The Birth of Terror Georges Méliès’ “The House of the Devil”

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Since the development of motion pictures in 1878, we’ve been entranced by the medium. In 1888, the first official “movie” was made and at just 2.11 seconds long, the “Roundhay Garden Scene” quickly showed the capabilities of the technology. By 1895, motion pictures were well on their way to entertaining the masses.

In 1896, visionary Georges Méliès purchased his first Animatograph (a very early version of a movie camera) for his theatre troupe. Immediately, he was captivated by movie-making and went on to produce more than 500 groundbreaking films. Méliès was the father of special effects and the first to use substitution splices, multiple exposures, time-lapse photography, dissolves, and hand-painted color. He also gave us the very first horror movie with 1897’s “Le Manoir du Diable” or “The House of the Devil.”

At just over three minutes long, the film showcases a variety of tropes we associate with horror today such as bats, skeletons, witches and cauldrons, evil sorcerers and possibly the first vampire (in the movie, a dark wizard changes into a bat and fears the cross). While tame and even silly by today’s standards, the effects used in it, coming a mere nine years after the first two-second movie, are indeed revolutionary. Audiences in the late 1800s were frightened and amazed having never seen anything like it.

Georges Méliès went on to produce more terror in the years to follow with “A Terrible Night” (in it, a man wrestles a giant spider), “A Nightmare” (the first dream sequence in film), “The Bewitched Inn,” and others.

So, when you hunker down with your favorite movie snack in anticipation of some Halloween chills, pay a little homage to the man who started it all with nothing but a single camera, a cardboard set and his genius. (All of the Méliès’ movies mentioned above are available to view on YouTube and other such websites.)

Have a frighteningly Happy Halloween!

 

 

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