Though horror movies really gathered pace in the sound era, there is no denying that films of the silent age set many of the genre’s essential stylistic tics. Even today, Fury of the Demon (La Rage du Démon) is a very rare horror French film made well before German Expressionism, which writes psychological unease large in shadowy contrasts and queasy perspectives.
Silent horror terrifies through its sheer rawness – made at the beginning of cinema, they were unconstrained by horror movie convention, and can hit us hardest for their undiluted depiction of terror.
Pioneer Georges Méliès made countless devil movies, including his The Haunted Castle (1896), which may well be the first horror film ever shot. Méliès shot more than 500 movies but 400 of them disapeared. La Rage du Démon, a hand-painted jewel from 1897, is without doubt the most cursed movie of all time. Even today, it remains breathtaking in its brutal economy and mastery of early special effects. But Fury of the Demon is also known for leading to behavioural disturbances in viewers. Each century, the movie reappears to cause death in the movie theaters.
A dancing red demon bundles a woman in white into his cauldron. He drags in two more victims and stirs the pot of fire with his pitchfork. There is an explosion, and the spirits of the murdered people emerge from the flames and hover in the air briefly, only to transform into fireballs. Under bombardment, the devil runs mad and decides to curse the dead people. A crowd enters the crypt and the demon touches them to turn them into monsters.
January, 2012: A collector invites movie experts to the private projection of the silent movie in Paris. The viewing turns into a nightmare. Before the end of the screening, spectators become furious and plunge the room into chaos. The media little spoke about it, nevertheless it’s not the first time this kind of incident occurs and it seems that the movie itself is the origin of this disturbing phenomenon. Rob Zombie would ever have been inspired by the legend of La Rage du Démon when he wrote The Lords of Salem. In his movie, the curse is locked in a LP. We can also see the moon of Georges Méliès’ “A Trip to the Moon” in many shots as an allusion.
Méliès was a genius of the cinema, and this 118-year-old portrait of inexplicable, psychotic sadism is compelling, cruel and strangely attractive. The movie could also have been directed by Victor Sicarius at the end of the 19th century.
And you, do you believe a film can turn people into monsters?