Draven Reviews: Death Toll by Bruce Ballon

Discussion in 'Product Questions and Reviews' started by William Draven, Apr 4, 2011.

  1. [​IMG]

    Title: Death Toll
    Artist: Bruce Ballon & Christopher Taylor
    Instructions by: Bruce Ballon
    Producers: TI Imagineering
    Link: http://www.taylorimagineering.com/products/death-toll.php
    Retail Price: $299.95 USD
    Learning Difficulty: Easy
    Notes: This effect isn’t just a spirit bell, it’s a wonderful utility device that lends itself brilliantly to multiple applications limited by only the performers imagination. TV performance rights are reserved. You are instructed to contact Christopher for any arrangements. info@taylorimagineering.com

    • CD Rom
    ◦ Death Toll PDF written by Bruce Ballon
    ◦ Technical Operations Video
    ◦ Spectator Cueing Video
    • Counter Bell
    • Transmitter
    • Toe Switch

    There are a lot of spirit bells on the market. Everyone familiar with bizarre magic knows the setup. Questions are asked, and the bell tolls out the answers as the medium contacts the spirits of the dead. The results are shocking, and audible. What is more, with Death Toll the audience actually SEE’s the plunger depress ringing the bell, and they hear the audible ding! Simple, powerful, and amazing. Welcome to Bruce Ballon’s Death Toll.

    When I decided I wanted to get more into doing spirit theater, séances, and the like I knew that I had to acquire a spirit bell to add to my collection. Nothing says séance to me like the images invoked of ghosts answering questions through a system of raps, knocks, or dings lead by the medium. I considered a few different products that could deliver the required results, but none of them stood out to me quite like Death Toll did, and frankly I’m glad I made the purchase! Not only do I get the very obvious effect of a counter bell that rings itself, but I get a very inconspicuous looking device that doesn’t scream “prop” that lends itself very easily to a variety of other applications. In short, it’s a beautifully crafted utility device!

    The bell as seen in the demo video is deceptive. It look’s shiny silver when in fact the bell is brass, on a small spun wooden base. The way it comes, the bell looks like it could have been something from a hotel that was used in the 1940’s, but has been well cared for. In short it doesn’t look antiqued, but could easily be aged to serve your purpose if that’s a direction you want to run in. Otherwise you could just leave it alone and have a very handsome counter bell to serve other purposes. Again what we see here is versatility. Age the bell more, and it could look like it came from a hotel that burned down decades ago, or leave it as is, and it looks like it’s a very nice, well-constructed counter bell that you’d expect to find in service somewhere around your own town today.

    Death Toll comes with a CD Rom with videos and a PDF. While the PDF does cover the technical aspects of the bell, with links to the videos that also accompany the CD Rom, that’s not all you get with the PDF. Bruce also includes a brief comparison to other spirit bells that are available on the market. Bruce’s honesty rings through (pardon my pun) as talks about other products available, and how they compare or differ from Death Toll. I found this particularly useful being someone who just entered into the spirit theater arena, and having not previously owned any other spirit communication device before, it’s nice to see where, and how my new bell stacks up against everything else I’ve looked at, or may be available on the market.

    Sure the information in the PDF detailing set up, and mechanisms is handy, but the real power of this portable utility device is evident in the multiple routines included in the PDF file. The Death Toll can be made to work for different themes of presentations, and Christopher is more than generous in suggesting a couple uses for you. He even goes as far as to give you full presentation routines that you can utilize in the performance of the Death Toll! Some of those themes are:
    • Sensitive- Cueing: Mentalism Theme. Use the bell as a cueing system to demonstrate sensitivity to psychometric vibrations.
    • Ring of Truth: Psychological Theme. You reveal spectators hidden truths via subtle use of the Death Toll as a lie detector device.
    • The Curse of the Machiavelli – Duel Reality/ Spirit Bizarre Theme. Two spectators are shown a cursed ring belonging to the evil Machiavelli, and must resist it’s sinister suggestions, the bell rings true when they begin to falter and give into the rings dark powers.
    • The Hand of Balsamo: Convincers & Attribution- Spirit Magic Theme: An inanimate object (such as a rapping hand) is placed over the bell, and spirits are invoked to move the hand in order to ring out the answers to the questions asked.
    • Dark Hotel: Another routine created by Ron Dayton A.K.A. Kotah. A monologue depicting a rundown building about to be demolished, and its haunting memories still looking to cling onto something living.
    • Strolling Spooky: This section covers using the Death Toll, out and about in a strolling fashion. Any place around town that has a counter bell has a potential to see application use of Death Toll. This section gives wonderful ideas to almost impromptu performances, with devastating results. If only you’re brave enough to try.
    • Medical Mystery Mind Games/ Psychological Spirit Theme: You set the stage with a few props, a bed turned down, a picture of a young lady, the Death Toll bell, and you ask the audience what they can infer from observation. Engage, and then at the end, the bell rings once. A little personal side note on this section: I personally liked the idea, but the set up for this is a little beyond my ability to re-create.
    • Invisible Doggie- Children Presentation Theme: Using Death Toll, and a few other well known & loved props (such as the invisible dog on a leash or stiff rope) you can present a friendly spook show for kids!
    • Please Ring for Service- Humorous Mystery Theme: A mysterious but humorous plot designed to get a laugh. May not be practical for every show setting.
    • Time is Up- another Humorous Mystery Theme: The bell rings by itself signaling the end of a conversation or meeting. Just another personal note: This application again seems to be something of sorts that may not work for 100% of the people 100% of the time. Though if you work in an office, or frequently have meetings this may be a great way to get people’s attention.
    • Engraving Meaning: Another idea presented here by Bruce is to engrave a revelation of some sorts inside the dome of the bell. Not only does this give you a reason to open the bell up for casual examination, but you get a cool reveal as well!
    • Billets: For you mentalists out there Bruce details a few quick ideas for using the Death Toll to do billet switches, and the like.

