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June 16, 2012

Silent Screams: The House of the Devil (1896)

The House of the Devil (Le Manoir de Diable) is considered to be the first horror film ever made. Until the existence of others are verified, though, George Melies' reigns supreme as the very beginning of horror cinema. Melies is a name that film buffs may recognize. He was the pioneering writer/director that tried his hand at all types of films but is most widely known for the first filmed foray into science fiction, A Trip to the Moon. We've all seen the iconic rocket in the eye of the moon-face as representative of early genre film, but, with a little careful investigation, it is Melies' contributions to the art of horror that are truly significant.

Released in 1896, the roughly 3.5 minute film features small hallmarks of the horror genre: the vampire bat, the witch, Mephistopheles (played by Melies), witches, skeletons, crucifix banishment, etc. The narrative is disjointed and incomplete, like much of the output in the late 1800s and very early 1900s, but there was still a learning process to be had. Nevertheless, the audience desire for the macabre and unusual and, dare we say, terrifying has not abated since. For the audience this was brand new. Before, the tales of Poe, Shelley, Stevenson, Stoker... all of them were naught but text on a paper. Melies opened a door that has yet to be shut. He opened a door to the visual representation of fear. When one thinks of what this simple three minute film as spawned, the mind reels. Without The House of the Devil would there be a Halloween or a Paranormal Activity? Possibly, but rarely in an artistic medium can you trace the lineage of a genre to its root. Here we have done just that.

Notice in The House of the Devil that there are patterns that are still repeated, again and again, in even modern horror films. The intrepid hero, the insurmountable odds, the evil that is so pure only limitless good (or what passes for it in the movies) can offer any safety. In a loose interpretation, The House of the Devil is also a vampire film, so we could possibly blame Melies for the Twilight series. Well, let's just leave him out of that particular debacle.

The House of the Devil, also known as Le Manoir de Diable, The Manor of the Devil, The Devil's Manor and The Haunted Castle among many others stars Jeanne D'Alcy and George Melies as Mephistopheles. It was written and directed by Melies and, as always, is in its entirety below. Enjoy!

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