Everybody loves splendidly diabolical pranks, especially if they double as ingenious publicity stunts. In the era of viral videos, the bar has been raised: real ingenuity goes way beyond the old whoopie cushion or fake-piece-of-sh*t on the floor gag. Some of the tricks on this list are complex masterpieces; serious mindf*cks that deserve a place in the annals of extremely elaborate pranks people actually pulled off. Here you'll find scary pranks, terrifying pranks, and crazy practical jokes. And not all of them are contemporary. Orson Welles's famous "War of the Worlds" broadcast, for instance, will be remembered forever.
So, whether your poison is an alarmingly realistic baby spitting regurgitated milk at passersby, a drowned horror icon crawling out of a television set, or just a violent murder witnessed in a run-of-the-mill parking lot in the dead of night, read on.
Nobody really knows why this rather controversial, and definitely genuinely terrifying, prank was devised, but you can't deny it's goddamn brilliant (albeit ill-advised and cruel). Two regular people walking to their car in an underground parking garage are suddenly assailed by the sound of someone screaming for help. Then a torso, trailing entrails, crawls toward them. After that, a blood-splattered Leatherface lunges at them from the shadows, wielding a chainsaw. (Others see all of this as the garage elevator slides open to welcome them in the dead of night.)
The thing with this prank is, in addition to potentially giving someone a heart attack, you run a high risk of being shot in self defense (in the United States, at least). But there's something to be said for going out with a bang.
Can you shock a reckless sod into not driving drunk? This pub restroom prank (which was turned into a widely circulated, much admired PSA) made a grotesquely epic effort to do so. Shot "on location" in a London bar, the prank featured mirrors shattering (complete with copious gouts of blood) every time someone glanced into them as they washed their hands, post-piss.
The brilliance of the prank, which was funded by the UK Department of Public Transportation, didn't stop there. After the mirror shattered, a decapitated mannequin head crashed through and got stuck in the glass. The head is accompanied by the sounds of a car crash, to give the effect of a driver careening into a pedestrian.
In all fairness to the terrified people in the video, most of them probably thought they were being shot at from behind, in the first split second; but, as the old saying goes, hindsight is 20/20.
This Exorcist spider-walk prank, devised by the Viral Brothers, is considerably more whimsical and good-natured than many of the other tricks here, if only because it's easy to figure out that it is just a prank early on (What else could it be? Everybody knows a pea-soup splattered Linda Blair when they see her.) Set in dingy subway stations, lonely underpasses, deserted roads under flickering street lamps, and dark parks where people walk their dogs alone at night, it features a white nightgown clad Regan doing her thing as unsuspecting viewers double back, scream, run, and generally descend into mayhem.
This fiendish set up accompanied the release of 2002's The Ring, which would go on to become one of the most successful horror remakes (of 1998's Ringu) ever. As Time Magazine explains it, the prank entailed
"... building a fake wall inside a real store in upstate New York, then covering it in televisions... hidden behind one of the lower screens was a hidden compartment where an actress dressed up like the creepy Samara would emerge to scare customers, riffing on the premise of The Ring's video viewings."
As anyone watching the above video can see, the effect was marvelous. Talk about breaking the fourth (or would this be the fifth?) wall.