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  • Writer's pictureAbby Brenker

The Earliest Horror Films by Georges Méliès

Recently I’ve been on a mission to track down some of the earliest horror films. We know horror pre-dates film as a medium; some of the most iconic horror stories were written before the invention of photography. But I wanted to understand the early days of the genre specifically as it relates to the big screen.

In 1896, The House of The Devil was released. It was directed by Georges Méliès, who any film student will recognize. Hailing from France, Méliès was an illusionist who led the charge of technological advancement in the early days of film.

The House of The Devil (which goes by many names, including The Haunted Castle) comes up as the earliest horror film on many lists. It follows the story of a bat that transforms into a demon named Mephistopheles. Mephistopheles uses a cauldron to conjure more demons and causes chaos until he is chased away with a crucifix.

Méliès was an incredibly prolific filmmaker, especially during this time. For context, between 1896 and 1897, he made 130 films. While these films are quite short, there was still a monumental effort that went into producing them. Especially in the early days of cinema,

The Haunted Castle was filmed in Méliès’ back garden. It’s suspected that famous French magician Jules-Eugène Legris plays Mephistopheles. Legris also appears in Méliès’ most known work, A Trip to The Moon.

I also want to mention a film called A Terrible Night, also from the same year. Also directed by Méliès. A Terrible Night is perhaps the first horror comedy of our time. It explores one of the most universal human struggles; man versus spider.

Overall, the impact of Méliès on early cinema and horror is quite prominent. With such a library of work to explore, it’s hard to discuss his work concisely. I’m particularly taken with A Trip to The Moon (1902), which also breaks some ground within the Science Fiction sub-genre.

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