Almost as famous as the Pull a Rabbit out of My Hat trick, this death-defying Stage Magician trick involves a pretty woman (usually the magician's Lovely Assistant) being placed into a coffin-sized lidded wooden box, with a neck-hole in the top and ankle-holes in the bottom. Then, producing a large floppy hand-saw, the magician proceeds to saw through the box, through the woman's midsection, and through the table on which the box is resting. After that, the magician shoves in a pair of bizarre rectangular blades (sometimes called dividers) through the middle.
Then, if nothing unseemly has happened at this point, the magician pushes away the two halves of the table, possibly rotates them around (but carefully not showing the sawn ends to the audience) and moves them together again. And then the woman steps out of the reunited box, all in one piece, to the relief and applause of the audience.
Modern variants of the trick often skip the saw and use the rectangular blades instead, which are shoved in side by side. This has the advantage of allowing the magician to show the "cut" ends to the audience. Because it's a Discredited Trope by now (the secret has been explained on countless occasions), a Stage Magician who tries this is pretty much required to have some kind of special or unique variation if he wants to be taken seriously.
Sometimes, the second rectangular blade can get stuck and the magician will pull on the head of the assistant, causing the blade to fall. This is used as a joke on several occasions. A few magicians who love their Black Comedy may have some 'unusual' embellishments to the act: The assistant may fake falling unconscious, shriek when the blades go through her, and on some rare occassions the blades they use have fake "bloodstains" on them when they are withdrawn from the boxes during the restoration. A few might even add fake blood fountains gushing out dramatically as part of the act. Sometimes the dividers get stuck, and the magician has to either take hold of her head or feet and pull, although this gimmick is usually considered tired and is often parodied instead of played straight (at least one version of this black comedy element has the girl able to force the dividers to rise in their slots by straining really hard out of indignation at the magician's rudeness at pulling her hair to get the dividers unstuck).
The reasons for its notoriety are explained in detail by The Other Wiki.
Other stage illusions closely related to this classic include the Zig-Zag Lady (Where the girl in the box is divided by having the box slide apart along several pre-determined division points, producing a signature zig-zag shape) and Mis-made Girl (Where the Girl goes into a box that is divided into four parts and the magician initially "accidentally" scrambles her during the first attempt at restoration).
If someone actually gets cut in half, he's Half the Man He Used to Be.
- A GEICO commercial has an inept magician and his assistant in a hospital waiting room; her top half is in one seat, and her legs are in another seat.
- Done in an M&M's commercial with Red as the magician and Yellow as the (unwilling) assistant.
- This commercial for Shaw Cable on Demand has an Expy of The Little Mermaid as the Lovely Assistant after a wizard saws her in half. Only problem is, his movie is called "on demand" and he vanishes (unwillingly) before he can restore her.
- A Spanish advertisement for shoes where a female magician is performing the illusion and chooses a woman from the audience to participate. Just as the volunteer is placed and strapped in the box, the female magician notices her shoes and becomes overtaken by envy, and the last shot we see is the magician starting the chainsaw, threatening to saw off the woman's feet.
- Done in Cat Soup only that the magician actually kills the woman and chops her into pieces before putting her together and reviving her with true magic.
- Implied in Digimon: The Movie. Kari tells Tai she can't leave her friend's birthday party because she volunteered to be sawed in half by a magician. Tai warns her to tell the half with feet to hurry home.
- Case Closed: Discussed Trope, where the setup for the "insert blades into a vertical box from the side" version is explained as "it's actually three lovely assistants", and the existence of multiple suspects theorized as the solution for the mystery of the week.
- In Les Femmes en blanc, a surgeon uses laser surgery to operate on his patient, but accidentally cuts his body in half. The patient, who is still alive, says his life is screwed up, and the last panel shows him as working as a magician's partner for this sawing magic trick.
- In The Sandman #26, Cain and Abel do a version of the trick to entertain Morpheus' guests; like all interactions between the two, it ends very badly for Abel.
- The non-serious 34th issue of Marvel Comics' What If? series proposes an alternate reality where Doctor Strange and associates were this kind of magicians instead of arcane sorcerers. Baron Mordo's betrayal of the Ancient One is interpreted as him performing his latest trick; sawing the Ancient One in half!
