Monday, April 5, 2021

Horror Movies and the Cross - The Cross in the Very First Horror Movie from 1896

Horror movies go back to the very origins of film, specifically to 1896, when French special-effects genius Georges Méliès made the three plus minute short, Le Manoir du Diable (The Manor of the Devil, otherwise known in English as The Haunted Castle).

Méliès, known for his silent sci-fi fantasy A Trip to the Moon — and for the tribute paid to him in Martin Scorsese’s Hugo — used his innovative methods to tell a story of “a large bat that flies into a room and transforms into Mephistopheles. He then stands over a cauldron and conjures up a girl along with some phantoms and skeletons and witches. Two men then enter the room to examine the matter, and are soon frightened and tempted by the conjurings of Mephistopheles, until finally one of them grabs a large crucifix from the wall and the devil disappears.” Though a quick and concise story, and as scary as a walk through a very short haunted house with a bunch of frights flying at you from all directions, still it is an excellent example of a technique Méliès supposedly discovered that very year. According to,
In the Autumn of 1896, an event occurred which has since passed into film folklore and changed the way Méliès looked at filmmaking. Whilst filming a simple street scene, Méliès camera jammed and it took him a few seconds to rectify the problem. Thinking no more about the incident, Méliès processed the film and was struck by the effect such a incident had on the scene – objects suddenly appeared, disappeared or were transformed into other objects.

Thus was born The Haunted Castle, technically the first horror film, and one of the first movies — likely the very first — to deliberately use special effects to frighten its viewers. Moreover, it was the first movie to depict the devil warded off by the sign of the Cross.
Interesting note: The movie was filmed in Méliès's garden outside his home in Montreuil, Seine-Saint-Denis. The woman who emerges from the cauldron was actress Jehanne d'Alcy, who eventually married Méliès. Some also believe it was Méliès himself who played Mephistopheles, while others believe it was the magician Jules-Eugene Legris, who later starred in A Trip to the Moon.