By Kyle Laugh

By Kyle Laugh


If you’re anything like me, you’re curious about the long history in which horror has come from and have dabbled through older films and literature but still aren’t able to get the full picture from it. This exact thought has led me to the decision of going right back to the advent of horror films and moving my way towards the future of the industry.

In order to properly do this, I’m going back to the 1890’s to watch and review the surviving horror themed films from the era.

Creators from this time period include Georges Méliès, Alfred Clark and George Albert Smith just to name a few. These pioneers of the film industry are the first people we have to thank for what the genre has developed into today and although their films are all but a few seconds to a few minutes in length, their combined work has paved a path for the likes of the “Universal Monsters”, Norman Bates, slasher icons the likes of Freddy and Jason and many more.

So without any further ado, I present to you the first of their kind. Horror films of the 1890’s.


The Execution of Mary Stuart

Directed by Alfred Clark


The oldest film, and one which some people have considered it to be the first representation of a horror film due to It’s graphic nature.

Twenty seconds in length, “The Execution of Mary Stuart” displays exactly what the title states, that a woman is essentially being killed. As the story goes, the ”Queen Of Scots” is being publicly executed. She approaches the pedestal, kneels down and places her head on it. Within seconds, her head is chopped off with an axe.

I personally do not feel like this should be considered as the first horror film ever as it’s a sole scene. There is no story, build-up or explanations of what is taking place. On that note, I do have to say that I find this video incredibly fascinating. Over one-hundred years ago, the Edison Company set up, produced and filmed a special effects scene with the use of stop action in order to change out the actress with the soon-to-be beheaded mannequin.

It’s amazing to see that even back then, special effects seemed like a must in order to get a grand reaction out of the viewer. As a sucker for practical effects I love it, although it’s going to look poor in comparison to what we are used to in our current century, It must be respected and appreciated.


Le Manoir Du Diable (AKA House Of The Devil)

Directed by Georges Méliès


This film is the one I personally consider to be the first true horror film. It offers a story, special effects, demonic entities, an antagonist as well as him worthy adversary.

“Manoir” depicts the devil who has the ability to use supernatural powers including shapeshifting into and back from the form of a bat. He uses his abilities to summon imps, ghosts and even a skeleton in order to do his bidding against the films hero Of course, as most stories go, the hero is able to save the day by defeat the devil with the aid of an oversized crucifix.

Stop motion is once again used to perform the transformation scenes as well as to bring in the apparitions and are done with far more success than what is shown to us in “The Execution Of Mary Stuart” as the quick cut scenes do not look nearly as choppy or out of place. The best explanation for the better quality is likely due to Méliès already having experience with film making as he had already made a handful of movies prior to filming this one.


Une Nuit Terrible (AKA A Terrible Night)

Directed by Georges Méliès


Listed as a horror but playing off more as a comedy skit with light use of special effects, “Une Nuit Terrible” tells the quick, minute long story of a man who is trying the get some sleep but is unfortunately disturbed by the appearance of a massive spider climbing up the wall next to his bed. The man quickly takes action, killed the arachnid, cleans up the web it’s left behind and curls back into bed.

There isn’t anything overly fascinating or remotely horror themed coming from this specific cinematic short but it’s entertainment value is pretty high.

I can understand the fact that a giant bug appearing on screen could be something scary to some people but the way it played out felt like nothing short of comedy. Either way, people have listed it in the horror category, and I respectfully add it to this list as well.


The Vanishing Lady (AKA The Conjuring of a Woman at the House of Robert Houdin)

Directed by Georges Méliès


As a stage performer of magic and tricks of illusion, Méliès took full advantage of the budding technology in order to display more impressive feats. As special effects techniques were more of an insider secret at the time, he was able to take his illusions to the next level by not only fooling his audiences but trying to give them a great scare while he was at it.

The minute long performance shows Méliès attempting a magic trick to make his female assistant disappear. He is successful in the matter but upon having her reappear, things go horribly wrong as her skeleton is the only thing which returns. Méliès shows his panic and quickly attempts the trick a second time and is able to return the lady back to her former, living self.

I think the term “jumpscare” can be used freely with this film as this is something most people likely were not at all going to expect. Judging from the work Méliès has put out prior to this however, it seems scares are a typical part of his act on and off stage.


The Haunted Castle

Directed by George Albert Smith


The following year, a new player in horror cinema made an appearance. His name was George Albert Smith and not unlike Méliès, he was also a stage performer whose main gig was hypnosis and created the first coloured film process. This is an excellent fact to know as watching “The Haunted Castle” and seeing that it was in colour almost threw me for a loop.

The film itself is a minute in length and based on the story “The Haunted Hotel” which was co written by Méliès and Smith, shows a visitor who is staying at an INN which is ran by a shapeshifting ghost. Chairs are moved around, a ghost appears and transforms several different times into various people and creatures. By the films end it appears as though the victim of the attacks has been surrounded by the spirits or demons of the hotel. As they come towards him, the film cuts to black.

Most of this film was kind of dull until we arrive at the last few seconds. At this point, the victim looks as though he is about to be killed and we suddenly get cut off. Highly unfortunate but that’s the way it is sometimes.


