Case Number 10396: Small Claims Court


A&E // 2005 // 96 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Packard (Retired) // November 29th, 2006

The Charge

MINDFREAK: \Mind*freak\, n. 1: a modern day mystifier who utilizes skills beyond the category of magic. 2: the result of something incomprehensible. 3: Supernatural. 4: Criss Angel.

The Case

If you've ever watched an episode of the half-hour weekly television series Criss Angel: Mindfreak on the A&E network, then you're already familiar with Angel's unique brand of entertainment. To simply call Angel an illusionist would be doing a real disservice to what he does: He's equal parts street magician, mentalist, and stunt man. With his trademark long, dark hair, piercing eyes, black clothes, and gobs of silver chains that give him a "Goth-lite" appearance, the Long Island-reared Angel regularly stuns Las Vegas tourists into profanity-filled fits of disbelief with his array of illusions, creepy mind tricks, and feats of physical prowess.

The Criss Angel: Mindfreak: Halloween Special serves up a smorgasboard of Angel's spooky talents as an homage to Harry Houdini, the master magician who passed away on Halloween in 1926. Angel performs a number of illusions (jumping Matrix-style through the body of a fellow illusionist; swallowing needles and thread with his wine) and mental mind jobs (a fellow randomly turns the hands on his watch as a girl attempts to guess the time at which the hands are stopped; Angel must guess the number written on a slip of paper) before the big finale: Angel must escape from a wooden box in which he is nailed and handcuffed. Oh, and said wooden box is on a conveyor belt being fed into a woodchipper. It's the setting of great television or a sequel to Fargo -- take your pick.

Aside from the Halloween special, two half-hour bonus episodes are included. Both programs serve as "best of" compilations from the television show's inaugural season, showcasing some of, as Angel puts it, the "craziest, most insane moments." A bit of never-before-seen footage is sprinkled throughout the programs, and you'll have the opportunity to watch a few illusions in their entirety with no cuts or editing involved.

I'm a big fan of the Criss Angel: Mindfreak series on A&E. Actually, I've always been a fan of magic in general, and it's been refreshing to see many magicians leave the traditional stage act behind and try a fresh approach to their craft. Whether it be the twisted humor of Penn & Teller or the deadpan, "this is real" approach of street magician David Blaine, it's all good to me. What grabbed me about Angel is that, while he seemed much like Blaine in his street approach to magic combined with the occasional feats of physical endurance, he took things to another level with the unusually close involvement of his audience (mostly -- if what we're being told is true -- Las Vegas visitors who have never met Angel prior to the trick). He puts himself dead-center in a 360-degree stage of onlookers, yet still manages to make an elephant disappear in a parking lot or saw himself in half while inviting the shocked attendees to wander around and inspect his "severed" torso and legs. It's truly impressive stuff.

The Criss Angel: Mindfreak: Halloween Special, while a little light on the Halloween theme, serves up a fun and varied selection of the illusions that have made his television show such a hit. As Angel often does in the series, he shows viewers how to perform a simple illusion. This one involves making a toothpick vanish and reappear at will. I did it a few times on unsuspecting family members during the Thanksgiving gorge-a-thon the other day, so I can vouch that this one is impressive. Unfortunately, I had no styrofoam cup available, so I couldn't make it float out of my hands at dinner. Maybe next year.

The real highlight of the special is the woodchipper finale, and it's a scream. I've always been fascinated by the brutal and completely destructive eating power of a woodchipper, and I recall reading stories in the news from time to time about some poor and obviously dim soul who attempted to clear a jam at the entry chute by kicking at the clogged branches. The workers always chose poorly, and the stories always ended in the same grotesque way. I'm not going to spoil the finale's ending, but let's just say that Angel enjoys the opportunity to trick those in attendance before serving up the treat.

The bonus episodes, "Uncut" and "Up Close," do a wonderful job at looking back to season one's best moments. In "Uncut," Angel reflects on a variety of highlights (his favorite feat of being suspended from a helicopter via flesh hooks; the one trick that landed him in a Wisconsin emergency room; having people face their phobias and fears in a segment Angel likes to call "scream"). A mentalism trick -- which Angel claims is not to be confused with being psychic, but instead knowing what's in someone's mind and playing with that -- involving a random word read from a random page in a random book leaves you wondering just how in the hell he does that.

"Up Close" is, in Angel's words, a "best of Mindfreak 2." While there are plenty of illusions and tricks featured, the focus here is more on people. Angel serves up clips of people spurning his requests to be a part of his show, the celebrities who appeared throughout season one, and the concerns of his family and friends who fear for him as he performs his various stunts (He turned himself into a "human candle" for Mom's 70th birthday.) One segment of "Up Close" in particular that I enjoyed was an introduction to the show's desert-dwelling, circus freakshow-like characters that appear at the end of each segment. Angel tells us a bit about each actor and actress as well as what the character represents. I found it intriguing that one of the characters represents the spirit of Houdini.

Technically, the disc is fine. The video and audio are crisp and clean, as they should be for a television special and series produced in the past year.

Overall, fans of magic won't be disappointed with Criss Angel: Mindfreak: Halloween Special. The bonus episodes are a nice recap of the television show's first season, while the main feature lets Angel trick us with plenty of new treats. Now, if you will excuse me, I must retreat to my chambers and continue trying to figure out just how in the hell he pulled off that woodchipper trick. Court adjourned.

Review content copyright © 2006 David Packard; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Judgment: 91

Perp Profile
Studio: A&E
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)

* None

Running Time: 96 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks
* Criss Angel: Mindfreak -- Season One "Uncut"
* Criss Angel: Mindfreak -- Season One "Up Close"

* IMDb

* Criss Angel Offical Site