Nuggets of Wisdom

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Nightly Frights: The Very First Horror Movie


To kick off “Blame The Fright” month, I’ve decided to start by sharing the very first horror movie ever. Coincidentally enough, it’s also one of the very first movies, period. First released in January 25, 1896, the movie is a French film known in English as “The Arrival of the Mail Train.”

I know what you’re thinking: how is a 50-second clip of a train pulling into a station considered a horror flick? Well, it’s because the “horror” part of the film was very much unintentional.

Admittedly, this film is passé by today standards. Heck, most of you could probably film a more entertaining video clip with your camera phone of your cat doing something cute or crazy and then post it on Vine!

But that’s the thing: video is a common thing in our modern world. That wasn’t the case more than 100 years ago when this film was created. Back then, the very concept of moving pictures was in its infancy, and as such, was a novelty among the common people.

So when a crowded theater first watched a film of a train pulling into a station, they had no idea what to make of it. Many of them actually thought that the train was real and was heading right towards them. As the train approached onscreen, audience members panicked, with many leaping out of their chairs and rushing to the back of the theater—and even out of it!

So yes, a 50-second video clip of a train slowly inching into a station is technically one of the very first “horror” films—albeit unintentional.

But you don’t want to see that, now do you? No, you want to see the “real” first horror flick. Well, allow me to make up for this fake out by sharing the real deal.

And how more apropos is it that the very first horror flick was also the very first film adaptation of the iconic horror icon, Frankenstein?

I’m sure most of you are already familiar with this film from Cinemassacre’s Monster Madness. For those of you who aren’t, this film was produced by Thomas Edison himself and is, indeed, the very first film adaptation of Mary Shelly’s famous gothic novel, Frankenstein.

Again, this 12-minute long silent film is very tame by today’s standards, but it truly shocked audiences when it was first released 100 years ago—so much so that it was even banned in many places. Today, a horror movie would have to have an obscene amount of blood and gore to be banned, and yet this movie, without having a single drop of blood, stirred enough controversy to get itself banned.

What’s truly spectacular about this film was that it was once considered lost, which was common for many early turn-of-the-century silent films. However, by the mercy of the fates, the film was rediscovered in the 1970s and has since been released on DVD and YouTube, allowing new generations of horror aficionados a peek at one of the earliest horror movies.