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Trick or Treat
by Tironius, created Tuesday, May 22, 2007, with permalink

UK's master of illusion Derren Brown is back

It’s something nice or something nasty in Derren Brown’s newest show of mental trickery, giving viewers a real treat

My boy Derren Brown, master of psychology, illusion, and showmanship, is back in full force with his new show, Trick or Treat. Contestants each week choose a card: “trick” or “treat.” After his or her choice in the coming weeks will either receive something pleasent, a treat, or something rather horrible, the trick. They won’t know which they chose, what the stunt will be or when their experience will take place. And, in each instance, Derren has full control.

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The tricks and treats are the most fun parts of the show because these hidden-camera stunts are so much more elaborate and cunning to be pulled on hapless fool. Think of these stunts as being from The Jamie Kennedy Experiment, if Jamie Kennedy were Jason Vorhees on acid. If none of this makes sense, here is a quick rundown of the first episode (of six) in the season: Derren at midnight breaks in a flat to tell the subject he has been chosen for the show, and that he must choose from the two trick or treat cards. He does, and Derren reveals to the audience that he has chosen “trick.” (More on the secret to this later.)

What was the trick played on the man? Derren, using his powers over the human mind, forces his subject to fall asleep in a rigged photo booth the man was using to take passport photos. While asleep, Derren flies the man from London to Morocco, where he then is awakened in the same booth. From the subject’s perspectives the time is instantaneous. He nods off, and wakes in a different country. The confusion on his face was priceless and completely real.

Out of body finale

His finale was even more impressive. Jules, a young psychologist, agreed to do the show. What she didn’t know—after she had picked her “trick” card—was that Derren had placed a hidden camera in her car. After observing her “hands-free approach to driving,” it was clear his plan: He would create for her, using his masterful powers of hypnosis, a scenario where she is witness to her own car crash in an out-of-body experience. She would literally see herself lying limp in the driver’s seat of her crashed car as paramedics carry her corpse away, as if she was a ghost witnessing the aftermath.

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To do this, the production employed a bit of Hollywood magic. To be believable that this woman is seeing herself, not only would the show need a convincing body double, but also create some kind of mask so that the actress looked exactly like Jules, the subject. Movies do this all the time: a special-effects make-up artist creates a “life cast” of an actor using alginate and plaster—creating a negative impression—and creates a positive mask from that. The catch here, however, is that the show needs an original life cast without the subject’s awareness. So, a few weeks after the initial meeting with Derren, the subject receives a free spa treatment, unaware that it has anything to do with Derren Brown. Under the guise of a facial mask, a successful mold is created and a mask is made.

Months later (the production observed the subject to make sure she was psychologically robust enough to endure such a stunt), everything was ready to begin her trick. Derren phone calls Jules telling her she is needed for a photo shoot for the upcoming show and to wear an exact set of clothes. As she drives out to the country, she receives a call from Derren. Derren performs my favorite and most intriguing tricks of all by using his words and sounds to completely incapacitate a person on the other end of the line, making them fall completely unconscious. It is a sight to behold and I will strive to learn its secret. To put it another way: She picks up the phone while driving, he asks her to pull over, and a few seconds later, she is completely asleep. Now Derren and his elaborate team can put the pieces together for an astounding stunt.

The subject is under trance. The setting is a remote country road with no one else around. Television cameras are hidden among the trees of the surrounding forrest area. Another car is brought in and beaten to look like a car accident. The two cars are placed together on the intersection, as well as a fake broken stop light (with accompanying signs that warn of its malfunction). While still unconscious, Derren places the girl on her feet to one corner of the intersection. He employs yet another astounding verbal hypnotic trick where he makes her feet stick to the ground, unable to move. Soon, she must only stand and watch.

The mask they made creates a spooky reality for its witness

She wakes. She sees her car smashed into the side of another. “Oh god,” she says to herself. She tries to move but is confused by her legs refusal to work. She’s stuck. She sees a man exit the vehicle, distraught at what has apparently happened. She sees and hears him call the police with a quivery voice. He says he’s fine, but the other person isn’t moving. By now, she sees something horrible. In her car sits the driver—it’s her. Same clothes, same hair, same face. The ambulance arrives. Police arrives. No one acknowledges the woman standing at the scene. She shouts “Hello?” in vein. They pull the body out of her car. She touches herself to reassure she isn’t a ghost. She’s freaking out. Gurney’d into the ambulance, the corpse is whisked away. The police take the man away, talking about how these things happen.

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They all drive off with her still there, still unable to move. And there she stands, looking at two wrecked cars in the middle of nowhere. Alone.

After a few minutes, her cell phone rings as it still rests in her car seat. She walks to pick it up. The sound must be the hypnotic release of her immobility. She picks up the line. “It’s Derren” can be heard. She sits down and again she falls asleep.

She awakens in her car, pulled to the side of the road, completely fine. No one else around. She starts her car and leaves.

Secret of ‘Tricks’ and ‘Treats’

In episode five Derren actually gives away the secret of the show (though I had solved the mystery before that—so there).

What the contestants believe is that their choice of card will ultimately how the course of events will go. In reality, however, Derren has already chosen their fate before they even choose; their choice in cards is arbitrary. The secret to this are the cards: each card reads both the word “TRICK” and the word “TREAT.” All is needed is which way to flip:


(The second image is the same image flipped.)


I’ve had to make one of these in a graphic design class, and I forget what the concept is names. How wonderfully clever.