    (To Be Continued...)
  2. (Continued From Above...)

    The two video’s on the CD-Rom aren’t anything to write home about in the sense of production quality. Then again, I don’t think they really need to be. They serve the purpose for what they were created for. One to explain the technical operations of the bell, the other video expands a bit on Christopher’s personal favorite effect for the bell, and a subject Bruce covers in full in his PDF document, Spectator Cueing.

    I wanted to take a minute and discuss the quality of the craftsmanship that went into this product. Simply, it’s amazing. The bell is very well constructed, the mechanics work silently, and reliably, and it looks “old school” enough to be an antique, but mundane enough that it could still be in use in some business today. Personally I had originally planned on aging the bell to look quite old for the purpose of doing spirit theater, completely ignorant to the power to other applications this bell offers, but after having read Bruce’s PDF file, I think I’m going to instead engrave something on the inside of the dome, and leave it as is. One thing is for sure, this will be the center piece of my working act for some time to come!

    Since receiving the bell three days ago I’ve been playing with it non-stop. I’ve tried operating it with the toe switch, as well as with a stooge. I’m pleased to say that it does operate silently, and can be held in the spectator’s hands while activated without tipping the mechanical operations. Though I would advise against this, as my wife damn near dropped the darn thing the first time out for shock of fright! My transmitter works just fine at about fifty feet, which is perfect for any room size conditions I will ever encounter in my work with this bell. If I go more than fifty feet away from the bell, the signal from the transmitter gets weaker. I’ve noticed that the ideal distance from the transmitter to the bell should be twenty-five feet or less for maximum effect.

    My initial reactions once unboxing my bell was that of a kid at Christmas time. My excitement has only been increased with each use of the bell. I’m truly very happy with this product. I would advise anyone though, that during the unboxing of the bell, be careful when you first disassemble the dome to remove any packing peanuts from inside of it. You don’t want to accidently disturb the mechanics behind why it works. If you do though, the good news is it’s an easy fix. Really, I can see this bell lasting a lifetime of performances with proper care. It’s built very well.

    My audience reactions to this product have been a very large range of silenced dumbstruck awe, to one girl shrieking in fright and refusing to come near me for the rest of the night, and I’ve only owned it for three days! It is very clear to me that this product requires time to master the subtle ways it can be used in a show, and the more subtle the use- the more powerful the effect. I agree with Bruce’s words in his PDF file, Less is certainly more when working with the bell.

    Death Toll is very portable, as it takes up very little room, and there isn’t much of it to pack up and cart around. Though the plain white cardboard box it came in is nothing to write home about, I did happen to have a nice dark stained cherry wood box laying around that is just about the right size for the bell. A little cut foam insert, a nice dark red crushed velvet inlay, and this thing looks like it belongs in a museum!

    About the only part of the product that I’ve had an on again, off again, love/ hate relationship with is the toe switch. It seems to be too sensitive when I have it taped to my foot, and not sensitive enough when I just leave it inserted into my shoe. Granted, I’ve never worked with a toe switch before, but I imagine they all work just about the same. After spending a few hours with it, I was pleased to find that I managed to get the positioning just right to where I could operate the bell when I wanted to, without obvious foot movement, and with minimal accidental dings due to movement, walking, etc.
    In closing, I’m very pleased with Christopher’s work, and Bruce’s applications. This bell when used correctly is a miracle! It’s a bit expensive, but for a handmade piece of art, it’s worth it. As a bonus, I’m a fan of magical props that can lend themselves to different uses because it means that I can repurpose a prop for different style of shows without the need of purchasing something else to do what I need it to do. I’m thrilled that Death Toll facilitates many purposes, and magical themes leaving me many performance avenues to explore. I’m certain that this is one prop that will remain a worker for me for some time to come.

    When I give my product scores below I am measuring them on a scale of 1 to 10. 1 Being absolute the worst score possible, and 10 being the absolute best, making a score of five average. The four points that I grade upon is Product Quality, Teaching Quality, Performance Practicality and Overall Quality.

    Product Quality: 9
    The price is steep, but the handmade quality is worth it. The bell is silent, reliable, and versatile.

    Teaching Quality: 9
    Bruce’s PDF file is amazing. It’s not only educational in how to use Death Toll, but it catches you up to the other spirit bells available on the market. There’s a lot of material here to chew on, and the routines & applications are priceless.

