If you're planning a Halloween movie night, you may want to put the world's first horror movie on your list. According to Open Culture, the film with this title is a three-minute, 22-second short released first in 1896 in France as Le Manoir du Diable (The Manor of the Devil) and then in the U.S. as The Haunted Castle and in Britain as The Devil's Castle, because a movie can never have too many names. While it may not exactly give you the chills, it is the first film ever to depict supernatural beings and likely the first to use special effects in an attempt (if not a highly successful one) to frighten viewers.
While the Georges Méliès film's quality is a bit lacking due to its era of origin, the plot is amusing, albeit a bit baffling if you don't understand the references. But can't we say that about most French films?
You can watch the full video at the bottom of the page, but in case you're as confused by it as I was initially, here's an explanation from Maurice Babbis in the journal Latent Image:
It is a simple story of a large bat that flies into a room and transforms in to [sic] Mephistopheles. He then stands over a cauldron and conjures up a girl along with some phantoms and skeletons and witches, but then one of them pulls out a crucifix and the demon disappears.
Let me break that down a bit (spoiler alerts apply):
1. There's A Bat
Hopefully, we're all on the same page so far. There's also some pretty creepy music in the background, reminiscent of the kind played by a wind-up toy.
2. The Bat Becomes A Man In Tights
This man is actually a demon called Mephistopheles, considered an incarnation of the devil in German folklore.
3. He Summons A Cauldron
Like you do. What would a 19th-century French horror short be without a cauldron?
4. He Also Summons An Assistant While He's At It
He's the devil; he can summon whatever he wants.
5. The Cauldron Spawns A Mysterious Lady
Though the film doesn't provide credits, we know that stage actress Jehanne d'Alcy played this woman. The other characters usher her out the door quietly, apparently as confused about why she's there as the audience.
6. Mephistopheles And His Assistant Troll These Two Dudes Hardcore
They accomplish this first by poking them with a pitchfork, and then by making a skeleton appear on a bench where one is about to sit down. Yup, there's definitely something spooky about this house.
7. ALL THE CREATURES Come Out
This is where things get a little hard to follow. First, the skeleton turns into a bat. Then, Mephistopheles and his assistant appear, along with some ghosts. Then, the woman from the cauldron enters the room, and one of the cavaliers attempts to woo her. But shortly after that, she turns into a ghost herself, accompanied by a whole clan of ghosts — or are they witches? The odds aren't looking so good for these guys. The ghosts/witches proceed to dance in circles.
8. The Devil Is Vanquished... Or Is He?
The film ends with a cavalier holding up a crucifix to Mephistopheles, presumably to eradicate him through the force of God or something along those lines. But with all those other creatures on his side, will he ever be eradicated?
OK, now I'm a little scared. Watch at your own risk:
It's weird to think that before this came out, horror movies just weren't a thing. But then again, movies were barely a thing at all. Horror stories were, however. The reasons we watch horror movies, such as the drive to understand our fears and the desire for an adrenaline rush, seem to predate the invention of film itself. So if you really want to celebrate Halloween the old-fashioned way, why not sit by the fire with some Edgar Allan Poe or H.P. Lovecraft? But please, I implore you, steer clear of cauldrons.