On July 9, 2012, a film was screened at the prestigious Grevin Theater in Paris.  Hosted by American film collector Edgar Wallace with an audience consisting of the premiere cinema figures in Paris by invite only, nobody knew what film was actually being shown on that evening.

Wallace promoted it like any showman would – with vague emails that only intrigued the guests more, never naming the film in the invite, rather referring to it as “the film”.  Wallace also did not include any PR information regarding the event, which only piqued the interest of invitees even more.

The screening began like any typical cinematic event, but before the audience could even settle into their seats, the air grew thick and tension mounted in the theater.

Most audience members from that fateful night seem to only recall bits and pieces of the screening, far more conscious of their sudden physical ailments and mysterious psychological change that occured while the projector reel rolled.

Several theater goers described it as “a fever” that was “all a blur in my mind”.  One member of the theater staff said he thought he was having a stroke.  The audience was suddenly “a horde of zombies” and “utter chaos” ensued.  Violence, panic and anger ruined the evening that suddenly had people fearing for their lives.  As the audience erupted in shouts and fighting, the film was stopped – and the audience almost instantaneously recovered.

When police arrived at the theater, Wallace was arrested and the police commissioner requested that the film and the film equipment be brought in as evidence.  Only, the film was gone.  Wallace insisted he did not take or hide the reel.  Police were baffled.  A mysterious film is played that leads to violence and rage throughout theater aisles and disappears as mysteriously as it arrived that night.  The only thing that makes this story even more odd is that it had happened twice before in the history of the film, as well.

In 1897, three died when a “film runs amok”, per headlines in Parisian newspapers after this sinister film was screened for what is believed to be the first time.  In 1939, before a screening of Tod Browning’s MIRACLES FOR SALE, this same film was screened to an audience of over 500 people.  Several died after a fire broke out amidst “angry voices” and “restless” anger that caused the riot.

While there was no mention of the name of the film or director of the film during either of these incidents, the nights in question have been linked to quite possibly the most mysterious film ever created.

LA RAGE DU DEMON, also known as FURY OF THE DEMON, isn’t mysterious because of what is actually on the film, rather what may be in the film.  A haunted film?  Mass hysteria?  Airborne toxins that pollute audiences’ minds?  Director Fabien Delage covers all the bases in his fantastic documentary, FURY OF THE DEMON.

The documentary was most recently shown at the Fantasia Film Festival.  Focusing on the short film, FURY OF THE DEMON, which may or may not have been directed by iconic filmmaker George Melies, Delage’s mockumentary spends most of its 60-minute run time documenting the three instances in which this devil of a film was screened only to lead to outbursts of terrible violence and mayhem from audiences, including a death and a theater fire.

While most independent documentaries tend to lack star power when it comes to interviews, this film has quite a presence – namely with Alexandre Aja (HIGH TENSION, HORNS) and Rue Morgue’s Dave Alexander, who is one of only two people in the film who speak English.  If you aren’t a fan of subtitles, you’re going to want to skip this film – it is in French.  If you skip this film, it is definitely your loss.

I love a good documentary, and I absolutely love this film.  Rich with historical content, FURY OF THE DEMON shows a collection of clips from some of the most famous silent films of all time.  The interviews within the documentary are fascinating, especially the eyewitness account of a senior gentleman who was allegedly present at the 1939 screening of the film that led to the man seeing his father crush a woman’s skull in before wrapping his hands around his son’s throat.

Sounds awesome, right?  It is.  But it is also called a mockumentary for a reason.  While most of the facts about director Melies are absolutely true, the same cannot necessarily be said about the interviewee’s tales regarding Victor Sicarius, Melies’ protege who was ultimately disowned by his teacher after Sicarius’s own films became just a tad too risqué for Melies to allow himself to be attached to the young filmmaker with a fascination in witchcraft, demonology and the occult.

Yes, Melies created some of the first special effects work ever in cinema history – and most definitely did it better than anyone in his era.  Yes, Sicarius learned under Melies and had a penchant for some dark interests on the side.  But it has never been confirmed that Sicarius murdered his beloved girlfriend Juliette nor will it ever be determined whether or not Sicarius actually played a role in cursing the film thanks to his paranormal hobbies.

George Melies
George Melies

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What makes this such an entertaining documentary and such a fascinating story in general is the fact that there is no proof this film even exists today.  The birth of talkie movies quickly made silent films obsolete, leading to many being ignored and ultimately lost forever, sadly.  Perhaps a reel sits in a dilapidated attic or library basement somewhere, but there’s just a good a chance that this film, like so many before it, has been lost forever.   Thus, we can really only go off of what we are being told about the film by this captivating storytellers in Delage’s documentary.

FURY OF THE DEMON isn’t for everyone.  If you are a film buff or someone who loves to learn how films are made, you should really enjoy this one.  If you are looking for grisly details of the alleged hysterical incidents or clips from the actual film in question, you are going to be sorely disappointed.  In fact, following the film’s disappearance on that crazy night in 2012, the reel has yet to reappear, so viewing the film is currently, absolutely, impossible.

The best thing about Delage’s film is most definitely the interviews and the fact that these well-respected cinema experts are so enthusiastically contributing to a mockumentary about a film so people know so little about.  It’s a fascinating film that touches on cinema history, the origins of spiritism in film and the psychological puzzle pieces of mass hysteria.  Things get a little wacky when people like Aja began to discuss the space-time continuum and magical powers of cinema during the second act, but that doesn’t distract too much from the picture as a whole.  The editing is also superb in this film.  The worst thing about this mockumentary – the moment you realize it’s just that, a mockumentary.  But it sure is a hell of a fun one.

Check this one out, folks.  You won’t be disappointed!

Follow Justin Hamelin on Twitter @MangledMatters

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