Perhaps it was the hallucination-inducing absinthe those artsy film directors consumed back in the day. Or perhaps it was simply the humor and sensibilities of the time period. Whatever the filmmakers’ intentions, the following restorations of some famous films created between 1897 and 1911 are mind-twistingly bizarre by today’s standards. Feast your eyes on these films from the dawn of cinema, where you can watch Satan munching on a human, weird aliens, exploding heads, and toys killing other toys, with the added bonus of seeing primitive special effects pushed to the extreme.
10. A Trip to the Moon (1902)
Forget an article or a book — you could develop an entire encyclopedia about Georges Méliès’ strange and haunting, yet groundbreaking, films. Considered one of the earliest sci-fi films, A Trip to the Moon is among the French filmmaker’s most famous projects. You can see what’s left of the restored flick — all 10 minutes, 30 seconds — in its surreal entirety. Or you can fast-forward to the stuff of fevered dreams. Its most iconic scene, right around the 4:40 mark, features a rocket carrying our intrepid human explorers shooting straight toward the moon with a creepy human face, puncturing the moon’s massive eye. Enter Méliès’ vision of moon aliens at 8:02. Jumpy, devilish creatures, aren’t they?
9. The Frog (1908)
This string of one perplexing disappearing creature morphing into another equally perplexing figure comes from the eccentric mind of the “Georges Méliès of the Latin World,” Segundo de Chomon. It also starts with a maiden being chased by a human-sized frog (who’s scary enough, let’s face it). For some reason, the pedestal they’re running around is magical, as the moment maiden steps on said pedestal — poof! She’s transformed into an enormous frog. At the 49-second mark, poof! Giant frog makes way for strange head on a platter, which appears to be a theme for films of the time period. From then until the end of the short, the pedestal is home to a strange array of morphing figures.
8. The Dancing Skeleton (1897)
For some strange reason, people in the late Victorian age seemed obsessed with bones. Many old films feature actors wearing full-body suits with skeletal ribs, arms and legs painted on. In this case, the filmmaking duo of brothers Auguste and Louis Lumière bring a skeleton to life in a most gleeful way. Mr. Skeleton loves dancing so much that he won’t let the bones falling left and right stop him from his frenetic leaping and bounding. At one point, about 10 seconds in, he collapses in a heap of bones — only to put himself back together again.
7. A Trip to Mars (1910)
We know Thomas Edison for his inventions, but the tech wizard also had a taste for strange flicks. Considered the first American science fiction film, this short takes us on a trip not to the moon but to Mars — courtesy of a mad scientist-type who discovers reverse gravity. Floating up to Mars, our explorer encounters (at the 2:30 mark) giant creatures with a mix of human faces and arms. Cut away at 2:55 to the bewildered scientist on top of what he thinks is a jagged rock. Unfortunately, the hapless astronaut learns it is not a rock.
6. The Merry Frolics of Satan (1906)
The gist of this George Méliès-inspired journey through hell starts with two travelers being carted off by the devil in a carriage pulled by a skeletal horse. It gets better. After climbing up an exploding volcano, the travelers take an unsettling ride through the cosmos. They pass by stars with human faces and goddesses on planets. All is smooth until, toward the end of the short, at 3:06, the horse begins to move at a more furious pace. The skies darken and the skeleton horse, devil, carriage and all plummet to the depths — hell for one unfortunate traveler and back to earth for another.
5. Mary Jane’s Mishap (1903)
Otherwise known as Don’t Fool with the Paraffin, this short really puts the “black” in “black comedy.” A famed actress of the time, Laura Bayley, struts around silly and clueless, and it’s clear the character isn’t too bright. At 2:28 she literally goes up in smoke after lighting a fire with flammable paraffin. After we see what’s left of her body shoot from the chimney, the short cuts to her tombstone, which reads: “Rest in pieces.” At 3:39, Mary Jane scares mourners by returning in a ghostly form.
4. The Man With the Rubber Head (1901)
There is some serious Frankenstein stuff going on here, thanks to the king of weird early films, Georges Méliès. Inexplicably, another mad scientist-type somehow manages to replicate his head. He then places said talking head on a table, and proceeds to blow up the head to many times its original size. At 2:12, the scientist’s assistant gets a little overzealous with the experiment, with terrible results.
3. The Haunted House (1908)
If you think the beginning of this Segundo de Chomon mini-flick is strange enough, with a ghoul appearing around the 50-second mark, just wait until the end. Within the last minute of the video clip, feast your eyes on all of the following and then some, in quick succession: Not only do objects move seemingly of their own accord, but the entire house see-saws back and forth like a ship on dicey waters. Enter devilish creatures resembling flames, darting to and fro over the unfortunate souls in this poltergeist extravaganza of a house. The worst (or best) part starts around the 5:40 mark.
2. Dreams of Toyland (1908)
Newspaper-cartoonist-turned-animation-pioneer Arthur Melbourne Cooper’s short starts off innocently enough. A little boy goes to the toy store with his mom. But once he’s home and tucked in for the night, we find out this boy has a wild and diabolical imagination. In his dreams, toys come to life, starting around the 3-minute mark. And these toys are creepy, certainly not the nice toys you know from Toy Story. Animals deliver beat-downs to each other in the middle of the street. Horses and geese attack humans, a bear goes wild, and it appears that at the end, a stuffed lion commits motor vehicular homicide by plowing a bus into a group of nasty toys, who probably deserved it anyway.
1. L’Inferno (1911)
Don’t watch this alone, and don’t watch this in the dark. This depiction of a very large Satan devouring a human is the stuff of nightmares. This creepy segment is only a small part of a 68-minute adaptation of Dante’s Inferno. Giuseppe de Liguoro’s take on the dark classic also represents the first full-length Italian feature. It may have taken three years to complete the complete horror flick, but scenes featuring the hideous Satan eating people for breakfast have been haunting at least three generations now. The film was released on DVD in 2004.