Devil in a Convent (1899)
It’s interesting to observe that none of the “horror” films I’ve been able to track down from the nineteenth century seem to be intended to be scary. It’s not that horror didn’t exist as a concept back then – there were already stage performances of “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” by the end of the century, as well as the founding of the infamous Grand Guignol in Paris, right where Méliès was producing works like this much more whimsical entertainment. In it, the Devil appears as a priest is preparing to set up for a sermon to some nuns, he substitutes for the priest, then chases the nuns out and establishes a mini-pandemonium in the chapel. Various folks try to drive him out, finally the combined power of the church and an animated statue of St. Michel are victorious. The theme does flirt with blasphemy (demons and devils in the House of God), but to jaded Parisians this would have seemed pretty mild. The fast-paced action and appearances and disappearances keep things light, and no one ever seems in danger for his life or his soul. It may be simply a reflection of Méliès’s own character, and that of other early filmmakers, that the early “horror” films we find emphasize wonder and comedy more than fear, but it may also reflect concern that audiences would find the horrors too real to bear in cinematic form.
Alternate Titles: “le Diable au Couvent,” “The Sign of the Cross”
Director: Georges Méliès
Starring: Georges Méliès
Run Time: 3 min, 10 seconds
You can watch it for free: here.