What was the First Horror Movie?

wiseGEEK Writing Contest

The very first horror movie was 1896's "Le Manoir Du Diable" (The Devil's Castle), its running time barely three minutes, and made by and starring Georges 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 in "Le Manoir Du Diable," played by Georges 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.

Georges Melies (1861-1938) was the first to connect the technology of motion pictures with illusions and showmanship. In the Paris of the late 1880s, as owner and sole performer at the Theatre Robert Houdin, Melies was a specialist in sleight of hand tricks and the magic lantern (an early method of projecting a still image onto a wall or screen). Quickly falling in love with the new technology of motion pictures, he made hundreds of films. We remember him today for inventing the special effects/fantasy movie genre. The examples he made are spectacular despite their brief running time. Besides "Le Manoir Du Diable," some English language titles include "Voyage to the Moon," "The Man with the Rubber Head," and "The Impossible Voyage."

The Devil is the longest running villain in motion picture history. A search lasting even a few minutes will reveal over a hundred films. They go from "Le Manoir Du Diable" to blockbusters from the 1970s like "The Exorcist," "Rosemary's Baby," and "The Omen," and all the way to recent work like 1999's "The Ninth Gate."

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.

submitted by Kevin James Miller