- A single-panel cartoon in Plop! #23 depicts two paramedics walking alongside a morose-looking magician while carrying his assistant on a stretcher - still inside the box, with the saw sticking out of the middle.
- The title character in "The Mad Magician" in The Haunt of Fear #1 kidnaps people to use in his experiments on really sawing someone in half.
- In Charles Alexander Tompkins Remus mentions the time the Marauders did a Muggle magic show for a Hogwarts talent competition and sawed Peter Pettigrew in half. It took Madame Pomfrey two weeks to put him together again.
- In the opening of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Harmony starts screaming as she's cut in half, but when they open the box, she's fine. "I'm going to be an actress."
- In Beetlejuice, one of the ghosts at the afterlife waiting room is a magician's assistant who did not survive being sawed in half.
- In Leprechaun 3, the titular villain kills Fazio the magician (in front of a live audience) by doing this 'trick' (except for real, guts and all).
- In the film Houdini (based very loosely on the life of Harry Houdini) Harry brings a "saw a woman in half" kit home, wakes his wife, and makes her get in. A Jump Cut happens as he's sawing, so he didn't do any "trick"; he just sawed, and she was OK.
- Attempted by the protagonists at the end of Road to Zanzibar.
- In Follow the Boys, Orson Welles saws an upright Marlene Dietrich in half through a small box, and her legs run off.
- It's how one performer meets her end in the Joan Crawford vehicle Berserk.
- This was old hat at least as far back as 1931 and Skippy, in which two kids put on a backyard variety show for the neighborhood kids. When they get to the saw-a-kid-in-half trick, the kid playing the legs gets scared of the blade and runs off, ruining the trick.
- The 2000 movie Picking Up The Pieces has magician Tex (Woody Allen) do this to his Lovely Assistant Candy (Sharon Stone, who played an unfaithful wife) and it's how she dies when it Goes Horribly Wrong.
- This is one of the magician Montag's signature tricks in The Wizard of Gore. The effect was accomplished via creative use of a sheep carcass.
- In Discworld, the coat-of-arms of the Guild of Conjurers shows a woman, with a saw-toothed bend dividing the image in half.
- In The Portable Door by Tom Holt, the head of a firm of (real) magicians does this to the assistant of a business rival at his son's birthday party. He then explains to his competitor that he'll leave her to die if he doesn't get his way.
- The Robert Bloch short story "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" has a magician's wife, who acts as his assistant, manipulate a mentally challenged young homeless man into murdering her husband by convincing him that the magic is real sorcery and the magician sold his soul to Satan, so there's no moral qualm about killing him. After the murder the young man decides to see if the magical power is still there in the magician's wand and decides to test it using the woman and the magician's buzzsaw finale... Adapted into an infamous episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents (see below).
- The Agatha Christie novel They Do It With Mirrors features a lot of discussion of this trick and how it is done. Although no one actually performs the trick during the novel, Miss Marple realizes that the killer's method of murder used a very similar trick.
- The first Red Dwarf novel had Kryten do this to himself for the crew of the Nova 5 every week after the crash. Subverted in that he really does saw himself in half and takes forty five minutes to reconnect all his circuitry afterwards.
- In "The Scrambled States of America Talent Show," Minnesota does this to South Dakota for his act. Near the end of the book, North Dakota explained to Montana and Wyoming how the trick really went: He was folded up in one half of the box, and South Dakota was folded up in the other.
- The cover of some editions of Al Jaffee's MAD Book of Magic and Other Stupid Tricks features an illustration of a magician sawing a woman in half. Lengthwise.
- The Bullshit! version of this involved a large buzzsaw, followed by seemingly revealing the trick as they usually do: however, they then proceeded to double subvert it by "accidentally" sawing the woman in half with the safety methods disabled, complete with lots of fake blood and screaming.
- For UK tropers, this version of the trick appeared on Penn & Teller: Fool Us.
- Penn and Teller have also performed the traditional version of the trick underwater for a magic special.
- One of the contestants on Penn & Teller: Fool Us, David Caserta, performs a version with two notable variations from the standard. One is that he cuts himself in half. The other is that instead of a wooden box, the trick is performed while he stands in an open-sided metal scaffold. It's still a safe bet that his detached lower half is a dummy, but it's a lot harder to figure out where his real lower half has gone.
