Devoted to dudes in distress, suited up as swashbucklers in satin, mated to malevolent magicians with sharp saws, who sadistically sever their handsome hostages in half.
My previous blog was deleted, so I’ve moved it here to wordpress. There will be some content to which a few readers might object. If you dislike gay and bisexual issues, stage magic with male assistants as the subject, and some “mature” themes then you will certainly not enjoy this blog, should consider yourself forewarned, and should sail on to other blogs that will not risk your ire.
For those new to The Parting Glance, here was the first post.
Halloween. It’s the time of year when creepiness abounds. “Haunted Houses” are preparing to scare the masses. I worked for a few haunted houses when I first moved to Chicago, designing illusions and effects. My favorite illusion was the pendulum blade torture. A very handsome young man who was dressed in an open-chested, satin pirate shirt and red satin waist sash was taken into the torture chamber by two executioners, stretched out spread eagle on a stone slab, his wrists and ankles were then locked into metal shackles all in full view of the audience. The audience could then choose to stay and watch the three minute battle the pirate had with the razor sharp pendulum. To the delight, or repulsion, of the audience the poor man lost the fight every single time. For many this was the closest they had ever been to seeing someone “Cut in half”. Having performed stage magic for many years I can say that the sawing in half illusion, and all of its permutations, seems to captivate, horrify, and fascinate most audience members who have had the good fortune to actually see the illusion performed live in front of them. For the folks visiting the haunted house they were treated to one of the most realistic versions ever.
I also performed the buzzsaw illusion as a finale for 4 years with a show called the “Midnight Caberet”. My partner and I refused to perform the sawing in the “cute” manner that is so prevalent in stage magic today. You are sawing someone in half, usually a woman, for godsake. While many things can be said about sawing someone in half, it most certainly is not cute and it is not nice. And for the record, a man was the first subject of sawing a person in half…but I digress from my narrative. Being red blooded, gay, goth boys our assistant was always a man and usually a well built young man at that. We asked for a “volunteer” from the audience before revealing our last illusion. He was brought up onto stage from the audience.
When it was revealed that he was going to be sawed in half at the waist, without a box, and by a three foot diameter buzzsaw he would try to back out of the deal and of course the assistants would then need to violently restrain him and shackle him to the table. The Buzzsaw was then driven through his waist severing him in half with all the accompanying thrashing, screaming, gore, and blood you could imagine. I pulled the torso off stage left while my partner pulled the legs stage right as the curtain closed; no reassembly required and the audience loved it…for the most part. I do think that a few people got sick and at least one audience member fainted. Funny thing about sawing a man in half, most of the women in the audience were enthralled and most of the men were terrified. The other surprising fact is how many men have asked me to saw them in half over the years and how many folks are erotically fascinated by the illusion. And for years I thought I was the only one, silly me! So the next question is, are there any brave men who want to be sawed in half in the audience? I’m sure that I have a costume that will fit you 🙂
Today marks 100 years since Selbit sawed through a woman, and we can expect a lot of folks to find a renewed interest in these illusions.
This year also marks the 100 year anniversary of the sawing a MAN in half by Goldin. The performance and effect were not all that great, but there was GREAT PROMISE in Goldin’s version, because the handsome assistant’s head and hands extended out one side, and his feet out the other. No photos of this event exist, so imagine something nice in its place with an assistant dressed like the one behind Goldin. To read an account of the presentation scroll down.
An anonymous addendum to the official report of the Society of American Magician’s Anunal Banquet, held on June 3, 1921 at the McAlpin Hotel, New York, NY.
Another act, which deserved special mention, and which followed that of the Floyds, has unfortunately been omitted from the foregoing report. I refer to the new and startling illusion of Horace Goldin’s – that of sawing a man in two! The effect is as follows: Goldin has one of his assistants recline himself in a long, shallow box, supported upon a trestle. The extreme ends of the box are fitted with sliding doors which may be raised to permit the hands and feet of the imprisoned assistant to protrude, and these latter are held by a committee of two gentlemen from the audience while Goldin, taking a huge cross-cut saw, similar to those used in felling a tree, deliberately saws through the box. The eyes of the audience can follow the saw as it slowly but surely makes its way down to the assistant’s body, until all who witness the effect are certain that the imprisoned man is actually severed in two. Draw bolts at the central sides of the box are released and box pulled apart, yet the assistant’s hands and feet are still seen protruding and being held by each volunteer guarding the respective ends of the box…The two sections of the box are finally brought together and the supposedly bisected assistant revealed none the worse for his harrowing experience.
Ah to have been in that box…or at least in that room. More to follow on that anniversary date!
“For my final presentation I will require the assistance of a brave young man from the audience. You sir, the handsome blond haired gentleman near the aisle!” I pointed to myself. “Yes, you sir. Would you come up to the stage to assist me for my final experiment of the evening?”
I didn’t want to go up on stage, but I felt compelled by the magician’s gaze.
“Ladies and gentlemen tonight I present to you an experiment in life and death.” At that same moment, two male assistants brought out a very large table with shackles, belt straps and a buzzsaw that was three feet in diameter.
After I found my words, I responded to the magician’s request. “I think that I’d rather watch.” The magician responded by chiding me. “Such a strong young man wouldn’t be afraid of an illusion would he?” I felt myself go red from the humiliation.
“Ladies and gentlemen, would you please give this fine fellow your applause to summon up his courage?” The audience applauded loudly and relentlessly until I stood up, and willed me feet to walk step by step up to the stage.
“Now we must make certain that our volunteer is costumed correctly for this presentation. I would feel terrible if through our experiment his fine suit of clothes was torn.”
The magician was handed a large silk sheet that he spun over and around me like a cyclone. A tingling sensation passed over my skin. One by one I felt each garment of my clothing dissolve until I was naked. Though I was completed shielded from the audience, I felt embarrassed and helpless against my fate. My dread was soon replaced with a cool sensation like wind through my hair. I felt magic spinning its web around me and the erotic sensation of soft, satiny fabric replacing my suit. I heard the spinning stop suddenly. When I looked down I saw that I was attired entirely in a satin pirate costume, and standing in knee high leather boots.
The audience burst into wild applause. I stood stunned in the costume. The blousy sleeves billowed down at my sides, and the sash was tight about my waist making me feel self conscious in front of the audience.
“Now that our handsome assistant is properly attired, I’d like to ask for another volunteer from the audience. You sir, in the Western hat. Would you please come up onto the stage?” The man laughed and with a confident voice yelled back “Not if you’re going to saw me in half I won’t.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it! We already have a brave volunteer who has been selected and costumed for that position. No sir, I’ll need you to assist the rest of my assistants in restraining our hero to the table. I find that once the saw begins, the volunteer usually tries to change his mind. The restraints assist him in following through with his commitment to the audience. This fellow has been marked for the saw since I laid eyes upon him. He’s about to become twice the man he was before he stepped onto the stage tonight.” The music changed as these last words, and the mood become very somber.
“I would now like to demonstrate to everyone here that the saw before you is very real.” Two female assistants came forward for a length of wood which was handed to the male assistants.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, watch as the board is cut in half.” The saw blade was started and roared with a powerful growl as the board was pushed into its serrated edge. ”What the board just experienced, will also be the fate of the handsome young man in satin before you.” I found myself growing weak in the knees.
My heart sank. I crossed my arms to mask my fear and embarrassment as the magician’s female assistants looked on.
“Good sir, now is the moment we’ve all been waiting for. Would you please allow yourself to be guided to the table?”
I couldn’t speak, my mouth was dry and my heart was in my throat. What could I do but nod my consent?
The male assistants each grabbed one of my arms and forcefully led me to the table. I was made to sit down upon its edge. Before I could blink, one of the male and one of the female assistants had grabbed each of my ankles and were pulling them down to the steel shackles waiting for them at the end of the table. The other pair of assistants took that as their cue to push me down upon my back and pull my hands above my head at the other end. I felt the hard wooden table under my back and the cold metal snap tightly around the wrist cuffs of my satin shirt.
The magician gestured to my legs. “And now, I need you help my assistants to fasten the belts across his legs and hips. I will fasten the belts over his chest and abdomen.” The man in the hat, the magician and his assistants caressed my satin clad body as they pulled the belts tight over my entire frame. I lay helpless upon the table wondering about how I was going to survive the ordeal before me.
After what felt like an eternity, the magician deemed that I was ready for my torture. “Ladies and gentlemen, if any of you are faint of heart you will want to close your eyes now. This handsome young man, will in mere moments, actually be severed in half directly through the red satin sash tied about his waist. He may not be able to tolerate the experience, and will no doubt protest his fate with screaming. Quite possibly he may not even be able to survive the experiment. Watch if you dare.
The saw was started and came to life with a whine. The wind it generated made the satin ripple over my skin. The magician then began to pull the saw towards the table where I lay restrained. I heard the whine of the saw as it began to chew through the wooden table to my side. I began to panic. As predicted, I changed my mind and began to cry out.
“Please let me go, I beg you.” Some of the audience members gasped in shock for they weren’t expecting an unwilling volunteer. “I’ve changed my mind, I don’t want to be sawed in half. Please stop, I don’t want to…” my pleas were cut short as I felt the saw begin to rip the satin sash. Suddenly my side burned as a hundred teeth began to chew into my left side, just above my pelvis. I couldn’t believe that I was actually being sawed in half while still alive before an audience. My throat opened with the sound of a man in fear and pain beyond comprehension. My ears were deafened by the sounds of my own screaming and dismemberment.
As the blade sawed through me I knew that I was losing consciousness. I was a sacrifice to the saw for a hedonistic audience who relished my vivisection.
I awoke in confusion, to thunderous applause, and saw that I ended at the waist, I no longer felt my legs. The magician gestured to both halves of my body, and the curtain closed. How this evening would end, only the devil would know.
Look at this handsome assistant above. This is a view that the audience rarely, if ever, sees. I loved it when, in the past, a certain, handsome young man stretched out in my box preparing himself to be sawn in half. It is so rare to see a moment like this from an audience’s perspective; a magician and assistants see this view quite often and I think sometimes take it for granted. This volunteer looks so submissive and a just a little bit nervous in this moment just before the lid is closed and his hands are pulled through the top of the box. Take a moment to savor his willingness to submit himself to the saw and the blades for our enjoyment.
Personally, I find the moments of preparation before the actual sawing to be deliciously erotic and incredibly exciting, yet all too often rushed through by most performers. It is very enticing to be able to view a handsome man stretch out in a box, before it is closed, or watch as he is stretched out and restrained on a table, knowing all the while that in a few short moments a saw or set of blades is going to sever him in half right through his middle and all he can do is lie there helpless as he is being divided. By the very fact that you are reading this blog I know that I am not alone.
Many magicians are gay or bi, and I have several theories about what that may be, but I must save those thoughts for another time in another blog post. However, due to the heavy bias of being a “Straight, white, gentlemen’s club” most gay and bi mages remain in the closet in order to fit in. I didn’t care to go that route. Working primarily in the genre of bizarre magic already makes you a bit outside of the norm. At any rate, I didn’t start out as a magician just a kid who loved all things magic.
Like most gay or bi teens I longed to see my experience reflected in the world around me. I grew up in the center of the U.S., and so I found little to reflect back an authentic picture of myself, or worthwhile models for the I man wanted to become. Every time a man touched another in kindness or affection was like a balm to my soul. However, the images available to me were of violence of men upon men, or more prevalent, men abusing women. I remember as a boy, the images of male magicians doing terrible things to women (sawing them in half, beheading them) terrified me, but so many other boys laughed and seemed amused, or hid their concern.
Something turned in my teens. I realized that these illusions were meant to depict life, death, and a hopeful rebirth. They were a visual representation of a myth, a parable, a story, a mystery. However, as Jim Steinmeyer, Robert Neale and Eugene Burger would point out in their excellent books, most magicians were missing the point. In the race for the “next best puzzle” they’d lost the story, the purpose, the “meaning of magic.” Spectacle without substance is as fulfilling as a twinkie. A delicious but regrettable choice in the end.
In my late teens, I allowed my passion for magic to strangle my fear and auditioned for an assistant position with a local magician. Throughout my college years I learned a great deal about performance under his mentorship. Far from being a mere “box pusher,” as most male assistants are called due to the fact that they basically stay in the background and push illusion apparatus on and off stage; I was allowed to become the subject, or “box jumper,” for a few illusions including my beloved Sawing in Half. I fondly remember four years of Halloween performances, birthday parties, office and school assemblies, and spring fairs in the Midwest. I enjoyed the incarnations of the stories that were told through the magic, how we began with a thin model, changed to a Wakeling apparatus and presentation, then, at last, to the much coveted Abbott’s Pendulum buzzsaw by the time I was a senior. I earned a scar on my ankle from a slight accident in the Wakeling model when the presentation was with me in white dress shirt, khakis, and bare feet. Soon after, I convinced my mentor to allow me to dress in my favorite costume, the satin pirate outfit described in most of my fictional stories, with the black leather boots (at the time they were only cowboy boots) worn to prevent a further accident.
I leaned that the assistant does the physical part of the work. The magician is the actor who presents the story and, if he is excellent at his craft, seamlessly blends technique, timing, and artistry to create an astounding presentation. Meanwhile, assistants await our fate in boxes with the skills of a contortionist, the strength and grace of a gymnast, and the patience of a saint. The two partners must be perfect in their collaboration or else the presentation is ruined. Should the team fail, the audience is cheated of mystery and granted a mere puzzle at best, or an embarrassing waste of time and money at the worst. I know that my fellow connoisseurs of male sawings would all like to have a go at it, but the truth is performing illusions is challenging work that requires skill. Admire and praise the efforts that are out in the world so that more magicians and budding magicians will be inclined to work hard for our enjoyment. Any hobbiest mage who has purchased and attempted to make the jigsaw, bowsaw, or audience dismemberment a pleasurable experience, knows that there is still a lot of work and practice in making the experience smooth, enjoyable, and a mystery for your “assistant.”
Over the years, I’ve received flak and even hate mail/calls from magic “enthusiasts” who detest male assistants in illusions. Similar to the larger struggle for equal rights, I hear from straight sawing fetishists that the sawing is a metaphor for sexual intercourse. While I can understand that from such a miopic perspective, a man “penetrating” another man with his “saw” might be upsetting to certain folks, I loudly insist that there is room in the world for all of us, and that illusions can and should be explored on many levels, not just the Freudian libidinal level as fun as that might be.
Many of my fellow magicians (straight, gay and bi) contribute to the problem. I’ve heard all of the reasons why women are supposedly better assistants. Here are the most usual:
1. “Women don’t want to be magicians themselves so they won’t upstage or compete with male magicians.” Several of the magicians I most admire today are women. When not indulging aggressive exploitation, they are, on the whole, more thoughtful in their presentations, and work twice as hard at being innovative as their male colleagues. The art of magic is better for them in it.
2. “Society will never accept men in helpless positions. Women are a much more dramatic choice.” Times change as do preferences. In the early Hollywood melodramas, it was men who were about to be sawed in half by the buzzsaw, tied down to the tracks about to be dismembered a speeding train, etc., and it was often a woman who saved the hero when he was not able to free himself.
There has also been a similar trend in horror films wherein females used to be the central target of exploitation, stalking, terror, and dismemberment. It seems that the tables have turned, for a while at any rate. I’m sure the pendulum will slice back the other direction, and then back once again. In other words, adjust with the tempo of the times or become a quaint antique.
3, “A male assistant will only be focused upon his routine, not on my show.” Hire a young actor who likes magic. Be more thoughtful in your screening process. Instill within him professional values, and invest in his success not just your own.
4. “Illusions are designed for women.” I’ve never had a dearth of male friends and colleagues who cannot fit into standard sized apparatus. Of course, all of us are in good shape, work out, and watch what we eat. We’re not looking to become a comedy routine on accident. Also, if you have a wonderful assistant who deserves to be showcased, save up to have one built for him. He’ll work even harder, and the routine (not to mention your working relationship) will be better for it.
5. “Who wants to see a man sawn in half?” It turns out that lots of folks do! In fact, I’ve seen more men be subjected to the saw in the past five years than I have in the previous twenty. It shows no sign of slowing down either, thank the gods.
Should magicians continue to use women as assistants? Of course they should. The better question is to ask is, which individual is best for each presentation? If my mentor hadn’t been open to having a male assistant, I doubt that my desire to hone my craft as a magician would have found the expression it does today in my theatrical work. I also learned that if you fear who you are, you cripple your craft by pretending to be someone you aren’t.
My mentor remained in the closet for his entire career. He was very uncertain about hiring a male assistant for anything but lifting, pushing, and carrying. We met at a point in our lives where we each helped and challenged each other beautifully. I helped him to streamline his show, and I performed very well with him. His shows received more and more bookings and eventually he had six assistants, three male and three female. We all adored him because he was fair, passionate, and a good performer for the audiences he played. He knew his demographic but challenged them (with a little poking and prodding from his male assistants) as well.
I had the pleasure of maintaining a partnered illusion show for several years in my early twenties. We were an openly bisexual, goth version of Ziegfried and Roy and we had a blast. During that time we used several male assistants, encouraged fellow performers, and embraced the gay community by performing several shows designed for them, by us. Finally, there was a reflection for those young boys, and girls who wondered if there would be a place for them in our world as creepy, sexy, and beautiful as it was. In my current work, I’m interested in making a place for all of us. I hope that many of my fellow mages and magicphiles will join me.
“It might have been half-an-hour, perhaps even an hour (for I could take but imperfect note of time) before I again cast my eyes upward. What I then saw confounded and amazed me. The sweep of the pendulum had increased in extent by nearly a yard. As a natural consequence, its velocity was also much greater. But what mainly disturbed me was the idea that it had perceptibly DESCENDED. I now observed, with what horror it is needless to say, that its nether extremity was formed of a crescent of glittering steel, about a foot in length from horn to horn; the horns upward, and the under edge evidently as keen as that of a razor. Like a razor also it seemed massy and heavy, tapering from the edge into a solid and broad structure above. It was appended to a weighty rod of brass, and the whole HISSED as it swung through the air.’
The Pit and the Pendulum by E.A. Poe, Pub. 1842
A razor sharp blade descending to a helpless man in bondage below its gleaming edge, has captured the imagination of the world ever since the publication of Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “The Pit and the Pendulum.” It is said that the Spanish Inquisition did actually use such a device, and that one was found in a chamber as late as the 1800s.
My favorite filmed version is the short French film Le Puits et Le Pendule, which features a fairly faithful depiction of the Poe narrative, some wonderful shots of the man on the table, and a version of the costume I enjoy for victims of the blade!
The creative team at the Scarefactory (a producer of excellent horror attraction sets, props, and costumes in Columbus, Ohio) was even hired by the History Channel to recreate a Pendulum blade torture device for the program “Surviving History.” Watch as a wheel of fortune (with all the factory workers names) is spun to determine which one of the men will be selected to go under the blade. And yes, the fellow that is selected makes a fine looking, though rather calm, victim.
Whether the Inquisition’s use of a pendulum blade is a fiction or not, it has been depicted in hundreds of stories, images, and melodrama serials of a bygone era as in 1940’s classic, 15 chapter “The Drums of Fu Manchu.”
We are led to believe that a young man his met his end by pendulum blade in a “Survivor” style ‘reality’ show called “Fear is Real” (Episode number 5: Slice and Dice) But perhaps the Pendulum blade torture is depicted most brutally of all in a certain film within the modern horror genre known as “torture porn,” more on that a bit later.
(above) Lex Barker about to be halved in “The Snake Pit and the Pendulum.”
A Pendulum blade swinging above a helpless man in bondage has been the subject of several TV programs including: MacGyver in the episode “Legend of the Holy Rose:
The original Outer Limits: The House that Cried Murder with a handsome, young, Gary Collins under a wicked blade.
Wild Wild West: The Night of the Deadly Blossom, with a handsome Robert Conrad under a slow moving blade.
Other TV episodes featuring the pendulum blade include I Dream of Genie: Have You Ever Had a Genie Hate You , Night Gallery: A Question of Fear, and Dark Shadows (Episode 795-796), and many others included scenes with men in peril.
Films from the 70’s and 80’s depicted men under pendulum blades in fantasy, Sci Fi. and horror. Director Jim Wynorski liked to play with the pendulum as well. At the 1:07:22′ mark you can view the short, sexy, and silly pendulum blade torture from his 1987 film Deathstalker II
And, from that classic 1988 B horror movie “Ghoulies 2” we have the following:
There is even a wonderful, short, stop motion animated version directed by Mark Lougee and produced by Ray Harryhausen. The condemned resembles Poe, and even wears a red waist sash. Color me delighted!
However, none of the above hold a candle to the dramatic depictions of the razor sharp blade’s frightening descent as depicted in several adaptations of Poe’s classic story, including Roger Corman’s (very loose) adaptation starring Vincent Price and the handsome John Kerr who is dressed in a white silk pirate shirt and knee-high boots. The Pit and the Pendulum 1961
Another personal favorite is the Czech surrealist, Jan Svamkmajer’s short film “the Pit, the Pendulum, and Hope” which is filmed in the “first person” with the camera (the viewer) cast as the condemned man under the blade.
From all of this, you can discern that I have been fascinated by Pendulum blade since I was young. For me, it holds an immense amount of drama and tension. What a thrill it must have been for this man who was lucky enough to attend this event and lay beneath the Pendulum by Killian Skarr skarrification for the Masque of the Red Death Ball.
The first stage magician to use the pendulum blade in the sawing in half illusion was David Bamberg. Bamberg’s stage personality was Fu Manchu, a character cut whole cloth from the old serial villain of early Hollywood melodrams and pulp fictions. In 1935 Bamberg presented a show entitled “The Sorceries of Fu Manchu,” and in it was a skit called “Fu Manchu’s Revenge.” The skit was created around the damsel in distress themes of the aforementioned serials and pulp fictions. More importantly, the skit was the story created to highlight a “slicing in half” by pendulum blade.
The illusion was designed by the brilliant German illusion designer Edmund Spreer. It featured an ornate Chinese style table, the top of which was only one inch thick and you could see underneath it. The rest of the table had ornate horizontal cross pieces, but you could see all the way to the back, which left nowhere for the blade’s victim to be concealed. Many people thought that she had actually been sliced in half, and then separated by a large sword blade.
The table was a truly ingenious marvel of design and it baffled most magicians of the day. The prop itself was kept entirely secret, and the “pendulum sawing” is often cited as Bamberg’s best illusion. With the advent of TV, the skit was seen as much too long to retain the audience’s interest. In the 1950’s the slow descent of a wicked pendulum blade was given the axe, the skit truncated to 10 minutes, and the assistant was sawed in half by a two-handled crosscut saw.
British magician Paul Daniels performed an illusion that was similar, in construction, to the Pendulum buzzsaw built by Abbott’s Magic Company of Michigan.
For Daniels’ Pendulum illusion, the assistant was stretched out supine, ankles and wrists placed into shackles. The blade mechanism was allowed to swing freely, while being made to descend until the assistant was severed in half. The presentation was in grand Paul Daniels fashion, and the blade itself a work of beauty. The tragedy was the dress the female assistant wore, I mean it was truly hideous.
Most recently French magician Dani Lari uses two pendulums to slice his, face-down, assistant into thirds.
I find it interesting that even though Poe’s subject was a man, and that 90% of the pendulum blade torture victims in stories, TV and film are male, Bamberg, Daniels, and Lari used women as the victims.
And last, a pendulum sawing with a male subject from a Death Saw rig (usually a buzzsaw “failed escape” effect)
As I mentioned on my first post many years ago, I was given the opportunity to create a pendulum blade sawing (severing in actuality) for a haunted house when I first moved to Chicago. For me, years of television, film, and poorly performed illusions had ruined an audience’s perception of what stage magic could be. I love the idea of seeing a pendulum ‘sawing’ in a stage show. However, when magic occurs outside of a magic or illusion show, it can often be more effective because we aren’t prepared to think of the effect as stage magic. Instead, what we see becomes a “living horror”, “a modern miracle”, “a transformation”, and countless other ideals. This was the case with our presentation of the Pendulum blade illusion. My one condition to designing and building the illusion was that the victim must always be a man. I also convinced them to make several satin pirate costumes for the two men who alternated tours each night.
The young man who was to be severed in half entered into the haunted house with the rest of the audience, as of one their number. Many folks were dressed in costume, so the fact that he was in a pirate costume wasn’t out of the ordinary. When the guards came to select someone to execute, the mood seemed somewhat playful and in good Halloween fun, that is until the young man started to panic and fight his captors in earnest. When the audience was held back and prevented from leaving or helping the young man, you could feel the tension of everyone present in the small viewing area. Folks didn’t know whether to help him, console each other by saying “this is certainly part of the show”, or to try to flee and find help. Perhaps they expected that the handsome, satin clad pirate would be released at the end. Instead, the young man pulled on the steel shackles that held his wrists and ankles to the wooden rack. The prisoner thrashed, screamed and begged for the torture to stop. With each passing swipe of the three foot blade, it would descend 2 inches.
When the blade first sliced through the red satin waist sash, the audience gasped in horror. The blade returned to its path again and again to relentlessly cut into the young man, who was kicking his feet in their knee-high black leather boots in a futile attempt to escape. As the blade sliced deeper, it revealed all manner of gore and blood, and eventually cleaved the young man in two through his waist, before being brought to a stop with a thud on wood. Here was a sawing in half as intended. A horrific, frightening, and gruesome spectacle rather than a cute polished presentation of today that is so far removed from themes of life, death, and rebirth that has become a tired cliché and an obvious choice.
In that spirit, I now come back full circle to the realm of the cinema, and two terribly disturbing and gory versions of the Pendulum sawing. If you dislike violence and gore you should not watch the videos below. Even though both scenes are in the context of a film, the design of the table (and other properties) are prime examples of excellent illusion design, and illusion performance at its purest.
Make no mistake, the live version will always be more terrifying. Here is a clip from director James McTeigue’s The Raven.
I leave you with the current contender for the horrific, terrifying, and true to the original intent of the sawing in half illusion –the Pendulum blade trap from that notorious “torture porn” franchise, Saw V:
As magic entered into the 1960’s, magicians stepped out of their tuxedos and tailcoats, and into leisure suits and other more contemporary fashions of the day. The pacing of illusions became faster in order to compete with the fascination of TV. Magicians had to truncate their presentations, because a long build-up for a sawing in half illusion (with which everyone was, by now, already familiar), would kill the pacing and interest for a TV audience. The preliminary division by saw was now replaced by straight edge blades which divided the assistant into multiple portions. Illusions wherein the assistant was cut into three, and the middle was removed, became an interesting variation upon the theme.
Here’s a nice little cutting in three from M-Magic Entertainment
The horizontal divisions of the late 19th century and early 20th centuries were also being replaced by vertical divisions wherein the subject of the illusion stood in upright as they were divided. These standing illusions cut down on performance time, created a quicker presentation of the effect, and allowed for a faster transition into another illusion. The most famous of the vertical divisions became known as the Zig Zag.
The Zig Zag was the brainchild of a British Magician named Robert Harbin (born Ned Williams in South Africa). Sometime in the 1960’s Harbin invented an illusion that divided the subject into three parts, all while standing up within a box.
Here is Stan Kramien’s classic presentation of the Zig Zag:
This innovation in the division illusions required an optical force, namely a simplistic human form painted on the front, to fix a specific image in the viewer’s mind. The first designs were somewhat androgynous and geometric in shape.
If you have a plain box (see below), the illusion suffers from the lack of forced figure perception, allowing the mind to ponder how the illusion works.
Even though I adore the adorable young men in this photo (A+ for wearing satin costumes), the plain black box above nearly ruins the illusion. I can certainly understand not wanting to use a woman’s figure of the front of the box if you are using a male assistant, but there are a few options below.
The picture to the left has a wonderful design that is very magical, and still effective.
To the right, we have a muscleman theme that has been used time and again by performers using male assistants in the Zig Zag illusion. Both are much better options than a plain box. And, if musclemen are your thing, here is the classic Melinda clip. The music you can’t hear is playing Right Said Fred’s song “I’m too sexy.”
Another cute clip features an adorable young man in a muscleman Zig Zag, and sawing a woman in half at the same time. “It’s magic” show at Paramount Canada’s Wonderland.
The Zig Zag was so popular when Harbin revealed it that it immediately spawned thousands of copies and continues to captivate audiences today. The illusion itself is a masterpiece of deception. The fact that the assistant’s face, hand, and foot remain visible at all times helps build a convincing effect.
The next excellent innovation in vertical divisions came from the brilliant illusion designer Jim Steinmeyer and is known to the world as Modern Art.
Modern Art combines the best of the Sawing in half and Zig Zag. Like the Zig Zag, the assistant’s face, feet, and even arms are present at all times. The geometric and vague body shape on the front of the cabinet is also retained. However, the subject is divided at the waist, and the top half moves over to a small table while the legs remain where they were at the start of the illusion.
Below are three of my favorite presentations:
Magic Wladimir’s solo Modern Art in ’20’s gangster costume:
Spanish Magician Mag Lari:
Magic xtreme with a cutie in a satin shirt:
As with the visible sawing methods, it wasn’t long before the boy was taken from the box so that you can watch the division in action. Below are two very interesting innovations on Modern Art wherein the upper box is absent.
Nestor Rotsen’s Slice Man:
Ahmed Elbayed’s Twist Off:
Last, the handsome Andrew Mayne has created an affordable variation that looks great. My only critique is that the weight from the top half of his adorable frame would most certainly pull the box his torso hangs from over, or cause it to crumple downwards in a useless pile. That flaw aside, the illusion is very clever and certainly affordable.
Andrew Mayne’s In Half:
While Jim decided to eliminate the multiple divisions with Modern Art, other illusion designers, such as American magician Chuck Jones, created illusions with more than three divisions. The most widely performed of these effects, is Jones’ Mismade. The Mismade man is a delightful illusion where the man is divided into four pieces. Those pieces are reassembled incorrectly, leading to some wonderful comedic moments, resolving into a solution and a fully restored man.
Ryan Ducher in the Escape Illusion Show: a Johnny Depp/Pirates of the Carribearn themed Mismade
If anyone can find a male subject of the Italian Mismade, or Improved mismade wherein the subjects hands and feet are in view for much of the time, let me know and I’ll include a link or photo in an update. And though Zatanna’s mismade is only a three-fold division, I love the choice of costume for her male assistant.
As you can imagine, there are infinite illusions to divide a man into as many segments as possible. I leave you with the master of comedy magic, the handsome and brilliant Spanish magician Mag Lari and his cutting in nine. This video recaps all the various ways to divide a man. I love how they all “draw straws” to determine who is divided!
Ever fantasize that you could hand pick assistants from an entire group of handsome men who are willing to be the subject of the Sawing a Man in Half illusion?
For each town our show was going to play, I had my publicist place an ad on the news and in the papers to draw publicity for my show. “Touring magic show coming to town for two weeks. Looking for athletic men in their 20s-30s, 5’6”-6’0” 120#-190#, who are willing to be sawed in half during the show. Hiring 12 men, one for each night. Auditions will be held this Friday night at 5:30pm before the show.”
Times had changed. Just a few short years ago I’d never have been able to saw a man in half during my show, the audience would have hated watching a man in that position. Now, it was almost expected! There were 34 attractive men waiting for me when I arrived at the theatre. The news cameras were all present and focused on the crowd. They knew that there was going to be a spectacle.
My watch read 5:30pm. These men were prompt, and from all walks of life. There were businessmen dressed in their well-cut suits, college kids in hoodies and bluejeans, young men in jeans and blazers, and even a couple of very handsome men who were dressed in tuxedoes with red satin cummerbunds and bowties holding signs that read ‘Saw us.’ “Gentlemen, there are quite a few of you, not everyone will make the cut.” A few men laughed nervously. “I’m looking for men who will fit upon the table and look handsome in the costumes I provide. I won’t be responsible for any damage to your clothing.” More nervous laugher came from the group. At that moment an assistant came out with two buckets full of stage blood and poured them into the gutter. Some of the men laughed and others started to walk away. As if that “shock” tactic wasn’t enough of a catalyst to thin the crowd of potential volunteers, an ambulance was cued to come to the theatre at 5:35pm with sirens blaring and lights going in full force. The group of startled men watched as two paramedics entered through the stage door with a gurney. Minutes later the theatre doors burst open as one of my male assistants was brought out on the gurney, dressed in the satin pirate costume associated with my presentation of the sawing. His handsome face was wrecked with pain. His goatee was streaked with stage blood, and his middle was covered by a white sheet that presently had a large, wet “bloodstain” seeping through the fabric at the middle, directly over his waist. He was groaning and beautifully playing the part of a “sawing accident victim” while he was loaded into an ambulance by the paramedics. Several of the men nervously left the group.
The rest of the men looked eager and were eating the theatrics up. The first man that really caught my eyes was wearing a light yellow polo shirt tucked into blue jeans with black leather shoes. He was “all American” type, around 25 years old. He had short, light brown hair, and twinkling blue eyes. I gestured for him to step forward and asked his name. He replied Michael. Michael was the perfect size for an assistant and would look sexy in the satin costume as he was sawed in half. I gestured for Michael and the two guys in tuxes to step to the “chosen” side. Next, I chose a club kid in a bright red satin shirt, velvet pants and engineer boots. “With you dressed in that outfit I’m already wanting to saw you in half.” He gave me a sexy smile and said: “I’m game. I thought that the satin shirt might play in my favor” He replied. Four picked, eight more to go. I selected two brown haired, blue eyed, thirty-something business men in expensive suits and a manly blue-eyed cowboy with a mustache who looked like he could kick the crap out of me in his boots. Next was a black haired, blue eyed, pretty boy in a blue silk shirt and blue jeans. Then I picked a muscled dark-blond gym bunny in a black tank-top and black jeans, and a blond haired college kid in a gold hoodie and blue jeans. The yuppie in a brown blazer, white shirt, and blue jeans was next, and last I picked an adorable, bearded young man, in a light grey sweater and cords as the last of my assistants. “Gentlemen who did not get picked, I thank you for your willingness to be selected. Each of you will receive a ticket to my show in exchange for your time.” I sent them to the ticket agent and looked forward to seeing them in the audience.
Channel seven news moved in once they saw that all 12 men had been selected. The young and handsome news host questioned the group.
“Gentlemen, after watching Mathias’ last assistant being removed on a gurney, are you men sure that you are really interested in being sawed in half?” the handsome group of men gave cheers and excitedly nodded their heads.
Making sure that the men could hear his questions and my responses, the reporter then turned to me and asked his questions. “Mathias, why use a different man each night?”
“Well John, I actually saw the man in half and then fully restore him. The human body can’t take that kind of trauma night after night. I have a very strict ‘one man per night’ policy. Besides, if an accident should happen during the course of the run, the show is ready to go on the next night with a brand new assistant.”
The reporter looked at me in amazement. “You mean this is not an illusion! You really saw your assistants in half?”
“That’s right John. Each one of these men will be treated to a near death experience as he is brutally severed in half at the waist for the audience’s sadistic delight. However he’ll leave the stage no worse for wear.”
He couldn’t tell if I was joking or not. “Here’s the question for you, does it hurt?”
“Yes, the pain is excruciating! I always give my assistants the option of being hypnotized before I saw him in half, but not all of them take that option. Some of them wake up when the saw is midway through them anyway, which, I can tell you from personal experience, can be very disorienting. That’s the reason I ask for athletic men. An athlete’s body can handle the trauma and recover quickly. Most of the men I’ve sawed try at first to be tough guys, but the saw is a great leveler.”
The reporter gave a nervous laugh.
“Have you ever had a man change his mind and decide that he didn’t want to be sawed in half after all?”
“Oh sure. However, the agreement is that once they’ve signed the release, and put on the costume, they are mine to sever. I assure you that I have many strong assistants who are trained to hold a panicking volunteer down as the saw cuts him in half. On occasion, some men become so violent that we actually have to use chloroform to subdue them. Silencing them is a kindness that makes the scene less grotesque.”
“I’ll take your word for it.” He was actually turning green. “How about the costume you make your assistants wear? Why a satin pirate outfit?”
“Satin is an eye catching fabric John. It is sensual and delicate. It reveals the contours of the body. It also offers no protection from a saw. But, in the end I make them wear it because I like the way it looks.”
“Well it looks like you’ve acquired a fine bunch of swashbucklers willing to don the satin costumes, and be sacrificed to the saw.”
“I have indeed, John. There is room for one more if you’d like to join them?” I saw sheer terror in his blue eyes along with a hint of intrigue.
Right on cue another assistant brought out a huge, two-man crosscut lumber saw. I gestured for the men to gather all around me, behind the saw. They posed eagerly for the cameras. “Mathias, thank you for your time. I look forward to seeing the shows. Men, I wish you all luck. Hopefully our town’s population will not decrease by 12 during the next two weeks. Eric, back to you.” The men all laughed and waved at the camera. The paparazzi were snapping photos.
Gentlemen, please follow me into the theater. We need to get you all into wardrobe for costume fittings. The men hooted and hollered. The news team followed us into the theater. The men were all excited to try on their costumes. The costume designer addressed them. “I’m sure that most of you have seen the advertisements for this show and are familiar with the costume you’ll be wearing for the sawing in half portion. All of you will be wearing tight fitting black satin pants which are tucked into knee-high black leather boots. The pullover, satin, pirate-style shirt will be open to mid chest. The shirt has very blousy sleeves which are gathered into tight cuffs at the wrists. The shirt should be tucked into the pants. Around your waist will be tied a wide red satin sash with tassels or fringe in the color of the shirt you will be wearing. Most of you will be in yellow satin shirts. A few of you will look better in metallic gold satin shirts, and the really thin men will wear white satin shirts because white satin adds a few pounds to you visually, just ask any bride.” The men laughed.
The costume shop was a flurry of activity. The costume designer showed the men where they could hang their own clothes while they tried on their satin pirate outfits. In a manner of minutes the costumes were chosen to fit body types, and colors chosen that would highlight each man’s skin, hair, and eye coloring. This was one of my favorite moments. I loved the flurry of activity, the bright colors, the happy and nervous faces. The men disrobed. Each one delighted in the shiny, silky garments and put them on piece by piece. I watched in fascination as the wardrobe assistants came around to lift each pair of arms up, and tie a red satin sash around each man’s waist. The men were ushered into the lobby for another group photo shoot. They were sexy beyond belief.
“Gentlemen, it is now time for you to meet the various apparatus that you’ll be subjected to over the next two weeks. Eyes went wide when they approached the stage. There were three devices. “All of you will be placed upon your back. Your ankles will be secured to the table by steel shackles, your hands pulled above your head, and, your wrists likewise be secured in steel shackles. One large belt will be fastened over your abdomen, above the sash, and one large belt will be fastened over your hips, below the sash.” I watched as the men grew more and more excited and nervous. “Four of you will face the buzzsaw.” I selected four taller, well built, and stronger men for the buzzsaw. I gestured to the device. “The table, with you fastened to it, will be mechanically pulled into the pathway of the saw where you will be severed at the waist from your left side to the right.”
The men who were previously dressed in the tuxedoes (now looking dashing in gold satin pirate shirts) gave each other a high five and smiled. The muscle boy stood there stoically in his yellow satin shirt and black satin pants. The wide-shouldered, blue-eyed, mustachioed cowboy had crossed his arms over his chest in the yellow satin shirt, revealing the red satin sash wrapped around his thin, lean waist. The ends of the sash hung to his side sensually. He smiled like he was daring me to saw him in half that very minute.
“Four of you will simply be placed upon this divided table and sawed in half by the large crosscut saw you posed with earlier tonight.” I picked men who were all between 5’6” and 5’9”. Michael looked at me with rapt attention and excitement. As I had thought, the satin costume looked sexy on him. The young, bearded man swallowed hard. His chest hair was coming out the shirt front. The club kid looked cool and confident; ready for the saw. The three of them looked very young and adorable in yellow satin pirate shirts. One of the businessmen was in a gold satin shirt. He was handling a wrist shackle.
“The remaining four of you will meet the pendulum saw.” I picked the thinnest men for the pendulum blade. “The device is similar to the torture from the story ‘the Pit and the Pendulum’ but the edge of the pendulum has serrated teeth. The pendulum will descend in small increments over your waist and eventually saw you in half.” The blond college kid bit his lip in anticipation and the black haired, blue-eyed pretty boy looked like he was about to faint. They were adorable in their white satin shirts. The yuppie looked scared shitless, and the other business man was resolute. Both filled out their yellow satin pirate shirts handsomely.
Twelve sexy, handsome, and beautiful men stood before me in satin costumes. They were objects of my desire who were willing to be sawed in half for the entertainment of the audience, and to assuage my lust and perhaps some of their own. They all looked at me with expectant eyes, waiting for instructions and for my next move.
“We need some more photos.” I turned to the two guys in gold satin shirts I had selected for the buzzsaw. “Which one of you wants his picture under the saw?” Both raised their hands. “Names?” they responded Jack and Mark. “Mark, you lie down. Jack you hold lever that starts the table moving.” Both smiled and complied with my wishes, as my assistants began to restrain Mark to the table. “Michael I want see you on the table.” He blushed, nodded and then sat down on the table. My assistants had him restrained in minutes. “Gold shirt and bearded guy, names?” they replied Tom and Pete. ‘Tom and Pete hold the saw above Michael’s waist. “Black haired boy with blue eyes, what is your name?” he replied Eric. “Eric, hop up under the pendulum saw.”
He lay down upon the table and then passed out. He was restrained in less than 10 seconds. “Guy who was in the gold hoodie and blazer guy, names?” They responded Taylor and Joseph. “Taylor and Joseph, hold Eric’s hands and feet. The rest of you gather around like you are watching the proceedings. Their pictures were taken and their names given to the press. All the men who I would be sawing in half would now be memorialized in these pictures. They had become daring celebrities.
“Before you go, I need each of you to sign the release form and return your costume.” They looked disappointed. “You should all come to the show tonight. I’ll set up the schedule tonight and give you your date with the saw after the show. I give three different shows so if you come back you won’t be bored. But now, it’s time to select which of you is to be sawed in half tonight.” I looked into each of their expectant and nervous faces. Eyes met mine and held my gaze in turn. I settled on the pair that first attracted me. “Michael, you’re up. The rest of you get dressed.”
Michael approached me nervously. “Does it really hurt?” his blue eyes were filled with fear. He looked so young and sexy in that yellow satin shirt.
“Yes, Michael is does hurt quite a bit. Would you like to be hypnotized beforehand?”
“No. Just kiss me before you begin to saw.” I smiled at him, pulled him into a tight embrace, and then kissed him deeply.
I had been hired to work in one of the three haunted houses for Halloween, and the one I liked best was the “dungeon of doom”. I saw Clark long before I met him. He had silky light brown hair, the kind with long bangs that framed his face and occasionally had to be brushed out of his light blue eyes. I was looking at a snapshot from our time together after “dungeon of doom.”
The dungeon’s theatrics depicted men who were brought before a judge who then condemned them to death by torture and execution. Last year’s theme was a house that played out all the deaths in the works of Edgar Allan Poe. The company decided to save a bit of money be making small changes to the set from last year.
I had enjoyed last year’s theme a great deal and particularly savored the scene from the Pit and the Pendulum where a man was left to be sliced in half by a large steel blade. However, the company wanted to remain true to the story and so the scenes aimed for accuracy. The male victim was dirty, dressed in rags, and rescued at the end. I was hoping that we as an audience would get to watch as the pendulum blade cut him in half. I had always been turned on by the thought of seeing a man severed in half or being in his place myself.
Though the Pit and the Pendulum scene left me horny and yearning for a handsome man in peril, I was very attracted to the man from the Cask of Amontillado scene. I first noticed his bright blue eyes as he looked at the audience pleading for his life. His light blue eyes locked onto mine and I felt myself become aroused as I watched him struggle in a sexy renaissance costume while he maintained a heroic effort to escape the chains and shackles that restrained his wrists and ankles as men mortared the bricks into place. As soon as the last brick was put into place we were hurried onwards to watch the Fall of the House of Usher, but I couldn’t get the image of that handsome man in chains out of my head. I wanted to ask more about him, but the guides were in character and would only answer questions about the characters in the story and not about the actors portraying them. The whole past year I kept fantasizing about him dressed in that renaissance costume, restrained in shackles, being sliced in half at the waist by the pendulum blade instead of the other guy dressed in rags.
On my first visit to the “dungeon of doom” we were told of the basic premise for the house we were working. There were six male prisoners who were brought before the judge in the first scene. The scene took only 15 minutes as the judge was told their crime and pronounced a fitting method of torture or execution for each of the condemned. The audience then entered into the actual dungeon to watch each of the condemned men meet their horrible ends one at a time. All actors were shadowing other parts, meaning that we’d be playing multiple roles in case one of the actors was sick or had a conflict. I was shadowing the part of a young lordling who was convicted of piracy and sodomy. However, I was hired to be the replacement player for the part of the young pirate lord’s executioner on an everyday basis.
We were told to watch our counterparts as they went through their trial and torture or execution. The young lord was the third to be tried. He was dressed in the same doublet and boots as the man from the Cask of Amontillado scene last year. My heart beat hard in my chest as I slowly realized that the man I had been dreaming about for the past year was back this year in the part of the lordling! I was a bit distracted but I heard the judge say: “You shall be put to death by saw for your crimes of piracy and sodomy. Let him be placed under the saw, severed in half at the waist, and left completely divided.” My heart beat wildly in my chest at the announcement of his sentence. It felt like an hour had passed until we were allowed into the dungeon and I could watch my handsome pirate suffer his terrible fate.
We had gone through the nearly the entire dungeon and had witnessed a breaking on the rack, torture with hot pokers, the iron maiden, a hanging, and a beheading by axe before we got to the grand finale of the sawing. The last room featured a wooden table that had been divided into two uneven portions. At the center cut of the table were dark brown and red bloodstains from previous victims of the saw. The table also featured four steel shackles that were bolted down to the table near the four corners. Two men in leather opened the steel restraints. The metal restraints gleamed in the light with open, yearning smiles that desired nothing more than to snap shut tightly on the wrists and ankles of another helpless victim.
My reverie was abruptly halted by shouting and sounds of men struggling. The pirate lord was brought out struggling against his captors. A third man in leather slapped the pirate lord in the face, stunning him. He proceeded to unlace the front of the pirate lord’s doublet and remove the beautiful black suede and gold silk brocade garment with a sadistic pleasure. He threw it to the beggars who greedily carried it off. The young pirate lord was dressed in a light yellow, satin pirate shirt with an open chest and very blousy sleeves that fell to tightly gathered cuffs around his wrists; wrists that were now being held tightly by two large guards. The blousy shirt was tucked into tight fitting black satin trousers that had a codpiece. The trousers, in turn, were bloused out where they were tucked into knee high, black leather boots with large heels. Tied very tightly about his slender waist was a wide, red satin sash. He looked even more handsome to me this year because he wore a goatee. His light brown hair was falling into fierce blue eyes. The audience was very close to him and I could admire his broad shoulders and firm pectorals under the shirt which tapered to a thin and lean waist. I was breathless.
The pirate prince was manhandled onto the table and temporarily blocked from view by the five male guards in black leather. When they stepped aside the audience was treated to the sight of that handsome, satin clad pirate lord struggling upon his back, as his hands were roughly pulled above his head, and his wrists viciously secured in steel shackles that were fastened to the table. He was kicking his feet for all he was worth as the men in leather held down his thighs and forced his ankles into steel shackles. Each man pushed down on one of the poor pirate’s extremities to hold him still as he was being sawed in half. As they leaned into place the fifth man lifted up a long and very sharp crosscut saw that had layers of caked blood on the blade, dulling the metallic gleam. The handsome pirate closed his eyes and began rocking his head back and forth. The guards all began to smile making it clear that they enjoyed their work immensely.
The saw was then lowered very slowly and deliberately to the bottom of the red satin sash tied around this gorgeous young man’s waist. The moment that the sharp tines poked into the satin waist sash, the young man’s eyes flew open and he gasped in fear though it seemed clear that he could not even beginning to fathom the hell he was about to endure. His blue eyes pleaded with the audience but he found no comfort in their gaze. I was about to see my blue eyed fantasy man, attired in a very sexy costume, be sawed in half. Moreover, I would be the one holding the saw four nights a week for the next four weeks. My heart was beating fast and my blood was pulsating with desire.
It was at the moment of my lustful revelation that the executioner pulled the saw back towards his body with a ferocious strength. The pirate let out a small cry and pulled on all of his bonds at once to try in vain to flee. His captors pushed on his legs, arms, and chest holding him down to the table. The saw was pushed back toward the audience and slowly the teeth sawed deeper into the man’s waist as he screamed “Oh god no! Please stop!” but his words turned to bloodcurdling screams of pain as the saw was pulled back and forth. His body was tensing, his legs squirming, his back arching, his handsome face a picture of exquisite pain and fear. The captors pushed their writhing victim back down upon the table with forceful hands and wide smiles.
The young man rocked his head back and forth as he screamed, his light brown hair fell into his wide, blue eyes. The saw chewed relentlessly through bone and gristle as its victim shook in paroxysms of convulsions upon the table, his spine was being brutally severed. The saw became smeared by bright red blood which marked the saw’s path of destruction through its handsome and helpless victim. His hellish ordeal was not yet over for there were still two inches of relatively clean steel before the saw divided him completely. The saw was pulled back and forth with a sadistic brutality as the pirate’s screams transformed into wet gurgling sounds. The satin clad lordling arched his back once again and then fell down to the table, still and silent. His blue eyes were open wide, staring at nothing. The saw chewed onward until it fell through the divide in the table hitting the stone floor with a clang. The men stationed at the quarters took this as their cue to pull the table, and the man upon it, apart. The freshly severed halves faced the audience. It was quite a finale, and a difficult role that I wasn’t sure I could perform nearly as well as the gorgeous, satin clad, young man who lay in two bloody halves before me. I was beginning to doubt that I could even saw him in half without showing my excitement in those tight leather pants.