    Performance Practicality: 9
    From the front desk at the hotel you’re staying in, to the creepy abandoned haunted house you ahem… “borrowed” it from, this product lends itself to quite a few different performance styles. It’s versatile applications from stage, to close-up, bizarre, to mentalism will keep the mind awake for long hours trying to come up with more uses for it. This isn’t a prop that will collect dust in your magic drawer.

    Overall Quality: 9
    I don’t give perfect 10’s, but Death Toll has come the closest of anything I’ve reviewed yet to scoring one! This is a masterpiece, and something both Christopher Taylor and Bruce Ballon should be very proud of. I’m almost afraid to publish this review because I selfishly want to keep this thing a secret! If you do Bizarre work, you’ll need one. If you do anything else, you’ll want one. I’d say this product comes highly recommended. Death Toll passes the Draven Seal of Approval with high marks!
  3. This prop definitely looks very powerful indeed. Excellent review! Would you recommend someone my age use this prop? Or do you think it is more situated towards adults? I can imagine this being a very powerful tool if I could find a way for me to use it. Thanks!
  4. #4 William Draven, Apr 5, 2011
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 5, 2011
    I would think the largest issue for a younger person presenting this effect as a spirit effect ala the classic spirit bell Q&A routines etc is overcoming the natural question of how someone so young came to acquire an antique such as this. However if used in more muted was such as the spectator cueing fashion that Christopher Taylor favors I don't think the objection would be met. Of course there is always the answer of buying it off an ebay or estate auction, or finding it in your parents basement/attic that could work. At the end of the day the prop here is very versatile, and I don't see a reason why someone your age couldn't find a use for it.

    Coincidentally, you saw this bell in performance during a recent SNC video I posted.
  5. I would like to know if my age group would be out of context in this presentation of Death Toll:

    I introduce the bell, acting as a yes or no que from a deceased grandfather to keep in contact with him. He pushes and rings the bell for "yes", and taps me on the shoulder for no. I would have a member from the audience select a playing card, and keep it held tight against their body so no one but her can see it. I then place the bell on a table, walk away from it, and turn my back to the participant. I would then ask to have my "deceased grandfather" stand behind me, and face the bell and the participant. While my back is turned, I have the participant show the card to my backside, acting as if they are showing it to my grandfathers ghost. I would then ask the ghost yes or no questions to divine the identity of the card, each time I am correct the ghost would walk over and ring the bell.

    That was a presentation idea that I came up with in a few minutes. Tell me what you think and if it would suit my age group. Thanks!
  6. Just my $0.02:

    I never take anybody seriously as a young performer if they're doing something "spooky" or "mysterious". It kind of kills it because it never goes with their image.
  7. If you were going to use that dead grandfather presentational angle I would definatly stay away from cards.

    There is a whole chapter in Annemann's practical mental effects relating to living and dead tests. I would personally look there first x
  8. Thanks D ICE R! I will definitely look into it! :)
  9. I think it will certainly come down to how you present it, but I think with proper care you should be able to pull it off.
  10. I'd have to argue with your assessment here William. . .

    The Bell I received was in fact Silver/Chrome and hosts a hunk of plastic on the bottom roughly an inch thick... ugly brown (poop colored) plastic.

    I've posted reviews on this device on two sites which I'll assume, prompted this one as a kind of "counter-point". Fact is, from a magic designer's point of view, the prop does not stand-up; it is about as deceptive as a neon light with next to no effort being made by the designer to disguise the component chamber. . . and that includes the very flimsy mylar trap on the bottom that give you access to the workings, that is secured by a couple of pins and some very weak magnets.

    Since receiving my bell I've had to throw nearly $100.00 into it, just to make it come off as half-way deceptive and looking more like something that came from an old bookstore or some such place, that would be logical when it comes to any sort of ghostly tale of possession or even Spiritualist intrigue. It has likewise taken well over four months of experimenting to get the device to what I and most of the pros that have seen it before & after consider to be "performance ready"

    To add insult to injury, there was absolutely no pride in the packaging; had I not taken my time going through the packing material, I'd not found all the parts that go with the unit, it was as if "they" couldn't be bothered with taking a bit more time, investing in some simple generic product boxes and maybe some labels, to show the patron that they are respected as well as the prop in question. . . especially when you consider the asking price

    The method of operation -- the technology -- is in deed superb. I absolutely love the controls and also love the fact that it DOES NOT use magnets (which is the big assumption). I did have one recent, rather comical experience however. . .

    I'm one of the founders of the New England Seance Circle; a group of professional Seance & Haunted Event type programs that include the famed "Trinity" group and noted members of the ICBM as well as the UK based Immortals and PSYCRETS fellowships. Last month we all brought in variations to the Spirit Bell. One of the guys just demonstrated an OUTLAW piece as I went into Death Toll. . . the spirits really were with us in that each cue for my bell had his going off as well. . .

    The Moral of the Story Is. . . make certain your equipment frequencies don't mate-up with others you may find yourself working with, be it another performer or a second prop.

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