- Parodied in Monty Python's Flying Circus. "Last week I showed you how to saw a woman in half. This week I'll be showing you how to saw a woman in three pieces and hide the body."
- An episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents was made from the Robert Bloch story "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" (see Literature above). Notably, this was the only episode the network refused to run (it turned up in syndication).
- An episode of Dinosaurs parodied the Judgment of Solomon, presenting the Solomon figure as a razzle-dazzle magician who cuts the baby in half using a version of this trick.
- Done in an episode of Quantum Leap. Don't worry, Sam was told every step by the assistant.
- The Muppet Show did this twice:
- In one episode, Wanda sings the titular line of "You Do Something to Me" while Wayne saws the box she's occupying in half. Apparently, it cut...
- In another, Fozzie attempts the trick with a substitute lady, namely, a comedy robot in a wig. The effect on Fozzie was rather shocking.
- Harry Blackstone, during a guest appearance on Reading Rainbow, hypnotized LeVar Burton and cut through him, apparently without even severing one part of Burton from the other.
- In Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Cousin Mortimer saws Hilda in half. Things go awry when Hilda's legs run off.
- Mentioned and used on Arrested Development. In this case, Gob explains how the trick works to his brother... and a nearby kid overhears it.
- The live-action version of The Flash (1990) has Mark Hamill playing an Ax-Crazy version of one of the more prominent Rogues, the Trickster. Before adopting the Trickster identity, James Jesse (in the identity of a magician) kidnaps a woman and attempts to saw her in half...with a chainsaw.
Jesse: Other magicians may give you the illusion of sawing a woman in half... (produces the chainsaw and slices through a nearby mannequin) ...but there's no substitute for the real thing!
- Spoofed by Ernie Kovacs in a 1950s appearance as Matzoh Heppelwhite, the inept magician. He asks the visible model whether she is ready, and she chirpily responds, "Ready!" — but is quickly followed by a second, muffled "Ready!" from within the lower half of the box.
- In CSI NY, a serial murderer magician, played by Criss Angel, commits his crimes in mockery of magic tricks. He kills one of his victims by sawing her in half for real.
- This was Fran and Gracie's talent performance for the mother/daughter pageant in The Nanny. Due to a bad initial run (Fran was stuck for hours), they changed it to a puppet show.
- Byker Grove has two girls get sawn in half on the same box with the girl's feet sticking right beside the other girl's head.
- Happens for real with Trish by her brother in the Austin & Ally episode "Club Owners & Quinceaneras".
- Mock the Week, "Unlikely Things to Hear on a TV Talent Show"
Hugh Dennis: When you - when you said you were gonna saw a woman in half...I thought you were a magician.
- A lumberjack once tried to hit El Chapulín Colorado with an axe but a witch interfered. Until he was made one again, his legs walked around while the rest of him kept floating in air.
- Israeli sitcom Quickie, a sitcom about (mostly) Ethical Slut Roni and timid Nice Guy Ya'ir living together, featured an episode with this as a recurring theme. Roni's new boyfriend, a magician, agrees to tell her how to pull this trick, despite this meaning going against the Magicians' Union (which, according to the Local Hangout bar's owner, are 'worse than the Shabak'). She proceeds to tell Ya'ir, who later tells his boss, who was always baffled by it, when she says that he can keep his job in the round of layoffs the company is going through. Every time someone explains it, there is some sort of background noise obscuring the explanation, but the camera shows their lips moving and their hands gesturing (so you can read their lips if you can lip-read in Hebrew). At the end of the episode, representatives of the Magicians' Union show up and gravely ask to see Roni's loose-lipped lover.
- Warren Zevon's For my Next Trick I'll Need a Volunteer compares the singer's unlucky in love romantic history with that of a stage magician, including a centrally placed Saw A Woman In Half reference:
"I can saw a woman in two
But you won't want to look in the box when I'm through
I can make love disappear
For my next trick I'll need a volunteer"
- Alice Cooper has a variant of this trick involving his own head and a guillotine. When he performed this on stage in Britain in 1974, incorporating a variant of the "getting it tragically wrong" gambit, excitable British Newspapers ran with the story that he'd killed himself on stage.
