The Devil's Manor (1896) poster

The Devil’s Manor (1896)


aka The Devil’s Castle; The Haunted Castle

(Le Manoir du Diable)

France. 1896.


Director/Screenplay/Producer/Photography (b&w)/Special Effects – Georges Melies. Production Company – Star.


A bat appears and transforms into The Devil. The Devil manifests a cauldron and conjures forth several illusions to torment two passing friends. They eventually get the upper hand and banish him using a crucifix.

Georges Melies (1861-1938) was the grandfather of both the science-fiction and fantasy film. Melies was originally an amateur magician who jumped upon the novelty of the movie camera after the Lumiere Brothers made the very first film in 1895. In almost no time, Melies hit upon special effects trickery. This came about by accident when his camera jammed one day – when playing his footage back, the jump in the film appeared to make an object vanish. Melies quickly began experimenting with stop-action camera effects. His first such film was The Lady Vanishes (1896) in which he appears as a conjuror and makes a lady disappear in a puff of smoke. His films rapidly started to progress in sophistication and Melies discovered most of the modern special effects tricks – animation, superimposition, split-screen, miniatures, even the fade and the dissolve. Melies also built the first ever movie studio – which had only a single set – in his country garden in Montreuil. Melies made some 500 films, none more than fifteen minutes long, between 1896 and the eventual bankruptcy of his studio in 1914. His most sophisticated work, and the one he has become most famous for, was the prototypical science-fiction film A Trip to the Moon (1902).

At heart though, Georges Melies’s films were little more than glorified magic shows. Amid all of his discoveries, for example, Melies never discovered the concept of moving his camera. His shows were exactly like stage shows where the camera remained in a fixed position in exactly the same place that the audience would sit and the trick effects would take place on the stage before it.

The Devil causes mischief in The Devil's Manor (1896)
The Devil causes mischief

The Devil’s Manor was one of his earliest films and in this case it is simply he playing with stop-action camera effects. These allow the Devil to appear and manifest all manner of items – ghosts, witches, acrobats and angelic visions from out of a cauldron – and to transform back and forth into a bat. The film is a single note joke but it is made with a sense of humour, most amusingly the end crucifix joke, which is probably the first use of a crucifix to despatch evil in a film. The film lasts about two minutes and has only a single camera set-up.

For a more detailed discussion of other Georges Melies films, see Melies Cinemagician (2011) and the Melies documentary The Extraordinary Voyage (2011).

Full film available here

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