The Vanishing Lady (1896)
Once more we have an example of something that may or may not be the first surviving “horror film.” This one is cataloged as #70 in the Méliès company catalog, which would put it after “A Terrible Night” (if the movie we have access to is the right one) and before 1896’s “The Haunted Castle.” Like the others, it is short, and not very scary.
In this case we see Georges Méliès walk onto stage in his role as a performing magician. He places newspaper on the floor and a chair on top of that, demonstrating that there is no trap door beneath which opens during the trick. He then calls his assistant out and has her sit in the chair, and covers her with a sheet. Voila! She has vanished. When he tries to make her come back, a skeleton sits in her place (this is the only real horror element). He again covers the skeleton, and the lady reappears. They take a bow and exit.
This is identified as the first of Méliès’s “trick films,” in which he used the “stop trick” (seen previously in Edison’s “Mary Queen of Scots”) to perform magic on screen. This was one of his most important camera techniques, and to some degree defines the rest of his career as a filmmaker. Because it allows “supernatural” events to be portrayed, it is also undeniably important to the development of horror movies. Indeed, the mysterious appearance of skeletons due to occult forces would be a key element in the 1942 Bela Lugosi movie, “Night Monster,” although I doubt if its makers had this parallel in mind.
Alternate Title: Escamotage d’une dame chez Robert-Houdin, The Conjuring of a Lady at the House of Robert-Houdin
Director: Georges Méliès
Starring: Georges Méliès, Jehanne d’Alcy
Run Time: 1 Min
You can watch it for free: here.