- This particular trick was discussed on Martin/Molloy after a TV special where magician David Copperfield seemingly cut himself in half, with the hosts noting how David Copperfield's lower half seemed much shorter than it should have been. This was followed by a discussion of the poor man scrunched up in the bottom of the box, and what a terrible job being David Copperfield's arse would be, eventually describing it as "the worst job in show business".
- Animal Crackers:
Spaulding: We will now saw a woman in half. Did you ever saw a woman in half?
Ravelli: No, but I saw a woman in strange quarters.
Spaulding: Well, that's another section. Now, Mrs. Rittenhouse, if you'll kindly step this way, we will proceed to sever you from head to toe.
- In Celebration, at the end of the first act, Potekmin reminisces on his former career as a Stage Magician, working for nearly seven years with 23 different partners on the routine of sawing a woman in half, which would have given his act the big finish it desperately needed. What he learned was that the sawing part was easy, but the second half, putting her back together, was hard.
- One of the live performances of Bottom has Richie and Eddie recounting their short lived variety act, The Great Arsehole and Norman wherein they sawed a "volunteer" in half. Of course, Richie overlooked the joining back together again.
- Israeli playwright Khanokh Levin wrote a skit about a man demanding that the magician who sawed his wife in half put her back together, while the magician claims it's not his job. Finally, the man says that of course it is, because:
Man: I can saw my wife in half, too!
Magician: No need to, I already did.
- Rank 4 in No More Heroes is a stage magician who fights Travis at his show; before the fight, one of the two tricks he does involves cutting a woman in half — with a buzzsaw. He later uses the saw in an attempt to bisect Travis vertically and it plays a role in his own demise.
- The Tale of Orpheo's Curse, a point-and-click adventure game, has one ghost who has suffered from the trick and now has a wandering bottom half as a result.
- In Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge, if you close the coffin on Stan and try to use the saw on the coffin, Guybrush will say, "I'm no magician."
- In Sam & Max: Freelance Police Season One, the season finale takes place in a magician's lair with various tricks around the place. Saving the day involves taking the saw from the saw-a-woman-in-half trick and using it to saw through something else instead.
- In Dead Rising 2, there are a pair of magicians attempting to perfect this trick. They have a giant circular saw, a woman strapped to a table, and a complete misunderstanding of how the trick is supposed to work. It doesn't end well.
- Played for laughs at Sullah's Sideshow in World of Warcraft. Two NPCs are practicing the trick with a box containing two pygmies. When the first saws too slowly, the other attacks with a flashy blow, shattering the box and killing both pygmies.
- In Midnight Mysteries: Haunted Houdini Bess Houdini's ghost is the subject of the trick.
- In MySims Agents, if you send Beebee on the "The Prominence" mission, The Amazing Darryl wants to do this trick with her, and you can advise for or against it. Apparently, it tickles her.
- In Sakura Wars 3, Coquelicot performs this trick, which she calls the "frightening human bisecting magic," using Erica Fontaine. Rather than a handsaw, Coquelicot uses an electric buzzsaw to do so; Erica is unsurprisingly freaked.
- Note: It's never explained whether it was a trick done on Erica or if Erica really was sawn in half and just got better.
- Pucca: It happened to Clown, who was showing just as much skepticism as Daffy did.
- Homestar Runner: In the Strong Bad Email magic trick, Strong Bad is asked to create a magic show, including putting Homestar himself in a box and taking a saw to him. As enthusiastic as he is about it, however, he doesn't quite seem to recognize the reference to the classic trick; when he finally attempts to take a saw to Homestar, he's got him standing upright, wearing a cardboard box with a pair of unconvincing fake arms attached to it. The arms fall off prematurely, interrupting whatever he had in mind, but it's enough to convince Coach Z that he's "a Level 3 Dark Wizard" all the same.
Coach Z: That saw didn't even touch him! He's pure evil!
- In the Happy Tree Friends episode "I Get a Trick Out of You", Lumpy attempts to pull off this trick on Cuddles, but unfortunately... it doesn't end well.
- Riff from Sluggy Freelance tries this using inter-dimensional portals to make the trick work. Things don't go exactly as planned.
