The House of the Devil (1896) Review
Synopsis: With the help of a magic cauldron, Mephistopheles conjures up a variety of supernatural characters.|
Original title: Le manoir du diable
Also known as: The Haunted Castle
Here at Codex Mortis, we generally review only feature-length movies, not shorts or series. But in light of the often-brief nature of the oldest cinematic treasures, we make an exception for movies released before 1920.
The House of the Devil is a silent short from 1896. It doesn’t really have a plot – think of it more like a stage magician’s brief performance, albeit with some fancy tricks due to the new technology of the time. Considering director Georges Méliès was also an illusionist, it’s not hard to see where that came from; many of his shorts were similar to the types of stage magic he was also doing at the time. Méliès is well known for his experiments with cinematic effects, and this shows his skill off to superb degree.
On the plot note, it’s basically a sequence of tricks and responses from the haunter – a magician/vampire type fellow – and the haunted. Despite something clearly being amiss after the first trick, the haunted never seems to quite expect trickery, even when suddenly presented with a beautiful woman out of nowhere. Again, the whole set up smacks more of a magician’s routine than a coherent movie.
It’s fun to see the range of magical illusions that could easily be performed at the time, but the poor quality of the remaining copies and the overarching lack of story means this isn’t particularly worth watching over other examples of the art form from this time. Méliès was more interested in the art form of the tricks that could be accomplished with the new technology, and it shows. As whole art forms with story, I’d suggest other Méliès shorts like The Sign of the Cross over this one, but this does have a wide variety of techniques that are still impressive today.
Calamity Brains’ Rating: C+