The Horror!: “The Devil’s Castle”

This time, a movie with plot! I mean, sort of. This film, officially titled “Le Manoir du Diable,” is known as the world’s first horror movie. Despite this, it has a very light tone and is more funny than scary. Unlike the previous two films I have posted, which were films of moments of daily life, this is a fictional film. As such, it has something of a narrative element to it. Not a major narrative element. But there’s something more there. I don’t really have a thesis with this one, so I’m just gonna go through the film and highlight what I found fun or interesting.

In the beginning, a bat turns into a human. I assumed that this would be some sort of vampire. But then! He starts to doing magic. So, either he is a vampire-wizard or just a wizard. So perhaps they had different feelings about what creature could transform into bats. He immediately starts making things appear. I’m not sure if he uses a wand to do this or just his hands. I think he draws something on the ground with a sword. Anyway, to the main point, they really like the appearing effect in this one. The first 40% is the wizard dude making things or, more commonly, people appear. I’m not entirely sure what all of these are meant to be. The first one is a hunched-over guy, who might be meant to be a human with a hunchback or maybe some kind of goblin. Then wizard dude pulls a hot chick out of a cauldron.

Then! Plot twist! Two guys walk in! They appear to be some sort of guards, maybe? Anyway, a goblin/devil thing appears and starts poking them in the butt. Good to know poking people on their behinds for comedy’s sake has a long legacy. After the shorter one leaves, the taller one, who’s definitely the hot one, what with his fancy hat and better facial hair, remains. He keeps trying to pick up and/or sit on a bench. He’s weirdly undeterred by the fact that it keeps disappearing. He sits down next to a skeleton that he tries to kill(?) with a sword. Then it turns into a bat because it’s secretly the wizard! They have some sort of showdown. Which somehow involves the hot chick coming back and the hot dude immediately tries to romance her. Because that’s what happens. But! She’s really a witch, as signified by a light-colored cloak/sheet appearing on her. Then more witches come.

These witches seem to signal some kind of final phase of the battle. The witches keep doing swirly things. The shorter dude makes an appearance for a few seconds, then seems to disappear again. The witches descend on the taller guy. He then somehow gets out and then the witches disappear. The hero thinks it’s over, but no! It’s the return of wizard dude! The hero retreats and grabs a cross, which must have been hanging on a wall in that room, and vanquishes the wizard.

Overall, I find this one quite fun. It’s a bit confusing, since I’m not really sure what’s going on all the time. But it’s clear that there’s a dude and he fights a wizard. I like this film’s obsession with things appearing and disappearing. It’s a good use of the medium, as it was at the time. You can’t have things just appear and re-appear on another side of the room in a theater without some very careful staging and lots of trap doors. But it’s really easy to do in film. In this 1896 film, it’s really abrupt, but it’s good for its day.


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