My notes on La Rage du Démon (Fury of the Demon)
At just an hour long, this French mock-documentary assembles a collection of talking heads who take a roundabout route to the film’s subject – a mysterious short film entitled La Rage du Démon, which has apparently only been screened three times, always in a period of crisis and upheaval, and always with extreme results as audiences riot, try to kill each other (casualties are mentioned) and have hallucinogenic visions. Understandably, no one is able to give much of a description of the film itself, though evidently it features a materialised Devil. First shown in Paris in 1897 (at the height of the Dreyfus Affair, presumably), it disappeared only to be revived in America in 1939 as a curtain-raiser to Tod Browning’s last film Miracles for Sale (and, presumably, World War Two). The impetus for this documentary is the rediscovery of the film in a box stamped with swastikas in a Russian archive, and its presentation by shadowy American collector Edgar Allan Wallace at the Musée Grevin – with luminaries of the French film scene in attendance. After the riot – the film resists the temptation to include found footage phone camera shots of the carnage, or else lacks the budget and extras to stage even a snippet of orgiastic horror – the film vanishes again, though an expert suspects it’ll show up in the next century to foreshadow more terror.
Directors like Christophe Gans and Alexandre Aja and critics like Jean-Pierre Putters – who has Nightmare Movies on a shelf behind him during his interview – contribute sage yet enigmatic opinions and there’s a conclusion that cinéastes would like the film to be really cursed – no matter the outcome – because it proves that the cinema really is magic. Like Theodore Roszak’s novel Flicker and Ramsey Campbell’s Ancient Images, this takes care to establish a lot of film historical facts before salting in the fiction. At first, it’s thought that the film is the work of Georges Méliès, and experts (including his great-great-granddaughter) pipe up with background about his shift from stage magic into film, while talking up a link between conjuring tricks and the spiritualist craze of the 1890s which found Méliès briefly associating with Victor Sicarius, a more sinister spiritualist (and possible diabolist) who is put forward as the most likely creator of the cursed film. A murdered actress and Sicarius’s suicide figure in the legend too.
It uses quite a few clips from Méliès’ films and other silent fantasy – quite striking is the intercutting of Méliès Voyage to the Moon with a ripoff that restages its key scenes – and there may well be a few moments of new-made old movie in there too, though this doesn’t spend much time on the Forgotten Cinema practice of faking footage which, by the rules of the story, shouldn’t be shown. Actually, this is a bit timid – a more sensationalist (dare one say American) filmmaker than Fabien Delage would at least start to go the Halloween III route and threaten to unleash the film on the internet to spread havoc throughout the world. It’s playful rather than truly sinister, but sweet.