There is something inherently creepy about movie magicians. Maybe it is because their profession requires trickery; maybe it is because more often than not, they are employing some sort of otherworldly evil. Either way, a magician in a movie is almost always up to no good. We've conjured up five mad movie magicians to amaze you.
Wizard of Gore (1970)
Herschell Gordon Lewis's gore classic explores the idea of what is real and what is illusion - with plenty of nubile ingenues and gobs of gore, of course. Montag the Magnificent is a magician who performs seemingly impossible dismemberment illusions on unsuspecting female audience members. The women return to their seats, unscathed and impressed - but suffer the deadly fate of the illusion once home. If they were cut up with a chainsaw, their body would be split apart as if sawn through. If lit on fire, the girl would burn to death. A reporter in the audience begins to investigate, and the fabric of reality is called into question with a number of twists and turns. It's quite cerebral for an H.G. Lewis grinder - which is likely the draw that led to a remake in 2007.
Bloodsucking Freaks (1976)
The Grand Guinol theater run by Sardu doesn't specifically feature magic, but audiences believe Sardu to be an illusionist, and the film is considered to have been inspired by The Wizard of Gore. A more violent, sadistic Wizard of Gore. Sardu is the ringleader of torture shows in a semi-legit underground Soho theater. What the audience thinks are horrible, vile scenes of trickery and illusion are actually real. Sardu's victims are strung up on medieval torture devices, dismembered, electrocuted, and (my personal favorite) a human dartboard (the girl's asshole is the bullseye). Turns out Sardu is a white slave trafficker, keeping women in degrading, feral states. Frequently deemed one of the most disturbing, despicable, controversial films of all time, Bloodsucking Freaks was the title it was given when Troma distributed the flick on home video in the late 1980s; its working title was Sardu: Master of the Screaming Virgins, then the far catchier The Incredible Torture Show during its theatrical run.
Excelsior! Prince of Magicians (1901)
Georges Melies was a magician before he started the magic of making movies. His films featured special effects that are still pretty impressive to this day. While Excelsior! isn't actually a horror film, Melies pioneered monster movies, so he gets a pass. There isn't really a plot in this short - it's just Melies doing magic - but it is one of the first examples of magicians in cinema.
Lord of Illusions (1995)
"His best trick is the truth."
Like so many films about magicians, Lord of Illusions focuses on the line between illusions and real magic. Swann is a big Hollywood illusionist who was once the disciple of a sadistic occult leader named Nix. Swann's illusions are real magic, thanks to Nix's black arts. Of course, things don't always go according to plan, and Swann is killed on stage by a spectacularly malfunctioning illusion: he spins one direction on a giant Lazy Susan, while swords spin in the opposite direction above. The swords are supposed to miss Swann's limbs and organs by inches, but this is a Clive Barker movie, so they don't - and no one stops the show until all the swords have fallen.
The Prestige (2006)
Not to be confused with the far-less interesting The Illusionist, which came out a month earlier, The Prestige explores the idea of using science and fact to create magic. Most uses of magic in horror films and thrillers focus on supernatural and occult powers used to create fantastic tricks that are shrugged off as skilled and amazing illusions. The Prestige focuses on two rival magicians, each who spend a lifetime trying to outdo one another; each destroys their own lives in pursuit of the ultimate illusion. Alfred Borden (played by Christian Bale) sacrifices his own identity in pursuit of the perfect illusion, while Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman), so desperate to beat Borden at his own game, enlists the help of mad scientist Nikola Tesla (David Bowie) to recreate Borden's illusion - with tragic results.