THE BEST SILENT HORROR FILM SHORTS 1896 – 1909’ve never made any secret out of the fact that I’m a hopeless silent movie geek. As we get closer to Halloween Balladeer’s Blog will examine the greatest silent horror films of all but for this little teaser I’ll take a look at the best silent horror shorts from 1896 to 1909.

THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL (1896) – Unless an earlier example turns up this is the very first horror movie with a semblance of a story. This 3 minute film from THE Georges Melies features the Devil setting up housekeeping in a creepy mansion and conjuring up his infernal lackeys like witches, goblins and a living skeleton man to keep him company. Much as the early film world owes to Melies we all know if you’ve seen one of his flicks you’ve seen them all so this will be the last work by him that I cover for this list. His camera trickery and broad characters get old REALLY fast.

FAUST AND MEPHISTOPHELES (1898) – George A Smith, a British stage magician, presents this very brief depiction of Faust selling his soul to the devil named Mephistopheles.

THE MISER’S DOOM (1899) – Like an 1899 Twilight Zone episode this Walter Booth short features a clutching, grasping miser getting his comeuppance in the form of a fatal encounter with a woman’s ghost. 

THE FREAK BARBER (1905) – In a sort of “Extreme Sweeney Todd” story a mad barber decapitates his customers until the tables are turned and he himself gets his head chopped off in the finale. 3 minutes of weirdness.

THE THIRTEEN CLUB (1905) – A group of iconoclastic eccentrics intentionally break superstitions by walking under ladders, embracing the number 13, letting black cats cross their paths, etc. Their laughter dies – just like they do – and their bodies are reduced to nothing but skeletons. 

ESMERALDA (1906) – The earliest known screen adaptation of Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Henri Vorins played Quasimodo and Denise Becker played the title character.

The Red Spectre with the bottled souls of his victims.

The Red Spectre with the bottled souls of his victims.

THE RED SPECTRE (1907) – 9-10 minute Pathe production which features beautifully rendered red tinting. The central figure is a demon in the depths of Hell clad in a red cape plus a skull mask and skeletal central costume.  

The Red Spectre toys with the captive souls of various women until an angel shows up to end his evil deeds and defeats him. The angel is played by a woman with very short hair so it may have been meant to be a little boy angel.

The angel frees the women’s souls, subdues the Red Spectre and places her foot on his back in triumph before donning his red cape herself.

This film is notorious both for its surreal, almost Dali-esque images and for its association with one of the possible suspects in the Zodiac murders in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Ignore comparisons with Melies. This short is much more inventive than the work of that repetitious quasi- hack ever was.

THE DOLL’S REVENGE (1907) – 81 years before Chucky, this short featured a killer doll storyline. When a mean- spirited little boy rips apart his sister’s doll the dismembered doll reassembles its body parts, grows to human size and is then joined by another life-sized doll in ripping the boy limb from limb. Pretty dark for a 1907 movie!

THE GHOST HOLIDAY (1907) – Ghosts and skeletons rise from their graves and joyously dance and frolic their way out of the cemetery. Michael Jackson’s Thriller video goes to the turn of the century!

LEGEND OF A GHOST (1907) – In Pathe’s ground-breakingly long 17 minute film this macabre tale of gothic horror features an imperilled woman facing Hell on Earth in the form of demons, a vampire and a dragon. Toss in a ghost who has an important message for our heroine and enjoy! 

THE PEARL FISHER (1907) – In a slimmer 9 minutes this time Pathe presents the story of a male pearl diver being lured by the Queen of the Deep into encounters with monstrous undersea creatures and other odd beasts. 

THE PROFESSOR AND HIS WAXWORKS (1907) – In the oldest known Wax Museum horror film a mad scientist brings to life the figures in a wax museum. 

THE BLOODSTONE (1908) – A gothic horror story about an accursed ring that brings discord, violence, terror and death to everyone who possesses it.  Lubin Studios produced this little gem (sorry).

DR JEKYLL AND MR HYDE (1908) – This very first film version of the Robert Louis Stevenson story was a slimmed- down presentation of a stage adaptation of the time. Selig Polyscope Company produced this 13 minute classic, which is also the oldest known American-made horror film. The name of the actor playing Jekyll and Hyde has not come down to us and does not show in the credits.

