In the annals of old-timey horror–and don’t get me started on those 19th century ventriloquist dolls–some of the weirdest and most gleefully grotesque imagery of all can be found in our oldest silents. One example that leaps to mind is Segundo de Chomón’s The Haunted House, a six-minute film from 1907 that you’ll doubtless recognize from this still:
Ah yes, that one–with the hairy, paint-streaked demon with admirably bushy eyebrows. Also known as The Witch House, La Maison Ensorcelée, or The House of Ghosts, this frolicsome–hold on, is it called The Haunted Hotel too? Oh, that’s a different 1907 film–that’s not de Chomón’s too, is it? And wait, is The House of Ghosts actually an entirely different film from 1906? What’s going on?? Continue reading
Can you imagine a world without horror movies? Their tropes are so familiar–monsters with bloody fangs, screaming teens, tired old jump scares–that it’s hard to imagine pop culture without them. Thanks to Halloween turning autumn into an extended celebration of all things spooky, in many ways the horror genre is part of life’s memories.
As well as being Tim Burton’s reason for life.
But while there were macabre films in the silent era, people wouldn’t start using the term “horror” until Universal started releasing its famous monsters in the early 1930s. Before that, spooky films used to be lumped in under the banner of “mysterious” or “mystery pictures.” In the 1900s, at least. The “mystery” distinction might’ve mattered more to exhibitors than the audiences at your basic moving picture show, who probably just felt that some of the (very) short films in the program were more eerily entertaining than others.
Or simply more pants-wettingly terrifying than others.
At the San Francisco Silent Film Festival today there is a showing dedicated to early hand-colored films, several of which were done by the brilliant–and very Méliès-ish–Segundo de Chomón. Let’s take a brief look at this obscure director!
So you’re browsing the Interwebs and you stumble across a short film that’s clearly from the dawn of the 20th century. It has that stationary camera facing a set that’s basically a theater stage, people in quaint outfits, fairyland imagery, hand-applied coloring, and those special effects that involve sudden edits and puffs of smoke. Yes, you know exactly what this film is–it is most definitely a work by the ever-imaginative moving picture pioneer, Georges Méliès! ‘Tis himself!
But maybe take another look at that film, because there’s a good chance that it’s actually by Segundo de Chomón.