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July 3, 2024

The First Horror Movie Ever Made: “The House of the Devil” (1896) by Georges Méliès

The House of the Devil (French: Le Manoir du diable), released in the United States as The Haunted Castle and in the United Kingdom as The Devil’s Castle, is an 1896 French silent trick film directed by Georges Méliès.

The film, which depicts a brief pantomimed sketch in the style of a theatrical comic fantasy, tells the story of an encounter with the Devil and various attendant phantoms. It is intended to evoke amusement and wonder from its audiences, rather than fear. However, because of its themes and characters, the film has been considered to technically be the first horror film. Such a classification can also be attributed to the film’s depiction of a human transforming into a bat, a plot element which has led some observers to label the work the first vampire film. The film is also innovative in length; its running time of over three minutes was ambitious for its era.

The Haunted Castle was filmed outdoors in the garden of Méliès’s property in Montreuil, Seine-Saint-Denis, with painted scenery.

In Méliès’s era, film actors performed anonymously and no credits were provided. However, it is known that Jehanne d’Alcy, a successful stage actress who appeared in many of Méliès’s films and became his mistress and later his second wife, plays the woman who comes out of the cauldron. The film historian Georges Sadoul hypothesized that the Devil in the film was played by Jules-Eugène Legris, a magician who performed at Méliès’s Théâtre Robert-Houdin in Paris and who later made an appearance in Méliès’s famous 1902 film A Trip to the Moon.

The film was released by Méliès’s studio, commonly known as the Star Film Company, and numbered 78–80 in its catalogues at the Theater Robert-Houdin. It remains unknown whether the film was released at the end of the year 1896 or at the beginning of 1897. The only known copy was bought at a junk shop in the 1930s-40s in Christchurch, New Zealand but not recognized until 1985.


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