the sound of a long fingernail scratching down the glass. You freeze thinking, "What the hell was that?" And a moment later the lights come on and there is some guy standing there with a goofy grin, "Hi, it's me, Michael Ammar! I was making that noise. Spooky, huh! That was me." It kind of takes away any tension. Actually, maybe Ammar showing up in some remote house in the middle of the night would be a little scary.
My point is, even with something that could be scary, like the haunted deck, how is it usually presented? With the magician gesticulating around the deck and explicitly or implicitly taking credit for what's going on.
I think I've cracked the code for presentations that elicit genuine emotions and a big key to them is about not claiming credit. When what's presented is not presented in a way that suggests you're looking for acceptance, credit, acknowledgment, appreciation, or validation, the spectator's full emotional response gets channeled into whatever the trick is intended to elicit. For me that's usually joy or mystery or some combination of the two. But I've discovered a way to channel it into romance and sensuality as well (and it has nothing to with doing tricks with hearts and flowers). I'm not quite sure I'm willing to share my findings on that with you cretins, but it definitely can be done. And you can also use magic to generate real fear, or at least a truly unsettled feeling.
Halloween is still a month away, but I thought I'd give you two potentially freaky effects you might want to start working on now so you can unleash them on people in a few weeks. One is just a very small adjustment to a commercially available effect, and the other is a fuller presentation for a technique that is so good it demands a larger spotlight be shone on the moment.
The ideal setting for both of these tricks is to book a night in a "haunted" hotel with someone. The first time I performed these effects together was late one night with a friend at the Batcheller Mansion Inn in Saratoga Springs, NY.
This is entirely unnecessary, of course, it just makes things more fun. I've done it in my own apartment a couple of times as well and have received equally as strong reactions.
Part One - The Storm is Getting Closer
You mention to your friend about how playing cards have been used for centuries to communicate with the dead. If you need some fodder for these comments, I recommend this website's ludicrous section on cartomancy.
You talk about how there have been some strange goings on in your home (or you talk about the research you did on the haunted hotel room you're in). You say you want to try an old ritual to see if a ghost is really there. You spread a deck of cards face up and allow your spectator to choose one. I wouldn't do it just like that though. Maybe have her wave her hand back and forth while you recite some incantation and whatever card her hand is over when you're done is the one you'll use. Or have her use a pendulum to select a card, or something like that. Let's say she selected the Queen of diamonds. You put the card back in the deck.
Take the deck of cards and go with your friend to the bathroom or any other small room in your home. Go in that room and look around real quick. You want to show your friend that there's no one in there. Leave and turn off the lights on your way out.
You hand the deck of cards to your friend and have her hold it betweeen her hands. "In a moment," you say, "I'm going to open the door to the bathroom again. I'm not going to turn on the light but you'll be able to see clearly enough because of the light from this room. I want you to go in there quickly, find any flat surface, set the deck down, and run back out here, got it?" She nods. You open the door, she goes in, leaves the deck, and comes right back out.
"Where did you leave it?" you ask. "Actually, don't tell me. It's better if I don't know."
You flip open a little notebook with somethings you've scribbled in. "Let's try this," you say. You take her hands and read some incantation from the book. You could spew some Latin nonsense or say you found some old children's rhyme from the early 20th century. Whatever you think your friend will find creepiest.
Spirit, in the dark of night
Come to us, move toward the light
We ask for you to make it clear
Prove to us that you are here
You look in your friend's eyes. "I kind of hope this doesn't work," you say. You go over to the bathroom door with her. You turn the handle and open it just a hair. You tap it so it swings open and you let your friend take the lead into the bathroom.
On the edge of the bathtub, right where she left it, is the deck of cards. Only now it is cut in two piles and one card is sticking out. "Sweet fuck," you say. You turn on the lights. Slowly you move over to the deck and gently take the one card that's sticking out. You take it and turn it over. It's the Queen of Diamonds.
Part Two - This House Has Many Hearts
"I want to try something else, but this time we need to be in this room to make it happen."
You open up one of the bathroom cabinets and remove a candle or two and a stick of colored chalk. You light the candles and turn off the rest of the lights. You want the room just illuminated enough to see what's going on but you want there to still be a lot shadows and darkness around the edges.
"Name a different card. I don't want to use the queen of diamonds again, that's freaking me out. And besides that card belongs to whatever that thing is. We need a card that's going to be yours. Which one do you want to use?" She names the four of hearts. You give that card to her and a sharpie. You tell her to write her name on the front of the card and to think of a question that you will try and get answered by the spirit world. A question about her life or her future. When she has one in mind tell her to whisper it to the card. As she does this you draw a large X on the wall in chalk.
