The 1896 French short silent movie Le Manoir du Diable was directed by Georges Melies. This movie was released in the United States as The Haunted Castle and in the UK as The Devil’s Castle.
It is a short pantomimed sketch filmed in the style of a comic fantasy in a theatrical way, and narrates the story of a meeting with the Devil and his various phantoms.
The movie is designed to gain wonder and amusement from the people who watch it, instead of the usual fear that a horror movie aims for.
Due to the themes and characters involved, however, it is technically regarded as being the very first horror movie. It has even been named as being the very first vampire movie, due to a scene where a transformation into a bat is shown.
The film runs for over three minutes, which was considered very ambitious at the time of release. The movie’s opening scene shows a huge bat flying into an ancient castle. The bat then flies in a circle around the room and then transforms into Mephistopheles (an incarnation of the Devil). He then produces an assistant and a cauldron and manages to conjure up a woman from within the cauldron.
The room is emptied, and two cavaliers come into the room. The assistant prods at their backs before instantly transporting to various areas around the room, which confuses the cavaliers and makes one flee the room. The second cavalier remains and is subject to various tricks being played on himself; furniture moving around and a skeleton appearing. These do not faze the cavalier, and he attacks the skeleton, using his sword.
The skeleton then transforms into a bat, and again into Mephistopheles, who conjures up four spooky specters to subdue the cavalier. As the cavalier recovers from this attack, he is brought the woman who was earlier conjured from the cauldron.
He is instantly impressed with her beauty; Mephistopheles goes on to transform the beautiful woman into an old, haggard crone and then into four spooky specters.
The previous cavalier returns to the room and tries to put on a brave front but again flees the room; this time by jumping from the edge of the balcony.
The specters then disappear, and there is only the cavalier and the Devil remaining in the room. The cavalier reaches for a large crucifix and brandishes it at the Devil, which causes him to disappear.
This movie was filmed in Seine-Saint-Denis, in the garden of Melies’s home; painted scenery was used to help to create the scenery.
In this era, actors who appeared in movies were given no credits, but it is known that the woman from the cauldron was played by Jehanne d’Alcy (a successful actress who became Melies’s wife). A film historian, Georges Sadoul, thinks that Jules-Eugene Legris (a magician and actor) played the part of the Devil in the movie.
The movie was released by Melies’s own film studio (Star Film Company) and was numbered 78-80 within their catalogs. The release year of the movie was either late 1896 or early 1897.