THE DOCTOR’S EXPERIMENT (1908) – A mad scientist injects human guinea pigs with extracts of monkey glands. The unfortunate victims begin to devolve and display the behavioral characteristics of monkeys. (Don’t go there … or there, either.) 10 minutes long.

THE LEGEND OF SLEEPY HOLLOW (1908) – This 14 minute flick was the very first film adaptation of the famous Washington Irving story about the Headless Horseman.

FEATHERTOP (AKA LORD FEATHERTOP) (1908) – The first film version of the Nathaniel Hawthorne tale about a witch who brings a scarecrow to life to do her bidding against the townspeople she loathes.

THE MONKEY MAN (1908) – A mad scientist transplants a monkey’s brain into a human being’s body with predictable results.

THE SNOWMAN (1908) – A snowman comes to life with much more sinister motives than Frosty the snowman ever had. 

THE SPECTRE (1908) – 8 minute Pathe short about a cobbler being haunted by the ghost of a man he murdered.

SPIRITUALISTIC SEANCE (1908) – 5 minute film about a seance and the unholy spirits conjured up by the ritual.

THE THIEVING HAND (1908) – In this film with a pioneering premise an artificial hand develops a life of its own, bringing horror to its owner. Vitagraph gave us this 5 minute long piece. 

THE BOGEY WOMAN (1909) – Pathe studios strike again with a 7 minute tale about a distaff version of the Bogey Man transforming innocent children into vegetables.

DR JEKYLL AND MR HYDE (1909) – Denmark’s early contribution to the world’s horror cinema. This was a 17 minute version of the famous story but it wimped out with an ending in which all the horror was just a dream. Not that you care but Alwin Neuss starred as the title duo.

ELECTRIC TRANSFORMATIONS (1909) – A mad scientist creates a device that melts metal – and the human beings who get in his way. He’s particularly fond of melting people’s faces with the weapon. (At last – the mystery of Helen Thomas’ face solved!) Percy Stow directed this 7 minute Clarendon production from Great Britain.

THE HAUNTED MAN (1909) – Duskes Productions in Germany produced this first known film version of a Doppleganger story as a young man is tormented by his evil spiritual twin.

THE IMP OF THE BOTTLE (1909) – First filmed adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s short story about a bottled imp who grants wishes with the catch being that whoever dies with the bottle in their possession is damned forever. Edison Company short that ran for 12 minutes.

THE INVISIBLE THIEF (1909) – Pathe’s Ferdinand Zecca directed this 6 minute long film that was the first screen presentation of the H.G. Wells story The Invisible Man.

THE MAN WHO LAUGHS (1909) – Screen debut of the lesser-known Victor Hugo story about Gwynplaine, another man with a disfigurement. In this case a face that is permanently distorted into a demented grin. “Winged freak terrorizes? Wait til they get a load of me!” … Had to be said.

THE MUMMY OF THE KING (1909) – First serious presentation of a mummy story on film. Lux Studios produced and Gerard Bourgeois directed. An archaeologist brings the mummy of THE King Ramses to life with the expected complications arising in this 10 minute story. 

Balladeer's Blog

Balladeer’s Blog

THE PRINCESS AND THE FISHERMAN (1909) – This 15 minute flick is a version of an often reworked sailor’s story. A sea hag spares a fisherman’s life and provides him with a princess bride and a castle to live in. The only condition is that he must return to her whenever she blows her enchanted bugle. The day arrives when she does just that but the fisherman fails to keep his end of the bargain with horrific results. Variations of this tale turned up in Kwaidan and Tales from the Darkside: The Movie.

‘TIS NOW THE VERY WITCHING TIME OF NIGHT (1909) – 8 minute movie from the Edison Company that features a man spending the night in a haunted house on a bet. Witches, living skeletons and bats terrify the man during his night-long ordeal.



© Edward Wozniak and Balladeer’s Blog 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Edward Wozniak and Balladeer’s Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.     



Filed under Bad and weird movies, Halloween Season

123 responses to “THE BEST SILENT HORROR FILM SHORTS 1896 – 1909

  1. This was so enjoyable! I never had any idea that movies went all the way back to the 1890s!

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  5. Such a fascinating collection of movies! I had no idea! Your site rocks and I love how you also speak out about Islam’s homophobia and misogyny! Their war on women is sickening!

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  7. I really enjoyed the mad scientist shorts! Who knew so many of these were made so long ago?

