The First Horror Movie Was Made In 1896

By Karen Harris

The early French cinematographer Georges Melies playing the role of a magician with a female assistant. (Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

It's easy to forget just how old movies are as an art form, and that goes double for horror movies. The genre relies so heavily on modern special effects that it might seem like it couldn't have existed before their advent, but horror did not begin with Michael Myers or Freddy Krueger. It all started with a mostly forgotten clip called Le Manoir Du Diable, produced by Georges Méliès, which dates all the way back to 1896.

Georges Méliès

Paris-born Georges Méliès was trained in stage design, play writing, and puppetry from childhood. After becoming a successful businessman, he purchased his own theater and devoted himself to the entertainment business just as those there "moving pictures" were growing in popularity. Unsatisfied with merely screening others' movies, he soon bought a camera and got down to the business we call show.

With his background in theater and stage design, Méliès understood the limitations of live theater and the exciting possibilities of film, experimenting with different techniques to create special effects. One of his most important findings was the result of his camera jamming, which caused objects on the film to appear and vanish. Méliès replicated the effect to produce ghostly images in films of the newfound horror genre, of which Le Manoir Du Diable was the first.

Groundbreaking special effects in Le Manoir Du Diable. (Georges Méliès)

Le Manoir Du Diable

Le Manoir Du Diable, literally "the house of the devil" but known as The Haunted Castle in English, is only three minutes long, but it packs a lot into those 180-odd seconds. It begins with a bat flying around a moody castle that transforms in the blink of an eye into a man, who conjures a smoking cauldron and a hunched helper out of thin air to help him create a woman and immediately dismisses her into another room for some reason. Soon, a pair of men arrive to investigate the goings-on, but after one flees in fear, the other is beset by bats, skeletons, and ghostly figures who appear out of nowhere before confronting the devilish sorcerer. Finally, he drives the devil out of his own castle with a large crucifix.

Final scene of Le Manoir Du Diable. (Georges Méliès)

The Horrifying Legacy

Méliès went on to produce several more horror movies, including 1897's L'Auberge Ensorcelee (The Bewitched Inn) and 1898's La Caverne Maugite (The Cave of the Demons). He's also credited with producing the first horror comedy, 1896's Une Nuit Terrible (A Terrible Night) in which an insomniac ends up in a comedic battle with a giant spider. These films were known for their groundbreaking special effects that dazzled audiences and inspired filmmakers both contemporary and future, paving the way for your favorite supernatural slasher.

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Karen Harris

Writer

Karen left the world of academic, quitting her job as a college professor to write full-time. She spends her days with her firefighter husband and four daughters on a hobby farm with an assortment of animals, including a goat named Atticus, a turkey named Gravy, and a chicken named Chickaletta.