- In Faux Pas, sawing him in half is one technique Brisbaine suggests for getting out of the well.
- Gynette from Stubble Trouble did this trick in a magic show, the real trick being that she can separate her body parts at will.
- Precocious: Tiffany does the single most unconvincing version in history, featuring one of her younger siblings, who is less than half the height of the box their feet are supposed to be sticking out of the bottom of.
- Used hilariously in the Looney Tunes short "Show Biz Bugs", in which Daffy Duck is not intimidated by the whole scenario because he thinks it's all a trick (in fact, he even describes the trick's mechanics to the audience in the process). Cue Daffy's upper body detaching from his lower body. "It's a good thing I have Blue Cross."
- Another Warner Bros. cartoon had Egghead (a precursor to Elmer Fudd) going on about how fake the trick was as he volunteered for it. At the end of the trick, Egghead jumps out and walks away... with his upper and lower halves going in opposite directions.
- The Daffy version of the gag ends up being redone on Tiny Toon Adventures, but this time with Montana Max.
- The Woody Woodpecker short, "The Great Who-Dood-it", opened with Woody cutting a woman in half with a two-man crosscut saw, and stopping in horror when the woman screams.
- When Garfield and Jon visit a magic shop, the shop owner's dog, Merlin, chases Garfield while Jon is looking for a trick. At one point, Merlin is tricked into entering such a box, and Garfield sets to sawing the box in half. Sure enough, despite fretting on the part of Merlin, the box and Merlin are halved without injury to the latter.
- In the episode focused on Garfield doing shows at the fence, he asked Nermal to enter a box. Nermal was afraid Garfield would do this trick but Garfield wouldn't want "two" Nermals. Garfield just sent him to Abu Dhabi as usual.
- The Mask: The Mask gets sawn, even having the guts to walk out of the box in two.
- This was also done by The Pink Panther in one of the skits of "Pink Outs".
- There is another instance where the Pink Panther botches up the trick by himself. (e.g., seen in the trailer for the German edition)
- The Scooby-Doo Show:
- In "Scared a Lot in Camelot", Shaggy and Scooby volunteered for one of these tricks after the magician offered them two free dinners.
- In the Phyllis Diller episode of The New Scooby-Doo Movies, Shaggy and Scooby were hiding in one of these boxes when the magician did this trick. When Shaggy's head comes out, so do Scooby's feet. Then they switch ends.
- "Hassle in the Castle" has Velma freaking out as she sees Shaggy in a crate being sawed in half with the lower half walking out. But she then sees the head is a dummy and Shaggy himself was scrunched down in the other half.
- In Futurama, where Bender tries to become a magician, he saws Zoidberg in half with human feet sticking out of the opposite end where upon he opens the case, and reveals that he has not been really sawn in half, much to Bender's detriment, and to the disapointment of the rest of the crew.
- Used by Teen Titans villain Mumbo in his barrage of magic tricks-turned-deadly. He actually calls for a lovely assistant from the audience and yanks Starfire down with a cane. As he prepares to perform the "trick", he adds:
Mumbo: It's only fair to warn you... I Have No Idea What I'm Doing.
- Invoked in an episode of Animaniacs, where the Warners end up in Transylvania, which of course means an encounter with a vampire. Toward the end of the short, he's sealed himself in his coffin, and Wakko uses a chainsaw to get him out. After Wakko cuts the coffin in half, the vampire's head pokes out of one half, and his feet from the other. Embarrassed, Wakko quickly slaps the halves back together.
- The plot of an episode of CatDog is that the titular pair are separated by this trick, but the magician is pulled away before he can reunite them. The pair at first enjoy their newfound freedom before trying to find a way to re-attach themselves. The episode ended with the magician revealing that they weren't separated at all, and the Cat half was just an inflated balloon (who somehow talked?). Then they separate for real in the last second.
- This is done to Barney Rubble on The Flintstones while he's hypnotized. The magician doing the trick shows Fred (and the audience) how it's done — Barney is in the top half bent in two, and the bottom half has fake legs.
- An episode of Ruby Gloom had Skull Boy doing this to Iris. She spends most of the rest of the episode in two halves because Skull Boy gets amnesia and forgets the combination for the lock.
- Inspector Gadget once wondered whether evil magician Gambini would do it to him.