You take the card back and press it on the wall against the middle of the X. You sit there in the flickering flames for a while. Then, just when everything is quiet and still, you jump back, pulling your hand off the wall and the card flutters to the ground. This will make her jump. You pick up the card and examine it, but there's nothing wrong with it. You set it on the deck for a moment and brush some chalk off the middle of the X. You do it it again. You hold her card against the wall. After a few moments you give your friend the rest of the deck to hold onto and press your other hand on top of the first one. After 45 seconds you slowly peel your hands back. The card is gone.
"I think they have it," you say, quietly.
"Okay, if this works they should answer your question on the card and send it back to us. That X was the entrance for the card, but we need to create an exit. Draw a circle anywhere on the wall. About two feet in diameter." She does this.
You walk over to the circle and start feeling around the center of it with your hands. After a few moments you say, "Oh, I think I feel something," and you start scratching at a part of the wall. "Can you feel it?" you ask, and your friend admits she can feel a small bump there. "Let me try and get it," you say. Your left hand continues to scratch at the wall. "Oh, look, look, look," you exclaim. And your right hand slowly pulls your friend's signed card out of the wall.
You bring it over to the candle to see better. "I'm not sure if they replied--" you say and cut yourself off as you turn it over and see this:
You jump towards the door and scramble to the safety of the other room.
This is simply Peter Eggink's Haunted, with two small but significant changes.
Change 1 - The spectator takes the deck and places it in the other room anywhere they want. The free handling of the deck and the free choice of where to put it makes everything seem completely above suspicion.
Change 2 - You don't do the effect visibly. Your friend never sees the animation of the deck. You would think this would be less powerful, but instead it's much more affecting. Watching a deck cut itself is pretty magical. But placing an object in an empty room and then coming back to find something has messed with it, is a much more powerful moment.
This is, of course, a nod to Poltergeist and Little Girl Lost and other stories about things and people going into the wall and entering a spirit dimension.
The method is all Chad Long's brilliant visual moment, The Wall. Chad's effect is stunning. It really looks like a card is coming out of the wall.
I think it's just about perfect, which is why I don't like it as just a quick throwaway. I wan't to hang a whole effect on that moment. The thesis of this site has always been that context and presentation matter above all else, and I definitely think this is an ideal context for Chad's trick.
Let's talk about the choreography.
She signs the card, whispers her question to it, and you take it back on top of the deck and go over to the X you've marked on the wall. You place the card under your hand in a way that will mimic the Rub-A-Dub vanish you're going to do in a few moments. So you do the fake vanish first and nothing happens except you try and give your friend a good jump-scare by pulling back quickly from the wall. Your friend sees her card again and it's just a normal card. Now do the first action of the Rub-A-Dub vanish, but simply hold your hand against the wall like you're still holding the card. ALL the attention is on your hand on the wall. While it is you just push the selection off the top of the deck and into your pant's pocket. When you've done that you hand the deck of cards to your friend under the pretense that you need both hands to press against the wall. The fact that your friend now holds the deck is an extra convincer that the card is really under your hands. Eventually you pull back and the card is gone.
Now, let's talk about writing on the walls in chalk. Don't leave that out. It's great theater and taken directly from Little Girl Lost. Just make sure the chalk you're using easily washes off the walls. Don't do it on some fancy wallpaper or something.
Now comes a very Jerxian method. This is the type of method that really only works in informal performances, but it works perfectly. You give her the chalk and ask her to draw a circle on the wall. You're in a dark bathroom and she's concentrating on that task. While she does this you just stand behind her, pull the card and a marker out of your pocket and write "Die Bitch!" on the back (or whatever you want). I prefer to do it messily with a brush-tip marker. To encourage her to draw slowly just tell her to try and make it as even as possible, or to draw three concentric circles. Whatever it takes to get the time you need. Put the card back in your right pocket when you're done.
Now you go over to her circle and start feeling around it. In almost any circle of a decent size drawn on a wall, you will find some imperfections in either the paint or the wall itself. When you feel a bump of some kind, you just direct your friends attention to it and haver her feel it. While she does you get the card in position for Chad Long's effect. Then you just make sure she's focusing on that spot and you remove the card from the wall.
Thank you Chad Long and Peter Eggink.
This house is clean.