After watching this compilation of TV specials, I finally had to admit something to myself – Derren Brown is a very scary man. While there is little doubt that Paul Daniels did a fair few of his ‘stunts’ about twenty years ago, his methods remain completely unfathomable. Multiple viewings of this DVD don’t reduce the amazement value – I watched The Heist twice, having already seen it three times, and still nearly fell off my chair at the outcome. We may be in artificial situations, but the malleability of the human mind is on show here for all to see…and you still don’t believe that you can be persuaded into buying anything?
Much of Brown’s material has been released previously; this is the ‘missing’ four TV specials. The System sees an ordinary punter convinced that she is using an infallible betting system; The Heist attempts to turn law-abiding citizens into armed robbers; Séance scares the living daylights out of a group of students (and provoked 700 complaints to OFCOM), and Russian Roulette‘s images of a man in a suit with a gun to his head are now infamous in TV circles. There were no extras on my review disc, which is a terrible shame, but presumably in keeping with the idea that a magician ‘never reveals his secrets’.
I use the term ‘magician’ loosely, but accurately. Ultimately, Brown is an illusionist – he may use an encyclopaedic knowledge of psychology and body language to create the illusion, but you’re still not seeing what you appear to be. He is a showman sans égale. Séance is perhaps the most obvious example, using a combination of extreme mass hysteria, suggestion and fairly simple maths-based tricks to create a supremely creepy show which also happens to be complete bollocks. I remember watching it and knowing how everything was done – and yet I could not stop my nerves being totally frazzled. It doesn’t just give Most Haunted a run for its money, it’s more frightening than all 2,810 series put together. And it even declares that it’s fake!
There isn’t a great deal to say about Russian Roulette that hasn’t already been said. While the ending is a tour de force (who can’t resist believing someone could be about to blow his own brains out?), it’s the way the assistant is chosen that proves the most interesting part. The whole process is laid wide open for all to see, and yet you’d never be able to do it yourself, nor could you resist if you took part. While Derren seems genuinely nervous, possibly for the only discernible time in his career, you just know that the likelihood of him being in any danger is slim, if there at all. As an actor he would be too good for RADA – the lengthy periods of silence only become a little suspicious after you’ve sat down and thought about it. As a ‘live’ event, this was brilliant.
The System is the lesser-known of the quartet, and shows a single mother being introduced to an apparently fool-proof way of winning money at the races. This is probably the least theatrically exciting of the shows, and yet gives the best insight into Brown’s ways of working – a bit of probability, a bit of logic and a bit of persuasion combine to prove that you could be fooled into believing just about anything with a push in the right direction. Anybody who plays poker may not subscribe to it, but will still be fascinated by how others do; and if you can work out the sequence with the bookmakers, you’re better than I am.
The standout piece from this collection is The Heist. A group of accountants and middle-managers (and, it transpires, liars) are gathered together under the premise of a motivational training course. In fact, they are being primed to commit a serious crime. I can’t say what happens without a major spoiler, but it’s quite a show – the recreation of the Milgram experiment actually made me feel sick. Actually, it still makes me feel sick now. There are some seriously warped human beings out there – there’s one guy whose behaviour is so outrageous that he may never have been able to face his family again.
Being able to view all of these without the interruption of adverts is a big plus, and aids the much-needed suspense. It’s an impressive collection of mind-bending entertainment, arguably containing the modern-day Ghostwatch, and its replay value is surprisingly high. The place it falls down is the price – anyone paying the full thirty pounds for this is going to feel done, especially in the absence of any additional content whatsoever. For this alone I cannot give it five stars overall – chucking a cheap book in and making it a box-set might have worked. Nevertheless, for its sheer audacity it’s deserving of hunting out a slightly cheaper copy and letting the fun begin.