Three Silent Horror Films From Before 1900

It’s time again to look back in the history of horror — way back!  Here are three very early silent films.  They may not contain some invincible hulking maniac, but they at least dabble in horror imagery.

George Albert Smith’s “The X-Rays” (1897)

Also known as “The X-Ray Fiend,” this 45-second silent film shows what happens when a mad scientist turns his x-ray device upon a courting couple — played by Laura Bayley and Tom Green (and no, not that Tom Green!). They end up looking like zany skeletons! While it’s only somewhat horror-related, it is nonetheless delightfully cartoonish and entertaining and features some pretty decent special effects editing for such an early film.

Also, if you think about it, it’s sort of creepy how we all have skeletons inside us — even runway models. We’re all weird!

Georges Méliès’ “The Astronomer’s Dream” (1898)

As creepy as it is silly, The Astronomer’s Dream is fantastical, nightmarish and memorable, with a surprisingly intricate story that one can try to work out (if one doesn’t become fixated on that freakish moon). Whatever the story ultimately is, it should be remembered that the title includes the word “Dream,” so it’s presumably open to interpretation. One may assume that Satan is a character here because Méliès often used religious imagery in his films.

However, the biggest star here is that moon. Some people might see it as silly, but in the right kind of mood, it could serve as genuine nightmare fuel. Hell, I would even say this little film is scarier than some movies that try a lot harder — and this movie certainly isn’t loaded with blood and guts (not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Georges Méliès’ “The Devil in a Convent” (1899)

Considered a religious satire, “The Devil in a Convent” is said to feature the acting of director Georges Méliès — as the Devil himself no less! Like at least some of his other films, this one involves plenty of comedy through editing, as well as elements of good versus evil. It’s significant that, frankly, not much has changed about the horror genre since then, other than how filmmakers now take longer to say something (if they have anything to say, that is). As with “The Astronomer’s Dream,” this movie offers some creepy imagery, though it’s a bit more overpowered by the action and comedic elements.

Taken all together, these three short silent films offer an excellent glimpse into the creative genius behind early cinema. While some of them arguably say more than others, they might still captivate watchers today and are conveniently available at the click of a mouse!

About wadewainio

Wade is a wannabe artist and musician (operating under the moniker Grandpa Helicopter), and an occasional radio DJ for WMTU 91.9 FM Houghton. He is an occasional writer for Undead Walking, and also makes up various blogs of his own. He even has a few books in the works. Then again, doesn't everyone?

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