Released in 1896 (!!!), directed by the über-famous George Méliès, and considered the first horror film ever made (even though it’s more funny than scary), The Haunted Castle (French title Le Manoir du diable, ooh la la) was a massive influence on early horror films, particularly the German expressionist classics and the subsequent Universal films in the 1930’s. Even though audiences of the time had probably seen similar effects performed live on a stage, I’m thinking that seeing the same thing in a moving picture must have blown their minds in an OMG MAGIC TECHNOLOGY kinda way. The fact that the movie is only a little over three minutes long doesn’t lessen its importance or influence, and here I’d like to give a shout-out to the New Zealand Film Archive, which located a copy of this film in 1988 after it had been presumed lost for decades.
The film opens, obviously, on a static set of the cavernous halls of a haunted house. A huge bat comes sailing into the frame and flaps around a bit before poofing into a fabulous caped figure, who has a cool top hat kinda thing and some wicked Peter Pan shoes and a sweet Van Dyke beard. This is Hipster Mephistopheles, bitches. With a wave of his eeeevil hand, he materializes a big-ass cauldron at center stage. Then he produces a wand from somewhere in his dance belt, draws some Satanic-ass shit on the floor, and another poof reveals his sidekick, Imp Boy, who proceeds to stoke the flames under the cauldron, causing smoke to pour out the pot.
And from the smoke emerges: VOILA! A LADY! She has a flowy white outfit on like a Greek cauldron bitch, and she’s all TA DA, and then Mephy (that’s what I call him, we’re tight) magically edits her to the floor. Then he puts his hand on her shoulder and tells her some shit, and kinda pushes her into the closet so she doesn’t embarrass the guests he has coming over or something. Greek Cauldron Bitch has a tendency to get handsy when she drinks, that’s all I’m saying.
Then he goes to the imp and sorta pets him on the head like he’s a faithful bull terrier, and Mephy’s all DO THAT THING, so then an open book appears in the imp’s hands, and Mephy writes in it. “Dear Diary: Today I made a cauldron and my imp appear in a puff of smoke, and then materialized a Greek goddess out of the cauldron and shoved her ass in a broom closet. LOL. Productive day.”
Then the imp disappears again, because he’s an imp so he has to go chill in another dimension when his services aren’t required, and then Mephy prances a bit and HUZZAH makes the cauldron disappear again. Then he’s like listening for something, and seems to hear what he expected, because he puts his cape back on and disappears. And then, sure enough, two of the three musketeers come sashaying into the castle, pointing around the place and talking between themselves like they’re assessing the property for “Flip This House,” all OOOOH, GIRL, CHECK OUT THAT WAINSCOTING, OOPS, SORRY I BEANED YOU WITH MY BITCHIN’ BELL SLEEVES THERE and then the imp poofs back with a big forked stick and starts poking them in their fey asses. They’re both looking around like WTF but the imp keeps disappearing before the musketeers can see him, so presumably they’re each thinking that the other musketeer has butt-poking feelings for him that he has not revealed until this point. I ONLY LIKE YOU AS A FRIEND, PORTHOS, GOD.
The musketeers quibble and argue and shove each other, and I may be imagining some sexual tension here (BOW CHICKA WOW), until finally one of them is all FUCK THIS SHIT, I’M OUT and the other one’s like GO THEN, YOU ASS-POKING FREAK, THE HELL WITH YOU. And then the remaining musketeer is all OOH, LOOKIT THIS BENCH, IMMA TAKE THIS FANCY SHIT ON ANTIQUES ROADSHOW, and then it disappears because Mephy doesn’t want his furniture turning up on PBS for everyone to gawk at, for heaven’s sake. Musketeer is all K THEN, I’LL JUST PARK MY ASS ON THIS OTHER BENCH OVER HERE but then POOF that one disappears too! Mephy is all about spreading evil through minor inconvenience, you see, all de-apparating the chairs you were just about to sit on. Dick.
Musketeer is all exasperated, but then he turns around and the first bench is back, and he doesn’t even find this particularly strange, he’s just OH THERE YOU ARE, GET READY BENCH, YOU’RE FIXING TO GET GRACED BY ATHOS ASS, and before he sits he points at the bench like NOW DON’T YOU GO ANYWHERE, and it doesn’t go anywhere this time, but just as Athos settles his legging-clad shanks on the bench, a skeleton appears there and he scoots booty right into a bony pelvis. FACE!