After we experienced the “dungeon of doom” we were all introduced to our individual cast members and brought through the rehearsal process. Kevin, the director of my scene introduced me to the cast, the four guards, the executioner, and Clark. Clark smiled warmly at me, and shook my hand. “So, you’re the man who is going to be the end of me? Think that you have it in you to saw me in half four nights a week?” I swallowed hard and he laughed. I had to think of something to say back to him. “ Clark, I think that it is only fair that you saw me in half on occasion and give my arms some rest from all that hard work.” He let out a great big warm laugh “That would be a welcome change. John never let me saw him in half. Then again, it’s only been a week and now he’s off to start his national tour. Besides, I think you’ll look sexy in this costume!” Kevin spoke up. “Clark, I don’t think that you should flirt with the newcomer until you know if your advances would be desired. He might take to actually sawing you in half if he becomes offended.” I swallowed hard and saw that everyone was watching me to gauge my reaction. “I wasn’t offended. I’m very flattered by your comment. I’d be happy if I could look half as handsome as you do in that costume.” Kevin smiled broadly. Well, we’ll all have the opportunity to be the judge momentarily because you’re about to go to wardrobe and get fitted for both of your costumes. When you come back we’ll walk you through Clark’s path as the condemned pirate. Welcome to the dungeon Mike. Tonight, you should prepare to be sawed in half.” I swallowed hard and prayed they had a jockstrap for me to borrow, satin pants do not hide a man’s excitement very well.
Clark accompanied me to wardrobe. First I was fitted in the executioner’s costume and was amazed at how hot the leather became. I had barely moved and already I was breaking a sweat! I took off the costume and saw that Clark was putting on the executioner’s costume. He gave me a smile that about stopped my heart. I was about to be sawed in half by this gorgeous man. The thought aroused me once again. The cute and catty costume supervisor came over to take put away my executioner’s leather costume, and give me the pirate lord’s satin one. The costume supervisor was clearly going to be having fun at my expense. “Well, it is a good thing that these trousers have a codpiece. Clearly you’ll need it!” The costume supervisor handed me the yellow satin pirate shirt and I smiled at Clark as I pulled it over my head. The black satin trousers were next and I found out that the codpiece actually was a help, because the pants were very tight. I pulled on the boots, then the costume supervisor lifted my hands above my head, wrapped the red satin waist sash around my middle three times, and then tied it at my left hip allowing the ends to hang to my knee. The costume supervisor hit me hard on the butt. “It’s show time cutie! Get ready to be twice the man you were.” I gave him a wilted look and he laughed.
Clark and I walked back to the dungeon in silence. Before I could say a word he grabbed me and pulled me into the storage room. He started caressing my chest and looking into my eyes. I smiled back at him and he leaned in to kiss me. I grabbed his face and kissed him passionately. His tongue made it into my mouth and I tasted his sweetness. “You have no idea how long I’ve waited for this moment Clark.” He ran his hands through my dark blond hair, and over my shoulders, massaging them through the satin. I didn’t want to break our embrace but we we’re clearly going to be late for rehearsal.
As we entered the room, Kevin rushed up to greet us. “Are you boys okay? It took a bit longer than I thought, but the results are clearly worth it! Mike, you look very handsome. Well, we won’t have time to run the trial, or the struggle, but we should at least saw you in half so you can get the feel of it.” Clark whispered something in Kevin’s ear which made him smile from ear to ear. The four guards seemed to have overheard and started giggling and nodding their heads. Before I knew it they grabbed me and lifted me up onto the table. I was nervous because no one had told me the secret to being sawed in half. “Wait guys, I don’t know the secret. Can’t we run through it once with Clark showing me the secret so that I can learn what he does?” I was panicking and the only response I received was four heads shaking no and a smiling director. My heads were being pulled above my head and I felt the cold steel as my wrists were snapped into shackles around the satin cuffs. I began to kick but the guards were too fast and soon my feet were pulled down to the end and my ankles locked into shackles. “Guys, I’m really scared. I know that it is just an illusion but I’m really terrified! Can we please stop!” They just laughed at me. I felt like crying but then I saw Clark’s smile and felt his lips on mine. My shirt was being opened and I felt his hand pinch my nipple. His other hand caressed my chest through the satin. “It’s going to be okay Michael. I’d like to return the favor you gave me a while ago if you’ll let me. Just lay back and enjoy.” Clark smiled at me lovingly and then caressed my legs through the satin. The guards all leaned forward and held my arms and legs down as I playfully struggled. I remembered the lines Clark spoke earlier when he was about to be sawed in half. “Oh God no! Please DON’T Stop!” Everyone burst out laughing. I couldn’t ever remember being this turned on before. Then I saw that Kevin had picked up the saw.
The Guards were holding me tight and caressing my satin clad body, clearly enjoying my pleasure and fear. I guess that they weren’t really acting after all, they really enjoyed this scene. “Kevin please! I don’t know what to do!” One of the guards raised his leather gloved hand and put it over my mouth. My green eyes went wide and I began to scream. They all laughed as my fear as Kevin began to lower the saw down to the bottom of the red satin sash tied around my waist. My head was jerked back preventing me from watching my own demise. I was a terrified and completely helpless captive who was about to be actually sawed in half by six strangers, and there was noting I could do about it.
I struggled as hard as I could against my bounds and my captors. I tried to move my mouth from under the guard’s hand but he was too fast and too strong. I felt the cold metal of the saw on my waist and screamed as hard as I could when I felt the pressure as it was pulled across my abs. The guard with his hand on my mouth spoke first, “Oh my god this is so hot! I’ve always dreamed about doing this to a blond guy but never thought it would happen in a million years. No offense Clark, but he’s hotter than you.”
I felt the saw move back and forth on my waist. I was scared beyond belief, but I realized that though the pressure of the saw was intense, I felt absolutely no pain or tearing sensations. I forced my captor to let me look down at the damage to my middle. I saw no blood. I then saw that Kevin had turned the saw upside down and was sawing with the dull end and had a huge smile on his face. Emotions flashed through me in rapid succession; relief, confusion, and anger quickly turned into pleasure when I saw that all eyes were on me. I decided to give them a good show. The guy with his hand over my mouth wanted to see a handsome blond guy, restrained, dressed in satin, be sawed in half and the rest of them were clearly enjoying my torture as well.
I relished playing the helpless pirate lord and began to thrash and scream. I arched my back and shook my pretty blond head. I pleaded with my wide green eyes. I felt the guard who had his hand over my mouth release his grip over my face, grab my chest, and moan. “God, this kid is incredible! Where the hell did you find him Kevin?” Another guard groaned in agreement. “God, what a scene!” I rocked my head back and forth and thrashed on the table. I forced my hips into the saw and yelled, “Saw me in half! Rip me open!” The guys went wild and I knew at that moment that this month was going to be a good month at the Haunted House.
Today’s blog is all about the visible sawing illusions, namely the jig saw and the bow saw. No, they aren’t as showy as the thin model, nor are they are scary as the Buzzsaw. Moreover, the effect (with only few exceptions) is strictly a “sawing through” because you cannot divide an audience volunteer who is subjected to these illusions. However, visible sawing illusions allow magicians on a budget to be able to perform a sawing illusion without having to store, set-up, and carry large (and often dangerous) equipment. The drawback is that depending on the device you’ll need to select an assistant who has a waist thin enough to fit beneath the stocks. If the man is too thin you need to place a towel around the stocks so that “the blood” gets stopped up quickly (and so no one can watch the saw move through the space above his waist).
I’ll also say that these models are wonderful for hobbyist magicians in the sawing fetish community because you can, quite literally, use any willing man without him having to know how the illusion is performed. The jig saw version is quite loud and the bow saw version actually saws through wood. I can say that every man I’ve placed beneath the stocks and sawed through, has gone wide-eyed and gulped back his fear when I place the saw into the waist stock and turn it on.
Four fun examples of the visible jig saw model with male volunteers:
The Great Pitcherendo (Cute jigsawing at home)-I love this model because it has a base that allows you to lock the stocks around a volunteer’s waist.
Simply steven-A cute young man is subjected to the jig sawing, and the magician is dressed in a black satin shirt (an extra plus). The volunteer has some wonderful “over acting” moments.
San Antonio Talent night-A strange video with the magician dressed as “Elmo” using a young man as his volunteer. I love it when he pins the young man’s hands above his head and finishes sawing through him.
Sierra-A rather long, but cute presentation in Spanish. The sawing sequence begins at the 1:51 mark.
For all you sawing-at-home enthusiasts, the visible sawing jig saw illusion comes in two basic models that cost between $200-$400.
The blue wooden frame with Black and Decker jigsaw
The red Formica with updated power saw
I’ve used my blue wooden, jig saw model for years in small shows, fundraisers, and at home for private sawing sessions. The red Formica one is a bit showier, and has a much more wicked saw, but it costs about $75-$100 more than its predecessor. Both are very easy to operate and very effective for chamber performances. There is a third model which has a locking base (the assistant lies down upon the base and the waist stock is locked to it) which provides greater stability and less movement of the stocks. I was not able to find any photos of it for you but the Great Pitcherendo video above shows the model.
If I’m using a visible sawing illusion for a show I prefer the bow saw version for several reasons. The biggest reason is the performance factor. In theater the audience agrees to temporarily enter into a suspension of belief. The bow saw more readily allows the audience to believe that you’ve sawn through a man, because the saw actually cuts through wood and takes longer to saw, and two, the saw ends up around the man’s waist and must be brought over his head like a hoop. Whatever the apparatus, the performance is basically the same. I ask for three men from the audience. The man with the thinnest waist is placed on the table. The other two men are asked to hold the man’s wrists and ankles as he is being sawed in half.
The Cadillac of the bow saw models is Wellington Enterprises new “The Executive Sawing Perfected” by Bill Schmeelk which will set you back a cool $4500. For a magician this model makes it so that you don’t have to do any extra work, just enjoy sawing through your handsome volunteer. For the male victim…pardon me, I meant volunteer the saw is no flimsy little thing (unlike the heading photo), it actually will be able to saw you in half without any doubt. Any brave volunteers in the audience?
And below is wonderful variation of the visible sawing using a wicked crosscut saw ( Todd Alexander and Aled Jones).
Another notable visible sawing comes from that comedic team of Scott and Muriel. The sawing starts at 7:11 and ends with a suspension! Oh, how I wish Joe was the victim (instead of Scott), dressed in that gold satin shirt he wears during the previous scene!
And while we’re looking at visible sawings with chainsaws, here is the exception to the division rule. As usual, I’ve saved my favorite for last. In this version Jarrett saws the adorable Raja in half with a chainsaw, without the use of any waist stocks (giving it more in common with buzzsaw illusion than the visible/bow sawing version). Raja is then divided and his top half is brought to the piano where he plays a tune! Jarrett and Raja sawing
This concludes my little article on visible sawings. I hope that a few more of you budding magicians will consider adding a model to your routine, and that you sawing fetishists might desire to buy an actual piece of working apparatus to make your fantasies a reality.
