The Pillar of Fire (1899)
This may be the last of the nineteenth-century horror films I review – almost certainly it is the last pre-1900 for this year’s history of horror. It is another short by Georges Méliès who, it seems to me, contributed more to the rise of this genre of movie than any of his contemporaries. Of course, there are many lost films from the time, so it’s hard to be certain.
In this case, the scene is a diabolical furnace-room, possibly a depiction of Hell, with two gargoyle-like statues in the background. A bright green Devil appears and dances around while stoking the flames in a fire pit. Eventually, a woman rises in a flowing dress and does a Serpentine Dance. She changes color, becoming increasingly red as her dance becomes more strident, and finally she leaps into the air and rises upward as puff of flame and smoke.
Obviously, I’m calling this “horror” because of the Demonic elements, although in fact the girl doesn’t seem scary at all, and is even somewhat angelic in her original white-clad appearance. I think she represents the spirit of the flame. I made note of the colors because, happily, this is one of Méliès’s movies that exists in a hand-painted print, allowing us to see it in its full-color glory. The green and red come through very nicely, and hand-painting works especially well for these examples of Serpentine Dances, which were common in the early film period.
Imdb implies and The Silent Era confirms that this movie is derived from a scene in “She” by H.Rider Haggard, which was itself made into several other movies, with some horror elements (though not usually what people think of as “horror films”). If it is intended to reproduce that scene, several key characters are missing, as well as any other indication of context, but it is possible. The pillar of fire scene in that story comes at the climax, and so, we would see the woman as “She Who Must Be Obeyed” and the dance ultimately causes her death.
Alternate Titles: “La Colonne de feu,” “La Danse du feu,” “Haggard’s She: The Dance of Fire”
Director: Georges Méliès
Cast: Jeanne D’Alcy
Run Time: 1 Min
You can watch it for free: here.