Wednesday, October 28, 2015

A Reel Review: The First Horror Film

Fall is in the air. It is a glorious time for film as awards contenders appear, and one of the most popular genres takes center stage; the horror film. With Halloween right around the corner, the air is ripe for old and new horror films to be revisited, reexamined, and re-debated. There are many classics to be talked about (read Reel Speak’s Top 10 list of Horror Films HERE), but one film that is often overlooked and sadly forgotten is the movie that is regarded as the very first horror film; THE HAUNTED CASTLE from French film director and pioneer Georges Melies way back in the year 1896.

Georges Melies, who is mostly known for his film  A TRIP TO THE MOON from 1902, filmed THE HAUNTED CASTLE (re-titled THE DEVIL’S CASTLE in Britain) in his backyard garden using painted scenery. The film, which ran just over three minutes (which was considered to be a long movie back then), is a sketch done in the style of theatrical fantasy which tells the story of an encounter with the devil and various phantoms. Not much of a plot is at work, and instead it is a trick-and-treat collection of images with supernatural beings (a first for the industry), a skeleton, and a man transforming into a bat. The bat transformation, done by a simple cut, was shocking for audiences at the time, making THE HAUNTED CASTLE the first film which scared people…and rightfully deserving of the title of the first of its kind.

Most of Melies’ pioneering work in the industry has been lost to time (this was explored in Martin Scorsese’s HUGO in 2011), and THE HAUNTED CASTLE was on the list of “lost films” up until 1988, when it was discovered in a New Zealand Film Archive. The discovery was an important one, not only because Meliles’ work should be preserved, but because the horror genre deserves to have its genesis available. Today, the film is not all that scary for adults (kids may get a scream out of it), but the film stands as an interesting examination of exactly what can scare us in film; images, ghosts, unexplained things...the creepy black-and-white presentation of THE HAUNTED CASTLE offers all that and more. From Freddie to Michael to Jason…they owe their existence to a three-minute film now in its 119th year.





  1. Amazing! I would love to see those old movies. By the way, I just read your post about The Walk and it was great, I just wrote about it in my blog (wich I encourage you to visit):

    I hope you enjoy my review, and please feel free to leave me a comment over there or add yourself as a follower (or both), and I promise I'll reciprocate.



    1. Thanks for the comment! I like your blog as well. Keep up the great work!
      Cheers to you.


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