It was our senior year and we were the kings of the school. James was the undefeated wrestling champion of the school and I came in first place at the state swimming championships last year. We were among the favored athletes and our high school showered us with “Pensicola Pirates Pride”; that was our high school’s mascot, the pirate; “Glory to the gold and the black”.
We were advised by Mr. Drummond, our guidance counselor, to take some classes that wouldn’t be very challenging so that we could focus on our sports and make “Pirate” history. We decided to take industrial arts class as our elective class. Having a carpenter uncle I knew that we’d get extra help if we needed it.
The first day of class we were told to decide upon a project that we wanted to make. We could make a several things, bookshelves, wardrobes, dressers, all sorts of things. We had a week to decide upon a project.
That night James came over after school as he did everyday since we were ten. It was an awkward day when we tried kissing each other. While we found out that we were both gay, we also found out that we weren’t interested in each other. We decided to keep it quiet and go away to college to come out.
James turned on the TV and a magic show was on.
“Cool a magic special! I love these!” James sat down stuffing a sandwich into his mouth his eyes riveted to the screen.
The magician on the TV was wearing black leather pants and a black leather vest with no shirt. His hair was long and he was wielding a chainsaw. A curtain was pulled back and revealed a man strapped to a table with his arms above his head.
“The guy on the table looks like John!” I said and James smiled and nodded. John was the quarterback on our football team. We both thought he was gorgeous and so did his girlfriend, Liz. I was imagining John as the victim. I thought about me holding John’s wrists and looking into his light blue eyes as the magician pushed the chainsaw into the bound man’s waist and sawed him in half. I returned from my daydream by the gory scene I saw on the small screen. It was really bloody and I couldn’t believe they were showing this on TV at 3pm! The magician pulled the man apart at the waist and showed both halves. The curtain then closed. I couldn’t believe it.
“Oh my god. That was amazing.” James was apparently excited by what he saw. “I know what I want to build for my Industrial arts project.” James was smiling his mischievous smile.
“You want to make a sawing in half table?” I asked.
“I don’t know how to do that, but I think I can make one of those boxes for sawing a person in half. I even know who the assistant is going to be.”
We both said at the same time “John Erikston” and almost fell down laughing. I had to admit that I would like to see John in a box being sawed in half.
We drove to the local magic shop. We told the guy behind the counter what we were looking for describing the illusion we wanted to build. He said that they didn’t have any “illusion plans” for the “thin model sawing a woman in half” but could give us an online shop that would.
Well we both spent a few hours looking at all the sawing in half illusions there were. We found Buzzsaw illusions, big box illusions, Zig Zag, and something called modern art. We then found what we wanted the “Thin model, sawing a person in half illusion” the plans were $25. We downloaded a video of the illusion. We were both disappointed because the woman in the box looked like she was being sawed through the legs and not the waist. We wanted to saw John in half through the waist.
As we scrolled down the page we saw plans for something called the “visible sawing in half”. The illusion was basically a table where the assistant would lie down and be put into restraints around their wrists and ankles. Already we both liked this. A set of stocks would then go over the assistant’s waist. Thin strips of wood were then inserted into the frame and a two handled lumber saw sawed the though the wooden strips and the helpless assistant. The page told us that anyone from the audience could be used and they would never know the secret of the illusion. We had found our illusion. The plans were only $10 too! We ordered with my new VISA junior card that dad gave me so I could learn “how to be financially responsible”, whatever!
We had the plans by Friday and took them into class on Monday. The Mr. Johnston thought it would be a good project for us. The table collapses into a suitcase like-box for carrying and the stocks themselves were a challenge not to mention the saws that would have to be altered according to the instructions. Not too difficult a project and we should have it ready by the spring talent show.
“Any idea of the young lady you’re going to saw in half boys?” Mr. Johnston said kinda grossing us out with his excitement.
“Not yet Mr. Johnston. We’re probably going to try it out on ourselves just to make sure that it’s safe and works first.” James said. Mr. Johnston nodded his head like that was a good thing to do, but we could see he wasn’t interested in seeing us saw each other in half. I had to admit that I thought I would enjoy being under the blade all tied up.
Our plan was to talk John into being our assistant. We would butter him up with praise about what an awesome guy he was, how cool it would be to have the three best athletes at school in the talent show and a bunch of other bullshit until he agreed to assist us. Our backup plans, If none of our praise worked, was to bribe him with free beer and pot courtesy of James brother’s secret stash, and/or talk to Liz and get her to force him to volunteer, which we knew she’d love.
We really wanted to preserve the surprise factor for our assistant and so we decided that talking to Liz first would be plan A. It turned out that Liz was even more excited by the idea than we were and after learning about the illusion, and that it didn’t need a rehearsed assistant, she came up with a devious plan. We were to pretend that we were going to saw her in half but when we invited John onto the stage we’d have him lay down to “test” the table for safety. We’d then restrain him and saw our unwitting assistant in half as Liz handed us the stocks and held his hands. She was ingenious and cunning and we both loved her for it.
We auditioned for the talent show using Liz as our assistant. The school faculty voted on which acts made it into the show. We knew that we had Mr. Johnson’s vote, and sure enough we made it into the show as the closing act.
Meanwhile John had been chosen as the mascot for the spring semester. Each semester an athlete was chosen, whose sport season had passed, to play the school mascot. This meant that the chosen jock had to dress up in costume as our mascot, the “pirate”, for the pep rallies and certain school functions like the talent show. John’s football games concluded in the winter semester and so he was chosen to be the spring pirate this year and would be attending the talent show in full costume.
The costume was based on a Douglas Fairbanks Sr. swashbuckler from the 1930’s and consisted of a light colored, pullover pirate shirt that had a low cut, vee-neck chest and billowing sleeves gathered into tightly fitted cuffs. The costume also had tight black pants tucked into knee-high black leather boots and a red waist sash which was tied tightly about the pirate’s waist. John sure filled out the costume but he looked a bit self-conscious in the outfit. We both thought about plundering, and pillaging our school mascot in that costume all spring and in only a few moments we’d have him unknowingly tied up, about to be sawed in half by the two of us.
The night of the show was here already and we were next. I was dressed in a black suit with a gold tie and James was in a tux and tails with a gold tie and cummerbund complete with a black satin cape lined in red satin, just like an old time magician. We brought out our beautiful handy work, the black table with its steel shackles. Liz came out behind us dressed in her pretty black spaghetti strap prom dress next to the rack holding the waist stock and crosscut saw. The curtain opened and I tried to swallow my heart that seemed to be thumping in my throat.
James was the magician and addressed the audience first. “Ladies and gentlemen tonight we have the honor of being the grande finale for this year’s talent show. We will need another assistant to help us with our illusion this evening.” James gazed at the audience and was playing his role of magician with gusto. “As we are about to saw Liz Smith in half we figure that it would be only fitting that her boyfriend, and our current school mascot, pirate John Erickson should help us out. John would you come up onto the stage please?” the audience applauded and cheered John on as he enthusiastically ran onto the stage. He was in full pirate costume and pirate character as he chased Liz around the stage in true pirate fashion like he was going to plunder her. He caught her from behind, held her tightly in his arms, and then called out to the audience “I’ll steal a kiss from this wench before she is plundered by the saw”. He then turned her to face him and kissed her on the lips as we both dreamed of being in Liz’s place.
I broke the ‘romantic’ moment eager to start our act. “Pirate John, we need to make sure that this table is safe for your…er…wench, so if it will hold you then we’ll know that it is safe for her.” John looked confused and suddenly less enthusiastic. “It looks like John needs a little encouragement from the audience. Ladies and Gentlemen don’t you think John should test the table for his lady?” The audience applauded and cheered as the whole football team egged John on with taunts about being a “pussy” and a “scared little man”. That had John sitting down on the table in no time flat. “Now if you’ll please scootch back just a bit and lie down”. John tried to get back up but James and I each grabbed a bulging bicep, and pulled him back onto the table as I pushed on his chest forcing him to lie down. “Does it feel solid and safe to you John?” John was very enthusiastic and eager to get up off of the table as he said “It’ll do, now can I be the one to hold the saw?” Just then Liz said “Well, my pirate you seem pretty eager to saw me in half. I say that since you are already on the table, and dressed in a costume, that we save time and get this show on the road by sawing YOU in half! What do you think ladies and gents, should we saw our handsome young mascot in half?” the roar from the audience was immediate and almost deafening.
James and I wasted no time. He grabbed John’s ankles and had the shackles around them in two seconds flat. Liz turned quickly and grabbed John’s left wrist as I grabbed his right one. He tried to fight me but I forced it above his head and into the shackle waiting for it. Liz had done the same with his left wrist and placed John’s head on the red satin pillow at the end of the table, then brushed a lock of his long light brown hair out of his face. Our victim was restrained and ready for the saw.
Liz then ran to get the waist stock. We placed it over the red satin sash around John’s washboard stomach and locked it down to the table, fitting it firmly into place. Liz then caressed John’s hair and said to the audience “And now I’ll steal one last kiss from this pirate before our hero is put to death by the saw!” The audience cheered but John looked horrified by her words. I then asked of him “Any last words John?” But his words were cut short and muffled as Liz kissed him on the lips. He seemed to forget all about his fate until James held the saw above him and I hit it with a hammer to show the audience that it was very real. “Ladies and gentlemen, I give you five feet of pure steel, very solid and very sharp. John, I hope for the sake of all of us here that you’ve had a light dinner.” The audience laughed and we fitted the teeth of the saw into the groove at the top of the waist stock.
John’s face went white with fear and Liz held his hands. “And now ladies and gentlemen, we present sawing a pirate in half!” James threw his black satin cape over his shoulder with a flourish, the music started and we began to pull the saw back and forth.
The audience was so silent you could hear a pin drop. We wanted to savor our unwilling victim’s torture so we sawed lightly using full strokes. We had used knotted oak strips in the stock so that the saw would descend nice and slowly, giving enough resistance to the saw to make it look like we were actually sawing a man in half. John was scarred speechless. His blue eyes pleaded for help, first to Liz and then to the audience, but the audience was cheering us on by yelling “Saw him in half”, “Rip him open”, “Make him twice the guy he used to be” and other taunts.
