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The very first horror movie was not 1896's Le Manoir Du Diable (The
Devil's Castle), in fact, Georges Melies' Un Nuit Terrible that
features a giant insect, is his first production in the horror genre,
anticipating the creature-on-the-loose plots of the fifties. However,
Le Manoir Du Diable is the first film to feature hints of the vampire.
Its running time barely three minutes, and made by and starring Melies.
Looking at it many years later it seems primitive and crude, but it
also displays an imaginative exuberance and joy that makes it one of
film history's little treasures.
The Devil played by Melies himself, has a kind of carnival charm. In a castle, a flying bat turns into the Devil. The Devil makes a cauldron magically appear. He also conjures up a beautiful woman, and an old man carrying a book. Satan then makes cauldron, woman, man, and book disappear. A knight shows up carrying a cross. Our villain clearly panicked, there is a puff of smoke and the Devil is gone.
Because of the brazen, Gothic quality of Le Manoir Du Diable, its brief running time is not a limitation. Serious movie lovers should make the extra effort to get real satisfaction. Go to the "Horror Films" and "Classic Horror Films" Web sites. Read books like " The Satanic Screen: An Illustrated Guide to The Devil in Cinema" by Nikolas Schreck and Allan Hunter's "Chambers Concise Encyclopedia of Film and Television." Find odd-man-out wonders like Le Manoir Du Diable and enjoy horror's timeless feast.
this film, although generally seen as the first horror, was in fact originally intended to amuse rather than scare. its only when you look at it with todays understanding of horror conventions that we see it as such. yes, it does correspond with the whole dark and impending thing and have aspects of the supernatural and creatures that we, as a modern cinema going audience connect automatically with horror, but if you view it as those at the time would have, you start to see that contrary to being a fear inspiring piece, it is actually a very interesting and cleverly put together series of artistic images. also, bearing in mind the level of filmic technology available at the time, is a fairly superior piece, but most definitely not a horror.
This Georges Melies film is one of the very first films to dip into the horror genre. As was usual for a Melies production it's full of visual trickery and invention, while obviously being stagey and crude due to it's incredibly old age. It certainly must be one of the first films to make reference to vampires with its bat that turns into Satan. The simple narrative involves this character manifesting himself in an old castle and then conjuring up a cauldron, a young woman and old man. A heroic knight appears shortly afterwards and thwarts the villain. Like all of Melies films, this one isn't about story-lines. Cinema back in the earliest years of the medium never was. It actually took a while before it became obvious that the medium would even be any good for telling stories. And it took many years for both audience and film-makers to work out how to do it. So these early films like the Melies ones were mainly a means of showcasing visual trickery, a way of letting people see the impossible. Hence their extremely short running times too. But I always sort of marvel at the ingenuity of those guys from over 100 years ago. Right from the offset they had loads of crazy ideas of how to present images in creative and interesting ways. It's well worth any fan of cinema taking a few short minutes of their time out to watch these ancient films, not only because they are the very first primitive twitches of cinema but also because they are fascinating historical documents in themselves.
"Le manoir du diable", which translates to "The House of the Devil",
ironically was produced with the intention to amuse people, not to
scare them. But when it was released on Christmas Eve 1896 in Paris,
scare people it did, granting it the title of the first horror film to
ever be produced.
Running just over three minutes, the short begins with a large bat flying into a medieval castle where it transforms into a demon. The demon prepares a cauldron from which it produces skeletons, witches and ghosts before a man is summoned up to produce a crucifix to chase the demon away.
Georges Méliès, the director of this short, was the first ever titled cinema genius. He pioneered many technical developments in the 19th century and was very innovative in his use of special effects. He would go on to make the infamous "A Trip to the Moon" in 1902, where a spaceship incredibly flies straight into the eye of the 'man on the moon'.
"Le manoir du diable" is actually pretty amazing for it's time. The special effects that Méliès uses are very ahead of their time, making the belief that objects are appearing and disappearing on the screen. A landmark in film, and while it's attentions were not to be, it has acquired the title of being the first horror film ever to be produced.
Okay, I'll admit that this is not a terrific film by many standards. But, and this is important, if you compare it to other films of the era, it's clearly among the very, very best. Back in 1896, most films consisted of babies eating, folks breathing and other 'exciting' activities. There was seldom an attempt to tell a story and special effects consisted of....well, there were no special effects! So, when I see Georges Méliès with his silly bats, imps and devils appearing and disappearing, I can't help but admire him as this is among the first films to even try such 'advanced' special effects. Sure, you might laugh at it now, but audiences of the day were mesmerized as these effects seemed to appear and disappear as if by magic--though it's obvious to folks now that the director simply stopped and re-started the film to achieve the effect. Interesting...and kind of fun.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I'm not interested in retroactively assigning early films to the horror
genre, as others seem to desire by claiming this film, "Le manoir du
diable", as some sort of first horror film or to misunderstand the bat
transformation to devil character here to be a vampire. Rather, this is
another trick film, which Méliès made many of. Mephistopheles is in
quite a few of these, of which this is probably the first.