And then, because Athos is clearly a paragon of rationality, he whips his sword out of its scabbard, all IMMA SLICE THAT SKULL LIKE BUTTA, but when he swings the sword, the skeleton turns into the giant bat and flaps at him while he puts his sword back into its sheath all like K, I’M DONE WITH THIS WEIRD ACTION, but then he reconsiders and grabs the bat, and POOF, it’s Mephy again! Athos is all SHIIIIIIIT and backs away, and then Mephy conjures up more smoke in which the imp makes a repeat appearance. And Athos seems like he’s scared, but also kinda like HUH, WOULD YOU LOOK AT THAT.
Mephy points the imp to the floor, where he does a kinda tumble and disappears YET AGAIN, in a way that kinda makes it look like an accident. OH, THAT’S RIGHT, I FORGOT I CAN’T TUMBLE THAT WAY, THAT SENDS ME RIGHT TO THE OTHER DIMENSION. DAMN.
And then Athos, looking very put out, attempts to stomp like a manly man away from these devilish shenanigans, but ALAKAZAM! The way out is blocked by four white-clad babes! Instead of being all LLLLLADIES, Athos falls to his knees and begs them not to touch him with their ovary cooties, but they just push into him like an impenetrable wall of vampitude, and Athos JUST CAN’T EVEN and passes out. The ladies, their job done, disappear.
Mephy jumps over the prone Athos and then wafts his hands at the guy, and Athos acts all histrionic like he’s been blinded maybe, and then Mephy reaches into the closet and brings out Greek Cauldron Bitch. Athos is all WELL HELLO THERE and sorta bows to her and takes her hand, then gets down on one knee and kisses the hand, the whole schtick. But as soon as he kisses her hand, ABRACADABRA, she turns into…um…someone else? Another lady in a long white gown and maybe white angel wings, and she seems to be holding a staff. Athos is perturbed about this for some reason, and is all LET’S GO, ANGEL HO and he draws his sword again, but angel-woman raises her staff, and then a bunch more ladies appear beside her. Athos is all UH OH, but then apparently Porthos has recovered from his butthurt because he returns and starts helping his fellow musketeer fight the woman-wall. And I guess they’re supposed to be witches, because a bunch of them have brooms. The witches run around in a circle and then go out the door, but then troop back into the room through another entrance, like some kind of Wiccan conga line. Porthos has had enough and runs from the room and leaps over a railing with a hearty WHEEEEEE while Athos is back there all WTF MAN YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO BE HELPING ME, BROTHERS IN ARMS MY ASS.
The ladies kinda feint at Athos, and he just doesn’t know what to do, but then the witches kinda circle again and crouch down to the floor and disappear. I feel like Mephy is just messing with the musketeers at this point, and all because Athos and Porthos were considering renovating Mephy’s sweet infernal castle into a charming bed and breakfast. (Lake views, full buffet meals, and just a hint of Stygian atmosphere, all for very reasonable rates.)
Athos searches the ground where the witches disappeared as if to say WELL, I CAN’T FIGURE IT OUT, even though all he’s seen so far in this joint is magical appearances and disappearances of various non-human entities, so at this point you’d think he’d just be going with the flow. Finally he’s like WELL, I’M DONE and makes to leave, but of course Mephy is still there in the doorway and makes laser-finger gestures at Athos while Athos cowers and chews scenery. Then Athos pulls the old HEY, LOOK AT THAT DISTRACTING THING UP THERE and he climbs up on the bench and pulls down a big wooden cross that was conveniently hanging over a doorway. Now, not to judge, Mephy, but why on earth would you decorate your house with crosses when crosses are anathema to a diabolical being such as yourself? Maybe it isn’t Mephy’s castle after all. Maybe he’s just house-sitting for Cotton Mather or something.
Predictably, Athos wields the cross at poor Mephy, Mephy does the old OH WHAT A WORLD, WHO ARE YOU TO DESTROY MY BEAUTIFUL WICKEDNESS routine, and then the movie abruptly stops. Christianity wins, Mephy scampers back to Heck, and Athos buys the haunted castle for a song and razes the whole thing to the ground to build a Super WalMart. The end.