John started to struggle against his restraints. He pulled his hands and feet and squirmed on the table trying to escape. His blue eyes were wide with fear and met mine first and then James. James just smiled a wicked smile back at him as we sawed slowly and steadily, the blade’s teeth a mere inch from John’s helpless waist. John rocked his head back and forth on the pillow, his light brown hair falling freely over it and into his face.
I looked at John’s struggling body, still in one piece under the approaching saw that James and I operated. I then looked at his torso, the shirt swam in waves over his chest and arms as he thrashed. I looked at his hips and legs in their tight, pants as they gyrated on the table. His feet were kicking in the knee-high black leather boots with Cuban heels as he tried to dig the heels into the table to get away. My lust overcame me as I imagined him cut into two halves right through the red sash tied around his waist. I turned to look back once more at John’s face as we sawed him in half. He had lifted his head from the small red satin pillow. His long, light brown hair dangled down as he stared at the waist stock in horror, watching the saw descend down to cut open his helpless stomach.
It was then that it became our turn to be scared. We were busy pulling on the saw back and forth and enjoying watching our handsome and helpless victim endure his torture when his eyes flew open wide and he gasped.
With the next stroke of the saw he let out a bloodcurdling scream as his face turned red and his head fell back, pushing into the pillow with a gaping open mouth. He arched his back up as he tried to wrench his body away from the saw that was “cutting” him in half. James and I looked at each other horrified and I could tell that we were both thinking “Oh my god, did we build this thing wrong?” but we had tried it out on ourselves and Liz and nothing had ever gone wrong, until now. John’s eyes were wide open and the grimace on his face was frozen in an expression of pure, hellish pain.
We continued to saw him in half as he thrashed and screamed, kicking his feet and rocking his head back and forth. His body was quivering and spasming as we severed him in two. John fell quiet, and his thrashing stopped as the saw chewed through the table. James let the saw fall away to the floor, from under the cut it had made through both the table and John, as Liz and I prepared to pull him apart.
John wasn’t moving at all, but the audience started applauding. James stepped between our victim’s halves and took a bow, not knowing if we had just accidentally killed the school’s star athlete.
After the applause died down, we removed the stocks and were relieved to see the sash, and John’s waist within it, still intact and completely undisturbed. It was then that we took notice of Liz for the first time since the sawing started. She had opened the wrist shackles. I took that as my cue and leapt to John’s feet to open the ankle restraints. She turned to the audience and said “A kiss to restore our brave hero back to life”. She bent to kiss him on the lips and his eyelids fluttered and he came to. He smiled at the audience and winked at James and I as he sat up. Liz put her arm around his waist and he grabbed hers with his arm as he leapt off the table. Evidently Liz’s scheme had included a joke on us as well, as John had most assuredly been included in the plans. His performance was Oscar worthy. We all took our bows to thunderous applause.
Lately I’ve been pondering sawing men in half with a large circular saw known to the magic world as the buzzsaw. As I mentioned in my previous blog, I used to perform that illusion with my partner for a few years when we both lived in Chicago.
The use of the buzzsaw came into the magic world during the late 1920’s and early 1930’s in an attempt to make the sawing in half illusion even more grand and frightening. It was, and still is I might add, a huge spectacle. Just look at the magician and his two male assistants in the picture above. They knew that this illusion would be an amazing showcase and career maker.
Horace Goldin invented the sawing a person in half illusion that we recognize today wherein the subject’s head, hands, and feet extend from the ends of a box. The male assistant was then sawed in half with a two-man crosscut lumber saw, and then separated into two halves. For his illusion show, Goldin used adorable male assistants who were dressed in bellhop/piratelike costumes with blousy white satin shirts, and red satin waist sashes. Take a look at the following video clip to see Horace and his costumed assistants in action.
Goldin presented the sawing in half (with his handsome, satin clad, male assistant as the victim) for the Society of American Magicians (SAM) in New York City, June 3, 1921.
Image what history would have been like if a male assistant was considered to be the perfect subject for the sawing in half illusion.Within a few short years Goldin’s satin clad male assistant would no longer be hidden within a thin box.Instead, he would have been sawed in half right through that satin waist sash by an enormous buzzsaw in full view of the audience. Sorcar might have used his satin clad son instead of Ms. Dey for that historic TV appearance. A few years ago, an Indian magician presented a TV show where he did saw his handome, satin clad, son in half. What if Blackstone Sr. had buzzsawed young Harry Jr. in half instead of his mother? (Later on, Blackstone Jr. did perform the bow-saw version of the sawing in half illusion on a few young men; photos exist elsewhere and I’ll see if I can find one to post.) Instead of his daughter, Richiardi might have used a handsome male assistant in his gory presentation of the buzzsaw illusion in the1950’s. Imagine a gorgeous man, struggling on his back on a steel table.Picture the male assistants holding their victim down by the legs and torso as he was chloroformed by the magician, before being secured with steel shackles to the cold metal table. He would then have been ripped open at the belly, and not even allowed to be fully severed in half as the curtain closed and the show concluded. The world would be a very different place.My partner and I owed a lot to Richiardi’s presentation, but we wanted to use a man is the subject.Modern technology not only allowed us to drive the buzzsaw through our male assistant, but to separate him into two halves as well.
Sadly, there are only a handful of male buzzsawings in existence. The most famous is the David Copperfield “Death Saw” (I love the handsome male assistants who restrain the magician for the blade) which has been copied by many male magician’s who’ve wanted a “manly” way to be sawed in half.
The best variation/innovation of this “escape gone wrong theme (the illusion design itself, not necessarily the presentation) is performed by Criss Angel Criss Angel Buzzsaw and I’m always enthralled by sawings wherein the man is sawn in half face up; watching in terror as the saw makes its way to his helpless midsection. Both versions make use of a descending saw, which builds drama and excitement, and a complete division of both halves.
In my mind there are four more presentations of the Buzzsaw illusion of note. First, is a reinvention of the classic 1940’s buzzsaw. This sawing is presented by El Mago Anton wherein the mage is revealed to the audience, unconscious, upon his stomach under a white sheet. An executioner and devil demonstrate that the saw is real with a piece of wood (A favorite and consistant theme in buzzsaw illusions). The magician wakes up, removes the sheet and futilely tries to release himself from the retraints. He is sawn in half at the waist separating the torso in a white shirt, from the legs in black pants. He collapses and is left divided.
Essentially the illusion is the same that Harry Blackstone Sr. and Jr. performed. The victim is drawn forward, by a moving table, into the path of a stationary saw which severs them in half at the waist, but through the back.
An interesting variation is the lengthwise buzzsawing illusion “Blade Runner” by Franz Harary (I believe). An industrial scene is revealed. The longhaired, blond magician comes out in blue jeans, white shirt, and denim vest. He saws a piece of wood in half with the spinning blade (sense a theme dear readers?). He climbs into an box (similar to David Copperfield’s Death Saw Illusion; see above) and lies down upon his back. His hands are shackled above his head by a male assistant. The box is left open to reveal the mage. Both man and box are mechanically lifted up the steep incline. There is a sudden “false release,” and the box drops to the blade with all the accompanying chaos. Luckily, the box is stopped from falling completely but the mage is still in peril, for the buzzsaw spins visciously at the mage’s crotch while he furiously struggles to free his hands. The top portion of the box is closed (we can still see the mage’s lower half with that sexy man-crotch inches away from the spinning saw). The box is pulled up the incline a bit, and then released. The audience then watches as the saw chews through the magicians crotch and all the way up, through the closed box, in a pathway that cuts through the mid-line of the blond mage’s torso, neck, and head. The box is opened revealing not a bloody scene, but the full magician in profile. His body is still and silent. He then hops up for his TA-DA moment.
This is a wonderful reinvention of the illusion, and delightful in its concealing and revealing aspects of presentation. The whole darn thing is terrifying and scintillating. I’ve always found feet first sawings to be more exciting due to the sheer hell of the torture involved, both for the victim and the spectators. The watching and waiting would be terrifying for the poor man subjected to the saw in this way.
Another recent buzzsawing of note comes from the guys of Dirty Tricks. The presentation is very entertaining and creative with a comic, black market, organ-harvesting theme. Neil Fox (Foxy) who is similar to Casey Kasem in America, is the victim. He reclines upon his back in a supine position under a concrete industrial buzzsaw that is aimed for his waist. The saw is released from the lock, then brought up and down serveral times as it is forcefully made to saw through its victim with all the accompanying gore and blood you’d expect. The man is left divided and organs are removed from the gash in his abdomen. Essentially this version is a modification of the Pendulum buzzsaw where the buzzsaw is moved through a stationary victim. The plus for me is that the saw cuts through its victim’s front. This has always held more appeal for me personally as the man is able to watch the saws progress and react more fully to the delight of the audience.
The next video is difficult to see due to the camera and lighting, but this version is unique because the male assistant is buzzsawed in half, blades inserted into the cut, and then he is pulled apart! The only fault I can find is that restoration takes too long.
Sadly, my favorite buzzsawing cannot be found online. It belonged to a wonderful magician named Steve Diamond. Steve presented an amazing version of the illusion. He was dressed in a gold satin pirate shirt, tight dark brown pants, and knee-high brown leather bucket boots (pirate style). The costume alone earns this version sexy points from me. An “executioner” forces the Mage onto a table on his back. He then shackles the mage’s wrists and hands above his head. The magician’s head and torso are closest to the audience so we have an almost bird’s eye view of the proceedings. The table is mechanically drawn through a huge, free-standing boxlike, frame structure with a spinning buzzsaw at the center of the structure. The poor helpless pirate is pulled nearer and nearer to that stationary, spinning buzzsaw. After several minutes the saw enters into the mage’s left side and chews through him as he screams, pulls against his bonds, and writhes in pain. We watch in horror as the man and table are pulled through the saw’s path. The table, and divided man, carry on through the conveyor belt to the other side where we wonder is he is alive, or if he is now twice the man he used to be.
I was given an AVI file of a performance many years ago. Sadly, with changes in technology and computers, I’ve somehow lost it to my great sorrow. If someone has a version of it out there in cyberland, I’d be grateful to have it once again. It was an amazing presentation.
So, to sum it all up, the buzzsaw is effective because it is scary as hell. It is not cute. It is not quiet. It is not hidden, but in your face. It is a spectacle of horror and penetration, dominance and (eventually) submission, bondage and freedom, life and death, that may or may not have a happy ending.