- In The Simpsons episode "Homer Defined", Milhouse is forbidden to see Bart because Bart's a bad influence on him and Bart looks back on some old photos of them together. One of them has Bart preparing to saw Milhouse in half; the next shows Milhouse with a scar in his chest.
- In The Little Rascals episode "Alfalfakazam!", this is one of the acts in Spanky's magic show. His "assistant" is actually Buckwheat and Porky in a Totem Pole Trench.
- In a Hey Arnold! episode, Arnold tries doing this to Gerald during a montage of trying to come up with an act they can perform in the talent show. As Arnold is sawing, a ripping sound is heard, and once Gerald is out of the box, he shows a big tear in his shirt.
- In an episode of The Smurfs, King Jerard was holding auditions for a new court magician (to replace the one he threw in jail in a previous episode); the applicant shown ("the Amazing Manfred") did this trick during his interview, but wasn't able to put his assistant back together. Naturally, he didn't get the job, and as he was kicked out, his angry — and still cut in two — assistant told him she was quitting.
- In the Kaeloo episode "Let's Play Magicians", Mr. Cat finds a new way to torment Quack Quack while putting on a magic show: picking him as an assistant for this trick. After sawing Quack Quack in half, he also sticks a bunch of knives into him. When asked how he did the trick, he responds with "There is no trick!".
- The Little Lulu short Hullaba-Lulu features a circus ringmaster sawing a woman in half. Lulu tickles the feet on the bottom half, and the top half reacts accordingly.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: In "Uncommon Bond", Trixie attempts to practice this trick on herself, but the legs sticking out of the box clearly belong to a dummy.
- In ThePowerpuffGirls episode Abracadaver, the titular villain traps some people in saw-in-half boxes complete with saws hovering over the boxes, cutting them. He soon uses this on Buttercup in retaliation for punching him to a wall.
- P.T. Selbit is credited as the first magician to saw a woman in half. The page picture is referred as a classic "thin model" sawing.
- Legless performer Johnny Eck (who was also one of the most memorable characters in Freaks) participated in a variant of this act where his nearly identical twin brother (who had legs) would be the ringer called up for the trick — and during the act, Johnny and a dwarf in pants would be substituted so that the "volunteer" would fall into two pieces on stage. Freaked audiences out, you bet!
- Criss Angel has since done a variant of the same trick with a legless woman. And himself.
- David Copperfield did a version where he cut himself in half with a giant circular saw. The trick was set-up as an escape stunt gone wrong—he was supposed to escape from the box before the saw cuts through it, but the saw malfunctions, drops prematurely, and cuts him in half. For further variation, his top half then completes the escape, before seemingly making the box close up again on its own and reversing the cutting sequence, with no assistants involved in any stage save locking him in to begin with. He also did a lengthwise sawing of a lady.
- This particular trick was discussed on an episode of the Martin/Molloy radio show, with the hosts noting how David Copperfield's lower half seemed much shorter than it should have bee. This was followed by a discussion of the poor man scrunched up in the bottom of the box, and what a terrible job being David Copperfield's arse would be.
- The 1982 Night of 100 Stars gave us an interesting spin on this trope. Doug Henning did this to two beautiful assistants (Florence Henderson and Priscilla Lopez) within the same segment. When it came time to put them back together again, Henning gave the ladies each other's bottom halves. (Henderson is white and Lopez is Puerto Rican, and the two were wearing different colored outfits to boot.)
- Penn Jillette once expressed disdain for this trick since it apparently doesn't require any actual skill, "you just stand behind the machine and don't fuck up." In the same breath he stated what the hardest magic trick was: card tricks in a t-shirt.
- Their take on the trick, "Blast Off/Liff Off of Love", runs through it twice: first conventionally, then with transparent boxes to show the amount of dexterity and misdirection needed to make it work.
- There are a few stage magicians who frame this trick as a kind of operation or surgery. One of these routines has it where the magician has to take some foreign object out of his assistant, so after he divides her in two, he removes the dividing blade and "roots around" inside her ribcage. At first he accidentally removes her "heart" briefly before quickly replacing it, and then he removes a noisemaking horn that somehow got stuck inside her, making her unable to stop 'honking' when she was talking to him before the trick began.