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Most Disgusting Magic (Trick) Fails Ever!

Who better to create this disgusting list for you than a UCSD theater Ph.D., magic scholar, university professor, author, and all around smart guy. This list of magic accidents are going to gross you out so, we suggest you sit down, put an empty bag next to your chair, take a few deep breaths, and SLOWLY read on for the equivalent of Magic's next Darwin Award Winners...

Houdini buried alive poster

by Dr. Will Given
University of California, San Diego

We go to magic shows or watch magic on TV in part to feel a sense of wonder and excitement, and a strong, well-run show will help us to suspend our disbelief as audience members. However, sometimes things go wrong. Sometimes the mistake is small, and the magician can recover the performance without the audience even noticing. But other times, the problem is so large that disbelief is instantly broken, and the audience sees that magic is a performance that requires skill, planning, and management (and sometimes even just a little bit of luck) in order to be carried off well. There are some truly dangerous tricks in magic, and when these go wrong, people can be seriously hurt or even killed. Warning: some of THESE FAILURES ARE GRUESOME! Also, it should go without saying, PLEASE do not ever try these at home (or anywhere else for that matter)! These tricks are exceptionally dangerous, and some have proven to be fatal. Proceed at your own risk.

  • The Nail Trick

    This is one of the most cringe-worthy tricks in magic, and though it is not a large illusion, it still produces a good deal of suspense. A number of small square boards are placed on a table, one of which has a long nail driven through it, point-side-up. The magician covers them all with upside-down paper lunch bags, Styrofoam cups, or the like, and then shuffles them until the audience has no idea where the nail is. Think of it as a psychotic version of the Shell Game. The magician proceeds to slam his or her hand down on the bags, one by one, until the last one is revealed to be the dangerous nailed board.

    Unfortunately for the Polish magician Marcin Poloniewicz, his error with this trick happened on television, and it wasn't his hand at stake! Check out the video above, but be forewarned, this isn't for the faint of heart!

  • The Water Torture Cell

    This famous escape was first performed by Houdini, and no, Houdini didn't die performing it despite what the Tony Curtis movie would have you believe. But, it still remains a dangerous feat: being shackled or otherwise restrained, being lowered into a chamber filled with water, being locked into the chamber once totally submerged, and then working to undo all the locks and free yourself before you run out of breath and drown. Scary stuff. Just like Houdini did nearly a century ago, Penn & Teller keep a large fire axe on hand to break the glass in case something goes wrong when they perform this trick.

    The magician Spencer Horsman has twice lost consciousness when trying to attempt this escape. It seems like he's going to finally make it in this video, but let's not get our hopes up too much.

  • The Milk Can Escape

    Another trick on our list that is a Houdini classic. The Milk Can Escape was the earlier version of the submerged escape: Houdini only replaced it with the Chinese Water Torture Cell because the Milk Can Escape had gathered too many imitators. He needed something new to keep his act fresh. Although these two escapes are based on the same concept, the milk can has some key differences: it's not transparent but made of galvanized steel. It's smaller, causing the performer to crouch in order to fit into it. This claustrophobic situation alone should cause some audience members to gasp, but the added risk of drowning makes it even more suspenseful.

    The trick has become notorious and there are some accounts that the American magician and contemporary of Houdini, Genesta, accidentally died after performing this escape in Frankfort, Kentucky in 1930 (other accounts at the time say he was trying to escape from a barrel filled with water. No matter what the apparatus that was used, it did result in a dead Genesta onstage). As the myth goes, it is said that the milk can he used was dented in transit to the theatre, causing the apparatus to not function as it should. His assistants and audience members scrambled to free him, and they did, but he died in the hospital later that night.

    Check out the Norwegian magician Christian Wedoy performing this trick to see just how dangerous it actually is!

  • Buried Alive

    Another Houdini escape. He was working on perfecting a stage version of the trick at the time of his death in 1926. But, in 1915, he had tried it in an actual grave—six feet deep in dirt, without a casket. He tried to dig his way out, but lost consciousness near the top. His assistants pulled him out of the earth.

    In 1990, "The Amazing Joe" Burrus had himself lowered into a grave in a glass coffin as a Halloween stunt. He had performed the trick before, but this time he wanted to cover the coffin not only with dirt, but also with cement. The weight of the load crushed the coffin, smothering him to death. This proves why it is so important to perhaps first consult with a structural engineer if one is trying to design a coffin to be buried alive in. Check out the horrifying scene above.

  • The Bullet Catch

    Here it is, the most notorious (and dangerous) trick on our list! The Bullet Catch has a long and gruesome history and has claimed the lives of multiple magicians who have attempted it. The concept is simple: a bullet is initialed, or an identifying mark is cut into it. The bullet is put into a gun in plain sight of the audience. The person with the gun moves to the other end of the stage and the magician prepares by holding a plate in front of him or herself. The gun is fired. The plate shatters. The bullet is then revealed to be in the mouth of the magician. Pandemonium ensues.

    Even if you are sitting there thinking, "yes, but it's all only a trick," think again. There have been tragedies where actors such as Brandon Lee (while filming The Crow) and Jon Erik Hexum (while filming Cover Up) were accidently killed on set when they were shot with a gun holding only blanks. The most famous victim of The Bullet Catch is Chung Ling Soo, the American magician who was fatally shot on stage while performing in London in 1918.

    Watch Penn & Teller do their successful version of the trick (thankfully) above.

So, what do you think? Are these the greatest magic tricks ever or are magicians the craziest people out there? Some say, welcome to the most successful Darwin Award Candidates ever! If you know of any horrific magic trick fails that we missed, we'll add them here. Write us and let us know!