The Devil’s Castle (1896) – Georges Melies

I dig into a new book this week, DK Canada’s The Movie Book. It will take us through a gamut of decades and titles, and there is so much to watch. There are titles I’ve seen, and those I haven’t – so it’s going to be a fun ride.

Since I’ve seen the first film in the book, Melies’ A Trip to the Moon, I dive into the first supporting section of the book, a list of the director’s key movies. An adjacent section, What else to watch, has a further list of titles as well. So many things to explore.

So let’s start with Melies’ three minute short, arguably the first horror movie ever. Filmed in 1896 (!) the story takes to one rather flimsy set, the interior of a castle. We watch the host of the castle work his magic, conjuring a servant, a woman, and transforming himself to a bat and back again.

Enter two gentlemen who should have chosen somewhere else to visit. The servant jabs at them before disappearing, the presence of ghostly women, and skeletons drives one mad, apparently leaping from a ledge, while the other uses his smarts to confront the villain and escape.

Not big on plot, and more about creating a bit of a magic show on the screen, like a spooky stage show, Melies seems to delight in making things appear and disappear, recognizing very early on that film can truly be a magical medium – the bat transformation is fairly seamless, and pretty impressive for the time.

There is no doubt Melies was a showman, and his set designs, characters, and their performances reflect that. It’s amazing to think that this piece of film is over 120 years old. It still has the ability to charm, and it hints at what is to come over the decades – the worlds of fantasy, horror, and science fiction would flourish on the screen, and Melies showed us how to do it, and created some iconic images along the way.

There is something wonderous about these films, seeing the beginning, and knowing what is to come – the good, the bad, the beloved, the reviled. The innocence and joy that Melies imbues in each of his films, no matter the length make them a delight to watch, rewatch and examine.

Starting the book this way, The Movie Book also endows that same sense of wonder and enthusiasm upon the reader and I cannot wait to explore other titles soon enough. 

Want something to watch? Pick up DK Book’s The Movie Book, and find something to watch tonight.


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