Reality TV’s first zombie: Criss Angel reanimates a corpse

After six seasons of A&E’s Mindfreak, Criss Angel took a three-year break from TV, but returned this month with his new show Criss Angel BeLIEve on Spike. And while the show has included very interesting illusions and demonstrations, Tuesday’s episode took things farther than any other reality show has before: he re-animated a corpse, creating reality TV’s first zombie cast member.

The new show includes street magic, illusions, demonstrations that reveal how he actually did a trick, and demonstrations grounded in science, such as when he caught a bullet–or, more correctly, was shot in the hand without being hurt. It’s a very watchable hour, and Criss Angel is exceptionally good at what he does. Also, it’s refreshing for a reality show to admit that it’s lying to viewers in the title–although, honestly, even though it includes illusions, the show is more honest than a lot of shows pretending to be reality TV.

Last night’s episode opened with him “resurrecting” a “headless” and “dead” dove, which was a very clever version of an old trick. But it set the stage for the episode’s big illusion, bringing a person back from the dead. Allegedly. And probably not at all. But it was an effective bit.

What actually happened wasn’t anything more than something that could be cleverly faked: a rising chest, a pulse (felt, however, through a glove provided by Criss Angel), and liquid coming out of the corpse’s mouth. The dead man didn’t sit up and start talking.

The verifiable, actual neurologist who was there to witness, Derek Addison Duke, M.D., didn’t exactly do much more except confirm that the man was dead.

Still, it was highly weird and very uncomfortable, and the witnesses in the room were justifiably freaked out, especially because they’d been heavily primed by being driven to a secret location with blindfolds on and watched a corpse being cremated. He also combined several illusions in one, including having someone guess the name of the dead person and hypnotizing another, in order to pretend that he’d borrowed her life to reanimate the corpse.

As the illusion concluded, Criss Angel tried to mitigate the potential offensiveness of playing around with a dead person by pointing out that life is precious, et cetera. In interviews, Criss is also sticking with that story, telling Robin Leach, “I really wanted to know if one could make contact with a person right after their death.”

That actually seemed to be potentially more offensive than just admitting what he’d done was an illusion on the body of a person who’s family had consented for it to be used in a magic trick, not an actual reversal of death.

Still, it was weird and creepy and impressive however he did it, and definitely an attention-getting stunt for the new series.

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.