L'Auberge Ensorcelée (AKA The Bewitched INN)

Directed by Georges Méliès


It’s almost unfortunate to say but it must be said. Méliès was more focused on his illusions than he was revolutionizing horror. Mind, you, this was his first choice in career, so I can’t fault the guy for doing what he loves. I can however fault whoever decided this was a horror feature.

“L’Auberge Ensorcelée” wants you to believe ghosts are controlling everything happening on screen but the matter of fact is that this is a pure comedy with ghosts being blamed for the mishaps.

Essentially, a man checks into a hotel room, attempts to get some sleep but fails to do so thanks to unseen beings moving everything out of the room on top of stealing the man's possessions as he is placing them on he floor or the bed, piece by piece. At one point the bed disappears and he falls on the floor, gets up and the bed is right back where it was.

This is good for a laugh, but the scare tactics aren’t really there.


The X-Rays

Directed by George Albert Smith


For Smith’s next iteration of a horror piece, he used jump cuts in order to attain the goal of his film in which a man who is the middle of courting a woman are interrupted by an x-ray machine which happens to slide in from the side of the screen. As the machine starts, the couple are immediately seen as skeletons whom are acting in the exact same manner.

The effects used were very simple. When Smith would turn off the camera, the actors would change their wardrobe to black jumpsuits which have skeletons decorated on them. Nothing scary by any means but another fun practical effect is put on display for viewers to take in.


Le Reve D'un Astronome (aka The Astronomer's Dream)

Directed by Georges Méliès


As seen in part one, George Méliès was one of the pioneers of the horror film. With his history of stage performance of magic and illusions, he was always keen on adding these elements into his films while mixing them with a taste of demons or ghosts depending on what the storyline entailed.

For “Le Reve”, Méliès did not change his approach by much. Combining his comedic act where the actor would attempt to grab something, or sit on furniture with the items in question magically disappearing and his use of “Satan” of specters, he created what I could only describe as an acid trip.

Characters are appearing and disappearing while causing a bit of chaos and suddenly, the moon comes into play as a character itself when it magically comes to the entrance of the room and begins to eat the astronomers possessions and eventually the astronomer himself.

The horror it delivers is actually much better than I had anticipated. First, the moon, when up close, looks creepy as hell thanks to it’s moving facial features and secondly, following the moon having eaten the astronomer, it begins to spit out body pieces. As these things typically end on a happy note, a spectre takes the body parts, placing them together in order to revive the man and aids in replacing all the items that had been consumed by the creepy moon.


The Cavalier’s Dream

Directed by Edwin S. Porter


In his directorial debut, Edwin S. Porter the studio manager and cinematographer with the Edison Manufacturing Company created this one minute short depicting a man having somewhat of a nightmare. A being appears with magical powers setting up a feast for the man and having a beautiful woman magically appear for him. Much to his dismay however, the man falls for these tricks and is quickly confronted by several ghosts who surround him until he eventually wakes up.

As far as scares go, there’s nothing in here that would make people this day and age shy away from the screen. For a directorial debut, it’s very simple but easily represents what an odd dream you and I would have could look like. Slightly creative but not inventive by any means though the quick cut scenes were typically very well done and provided a good flow to the piece.


Le Diable Au Couvent (AKA The Devil In A Convent)

Directed by Georges Méliès


Unfortunately, this is the only available film from 1899, but it is definitely well worth a watch.

Thus far, this is Méliès’ best work in the horror genre. It once again depicts the fight of good versus evil but to a much more extreme extent with Satan randomly appearing from the holy water and takes over a convent scaring off all the nuns. Once this task is completed, he redecorates the room with art pieces and statues representing the devil and demons, summons several demons who are horrifyingly well costumed for the part and they decide to celebrate until a team of people from the church come into to covent in order to take it back.

I really enjoyed the storytelling this specific piece had to offer viewers. As per usual, the good defeating evil was prominent by the films end but with a different twist this time. The people from the church summoned up their own being in the form of St. Michael The Archangel in order to defeat Satan.

And that covers everything we have available on film from the 1890’s which gave horror it’s most excellent start. Make sure you follow along with our next piece as we delve into horror of the 1990’s.

That covers everything we have available on film from the 1890’s which gave horror it’s most excellent start. Make sure you follow along with our next piece as we delve into horror of the 1990 through 1904. Some of the pieces we will be looking at include “Barbe-Bleu” AKA BlueBeard, “Les Tésors De Satan” AKA Satan’s Treasure and “The Haunted Curiosity Shop just to name a few. See you all next time!


Kyle is an all around lover of horror. Mainstream, Underground and more! He's passionate about the community we all belong to. 



This week on Beyond The Void Horror Podcast  is back with two movies that are the perfect 80s horror treat for this Halloween! Demons & Demons 2! Directed by Lamberto Bava & co-written / produced by the legend Dario Argento. It’s a episode chock full of trivia, gore and behind the scenes info on the franchise. You can listen here or you can Listen/Subscribe on iTunes here!