  8. T French

    Are these films available anywhere? I’m guessing that many of them will be in the public domain now…

    • Some are actually up on youtube, others can be found via Keno films and other distributors. Unfortunately some are held only by film museums in their countries of origin and are shown only on the premises. Footage from a few of these also turn up in documentaries on silent movies.

  9. katherine

    I know some (if not all of these) can be seen on Youtube, but I was wondering if you had any suggestions as to a collection of these on BlueRay or DVD. I love silent movies and old horror movies, and this list comprises a great list of ones I have never seen (thank you for sharing)!

  10. This is a treasure of hidden cinematic gems! Thanks!

  11. Awesome stuff! u may make me a silent movie buff now. This is my new favorite site on the web.

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  13. That doll one is hardcore!

  14. Very interesting! Would these be safe for kids?

  15. Great post! Never knew there was such an early adaptation of the invisible man.

  16. I like ur lengthier look at The Man Who Laughs in part 3 of this silent movie articel.

    • Thanks. I went brief with the one in this part because I feel the Conrad Veidt version is the definitive one. It could never be remade because with the different sensibilities today people would just laugh at Gwynplaine and not find him scary. His smile would prompt non-stop Joker references and jokes about the smiling “Bob” character from those male enhamcement ads.

  17. this just might make me interested in silent movies

  18. Well, this was really nice to learn about these old films! And ur sense of humor is so cute!

  19. Awesome list! Can’t wait for the ones from 1910 on.

  20. It was so wonderful 2 read about all these silent short movies!

  21. I never knew silent movies went back so far!

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  23. lol Glad to see I’m not alone in thinking Melies is overrated.

  24. Never knew most of these shorts were ever even made!

  25. That early version of the invisible man sounds awesome!

  26. ur movie articles r always so cool! I had no idea movies went back so far.

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  28. Ida

    This blog is the best and most fun place on the web! your getting me interested in silent movies!

  29. I don’t like Melies much either!

  30. You make even something as dull as silent movies seem interesting.

  31. Wonderful list! checking youtube now for them

  32. Great stuff! I wouldn’t want to watch any of these but its fun learning about what kind of movies they were doing so long ago!

  33. Movies, sports, Greek comedies and everythign else! I luv this blog!

  34. Fantastic! I never knew there was such an early version of invisible man.


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  38. Matt

    Where can I find ‘The Freak Barber’?

  39. Horror films go back a lot further than I thought

  40. Melies really is overratted!

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  42. Nobody gives a shit about silent films

  43. I checked some of these out on youtube and they really rock! Thanks for covering them.

  44. Totally awesome to think these films were made way back then




  48. Gaz

    Hi Balladeer, absolutely stunning post, just what I’m looking for! I run a horror festival and we’re looking for silent short horror films to make new scores for. Have you got any idea where I can find copies of “any” of these titles? Is there a DVD compilation of some of them for example? I’ve got Frankenstein and some of the Chomon short, but really need more! I hope you can help? THANK YOU!!!

    • Thanks for the kind words!

      Theres’ a ton of Melies available everywhere and Movies Unlimited sells silent short compilations that have some of the other shorts on this list.

      For many of them I taped them off university tv stations in the 1990’s where they would show hour-long sets of academic collections of the few scenes from most of the others, like Invisible Thief.

      Whole movies for most of them didn’t survive the decomposition of so many silent flicks so those academic and museum collections show JUST the 2 or 3 minutes – sometimes less – of each of the short films.

      I’m glad I taped those things off tv because I have never seen them available commercially.

      Video Yesteryear sold some of these silent shorts, too but I’m not even sure they are still in business.

  49. Tommy

    I would love to trade rare movies with you. Please let me know if interested at I need some of the titles you mentioned, even if on VHS.

  50. Fascinating to see such sophistication so early on!

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  57. Michael

    You may make me a silent movie fan.

  58. Tamara H

    Nifty and quaint horror shorts!

  59. Del

    I disagree with your dismissal of Melies.

  60. Armand

    I could not agree more about Melies! The same thing over and over.

  61. Homer

    Enjoyed reading this! Silent movies were a lot more involved than I thought.

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  63. Tyler

    I am so glad to find someone else who thinks Melies did nothing new but did it over and over again.

  64. Greg

    You did Melies a real disservice.

  65. Wolfman

    Hello I loved the article, tremendously informative. I am doing research for a project and would love to chat with you. What is the best email to reach you at?

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