Mephistopheles is the director-magician's surrogate, allowing a slight
narrative construction around the attraction of substitution-splices
(a.k.a. stop substitutions), as the devil terrorizes a lord/cavalier
with various appearances, disappearances and substitutions. By the way,
I'm quite sure that Méliès plays the Faust-type lord/cavalier character
and not Mephistopheles, despite several sources stating otherwise.
Thus, Méliès plays the victim to the magic perpetrated by himself as
the film's director and editor.
For a film of 1896, this is a rather elaborate fiction subject and production. Most films at this time were actualities of ordinary events, popularized by the Lumiére Company. The only studio had been the "Black Maria" shack, which provided a black background for every production, in addition to the few props the Edison Company occasionally employed. Soon, Méliès would create the first decent movie studio, but for this film, he at least created a makeshift, painted cardboard set in the open air (see the shadows). Nobody else, as of then, had went to such trouble for a movie. Méliès used the same or very similar backdrop and costumes, as well as a related narrative, for "Le Château hanté" (1897). These films were also offered to be hand-colored, which would add to their appeal.
(Note: At this time, most viewers have probably seen this film via the extract available on the Internet, which is taken from the documentary "The Magic of Méliès" (Le magie Méliès) (1997). A more complete version is available on French DVD, which includes the bat transformation at the beginning. According to catalogues, the film originally ended with the devil being bashed into smoke, but this part seems to be lost. It now ends with Méliès holding a cross to corner Mephistopheles.) EDIT: Flicker Alley has now also put this film on DVD in Region 1.
Melies Is Probably One Of The Best Technicians Of Film Ever. In
Comparison With Films Of The Time This Is Probably The Best Film Of The
I Have Seen Melies' More Famous Counterpart "A Trip To The Moon", That Is More Entertaining But This Film Has Less References To Racial Slurs (The Moon Men Are Often Criticised For Being Representations Of Africans) And In This You Don't Question Anyone's Movtives (Seriously Who Takes A Nap The Minute They Get To The Moon?) I Heard This Is Considered The First Vampire Film. Simply, No. The Only Representation Of That Mythology Is Melies' Character Entering As A Bat Then Turning Human, By The Way Named Mephistopheles Who Is A Demon For Those Who Read Up On The Subject.
I Can't Really Find A Downside Besides Its Not Really As Entertaining As It Would've Been 116 Years Ago. Besides That I Thought This Movie Was Well Done Technically.
Overall I Liked It But Not As Much As "A Trip To The Moon"
Le manoir du diable (1896)
*** (out of 4)
aka The House of the Devil
Early Georges Melies trick film has a bat appearing inside a castle when it then transforms into the Devil himself. Soon this creature is using spells to make other creatures come to life. LE MANOIR DU DIABLE is going to be a big interest to those Melies die-hards such as myself but I think horror fans will also get a real kick out of this. To say this isn't one of the earliest examples of a horror film would be rather crazy because not only do we get the Devil and black magic but there are also ghosts, a skeleton and various other ghastly images. When viewed against today's technology I'm sure there are some that might laugh at these effects but once you consider these were being done in 1896 you really can't help but applaud them. Melies was clearly years ahead of everyone else and the effects still hold up quite well today. I really loved how the different people began to appear even though the editing effects are quite obvious. Another nice touch was some of the black comedy thrown in and for just one example check out how the skeleton is used. Another major plus is that Melies plays the main character so well and with such energy.
The opportunity to watch a film from 1896 is astonishing in itself even if the film is the same repeated magic trick and edits. I wouldn't call it comic per say like a view of the previous reviewers thought but a film to try and get a thrill out of an audience. Georges Melies with his little gem may have kick started the horror genre to a place it may not be at with this type of movie. House of the Devil has horror elements and essentials such as ghosts, witches, skeletons and the devil himself in form of a bat. It's an easy three minute watch, with some cool tricks, but its nothing too extraordinary. Take a look if you want to watch something very old and neat from a time way way forgotten.
It's simply INCREDIBLE what magic Georges Melies - a real-life trained
magician - was able to bring to the screen in those very early days of
cinema; and "Le Manoir Du Diable" was his first great masterpiece of
special effects that must have absolutely baffled the audience at the
time. And it's also the VERY first attempt at a new genre: the HORROR
The way ghosts and devils and people disappear and reappear, the sudden flame bursts, menaces lurking literally everywhere - it's REAL magic. And there's even an underlying sense of humor, which is so characteristic for Melies' fantasy, sci-fi, and horror shorts; VERY few people have contributed as much to the development of cinema as an ART form as Georges Melies - and this unique masterpiece, born in the 19th (!!) century, is one of the best examples for his genius!
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