Tuesday, May 02, 2017

The House Of The Devil (1896)


DIRECTOR: Georges Méliès

WRITER: Georges Méliès


Georges Méliès
Jeanne d'Alcy
Jules-Eugene Legris


A king comes upon a castle that houses the devil and his supernatural creatures.

Georges Méliès was a French illusionist and film director. He was most well-known and famous for leading many of the technical developments in the earliest days of cinema. He was also known for being the person who was the innovator of special effects. He popularised techniques such as time-lapse photography, substitution splices, multiple exposures, and dissolves. To deny that he is one of the most prolific figures in cinema would be an injustice. We probably wouldn't have as many of the things that we do in films today if it wasn't for this man.

Going into The House Of The Devil which is also known as The Haunted Castle or The Devil's Castle depending on what country it was released in, it is said to be the very first horror film by a lot of film historians. As part of my trip back to the beginning of the genre, I was excited to see what this short would offer. When it comes to Georges Méliès, I am aware of his images and visuals such as A Trip To The Moon. It is such an iconic image that he was known for delivering surreal images that amazed audiences. I expected nothing less from The House Of The Devil.

At just a short three minutes and sixteen seconds, The House Of The Devil is more of a comedic theatre production than a straight-up horror film. While this short is littered with horror-centric ghouls and goblins, you won't find many scares or horror here. But for an audience back in the late 1800's, this may have dazzled and frightened them in equal measures. This feels very theatrical and fun. I had a lot more fun with this than The Execution Of Mary Stuart which felt more in line with horror than this short film.

When it comes to the visuals, it was exactly what I expected. Lots of grainy imagery, a lot of use of puffs of smoke with characters disappearing and reappearing. It was a lot of illusion and trick photography being used, and I really enjoyed it. You can't deny that while being of low quality these days, it's still wondrous to witness where this all began. I was more entertained with this short than with most comedy movies I watch these days, and that says a lot about how terrible the comedy genre has become. The same can be said about a lot of horror films.

The acting is hard to really criticise because being a silent film, we are more focused on the visuals more than the performances. But watching the devil prance around in his costume and poking the king in the bum with a pitchfork and the reactions are a lot of fun to watch. We even have goofs of a man in a white sheet who is meant to be a ghost running into a wall, and you can see the castle wall set piece almost fall over. I love that these little mistakes are left in the short film because it gives them their own unique little quirks.



- No violence or gore in this short film.

For what is deemed as the world's first horror film from most historians, this plays more like a fantastical, theatrical comedy. This feels almost like a pantomime more than a scary horror film. I'm sure back in the late eighteen hundreds that this would have amazed and scared people in equal measures. This was a joy to watch, and you can't deny that 
Georges Méliès really was a visionary. For my first taste of George Méliès, it was a delight to witness.

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