(Pictured above: George Méliès’ ‘A Trip to the Moon.’ Source: Youtube screenshot)
George Méliès, the French cinema pioneer who directed more than 500 films according to IMDB, is widely known for his milestone 1902 science fiction fantasy, Le Voyage dans la Lune, aka A Trip to the Moon (an epic 12 minutes in length by early cinema standards). Among its special effects, the movie included a bullet-shaped spaceship crashing into the eye of the man in the moon, as well as frolicking creatures who could be dispatched in puffs of smoke with the whack of an umbrella (in 1902 no properly attired astronaut explored alien terrain without rain gear and top hat).
In 2011, a fully restored, original hand-colored version of A Trip to the Moon was screened at the Cannes Film Festival. You catch watch the black-and-white version here:
Méliès brought a magician’s whimsy to his moviemaking. His films, even those with willowy spirits and disembodied heads, are flights of fancy designed to delight, not frighten, audiences with sleight of camera. Primitive compared to today’s CGI, Méliès’ films nevertheless reflect a great imagination unbound by one of the 19th Century’s most impactful technological innovations.
In the spirit of Halloween, The Savvy Screener celebrates Méliès by recognizing one of his earliest films, the three-minute Le Manoir Du Diable or The Manor of the Devil or Haunted Castle (1896). The plot is simple: Mephistopheles conjures a cast of scary characters inside an ancient castle. Filmsite.org has deemed it the first horror film for its “familiar elements of later horror and vampire films: a flying bat, a medieval castle, a cauldron, a demon figure (Mephistopheles), and skeletons, ghosts, and witches – and a crucifix to dispatch with evil.”
You can watch Le Manoir Du Diable here:
Méliès’ fascination with the devil doesn’t end there. Here are two more entries that entertained movie theater audiences more than a century ago:
Title: Le Diable au Couvent aka The Devil in a Convent; also called The Sign of the Cross
Plot: Satan disguises himself as a priest inside a convent
Title: Les Quatre Cents Farces du Diable aka The Merry Frolics of Satan
Plot: The devil takes two guests of an inn for an eternal ride
Finally, you can also watch Martin Scorcese’s homage to Méliès, Hugo, on Amazon Video for $3.99.
(The preceding is an updated version of a previously published article.)
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