At the dawn of the 20th century, film pioneer Georges Melies created a staggering body of work (over 500 films), all while pushing the limits of the infant format. He pioneered special effects trickery, including time lapse, film splicing, and superimposition and pretty much everyone, film lover or not, is familiar with the iconic image of the spaceship crashed into the literal face of the moon.
Melies may be best known for that film, but he’s also credited as the creator of the horror film. So yeah, a pretty big deal for readers of this site. With his films The House of the Devil (1896), The Cave of the Demons (1898), and The Devil in a Convent (1900), Melies ushered in a new format for delivering nightmares. The House of the Devil (also known as The Haunted Castle and The Devil’s Castle) is cited as the first horror film ever. Though hundreds of his films are now lost, Melies is truly the grandfather of the horror film. Not bad for a show salesman turned magician working in a new format that at the time was considered a passing fad.
One of Melies’ most notorious lost films is La Rage Du Demon, which only screened a handful of times – all to disastrous results. Well, that’s what Fabien Delage’s new documentary, La Rage Du Demon, will have you believe. Over the course of an hour, film scholars, critics, filmmakers (including High Tension director Alexandre Aja), and even Melies’ great-great-granddaughter Pauline talk about this infamous film and the horrific effects it had on anyone in the audience.
The film, thought lost for decades, was discovered in an archive warehouse and taken possession by reclusive print collector Edgar Allan Wallace. He screened it for a select few in France in 2012 and shortly into the film, chaos ensued. The collection of scholars, critics, and socialites present turned violent. Employees at the museum where it was screened barged into the room – only to see the nightmarish images flashing on the screen and turn rabid themselves. Eyewitnesses explain to Delage how everyone was trying to kill each other. Some barely made it out alive.
Similar documented incidents are described – one in 1939 and another in 1897, when La Rage Du Demon was first screened for an audience. Three people died in the ensuing anarchy of that initial screening.
Of course, none of this actually happened and La Rage Du Demon doesn’t actually exist. But like Melies, Delage has a few tricks up his sleeve. His documentary is part film history course, part playful mockumentary, and part love letter to the early days of innovative film experimentation done by Melies and his colleagues.
The concept of a film having violent effects on its audience will sound familiar to those who’ve seen John Carpenter’s Masters of Horror episode, Cigarette Burns. It goes back further than that though, back to the lore surrounding the first screening of The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat Station, the Lumiere Brothers’ infamous 1895 short film of a train plowing towards the camera. Allegedly, the audience went into a panic in fear of being run over by the train. A few years after that, the premiere of Stravinsky’s avant-garde ballet “The Rite of Spring” sent theater-goers into an uproar and near riot.
The interviewees in Delage’s film are a great mix of deadly sincere, enthusiastic, and scholarly. The information they deliver can get repetitive – never a good thing in a movie only an hour long. But things spice up when the film begins to explore the subversive side of cinema – mixing occult celluloid conspiracy theories with science and folklore. Then speculation begins that Melies didn’t make the film at all, but one of his protégés – a sinister, devil-worshipping sadist.
Clocking in at an hour, La Rage Du Demon is a breezy, entertaining watch that cinephiles and horror hounds will particularly dig. The film had its North American premiere at the Fantasia International Film Festival and we’ll keep you updated on a proper release!
The film screened at the ongoing Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal.