Though not the first such show, one of the best known of early horror shows was the Fantasmagorie (Phantasmagoria in English) -- the forerunner of the Halloween Show. It was produced by a Belgian, E'tienne Gaspard Robert, who called himself Robertson. At first Robertson simply gave scientific demonstrations with his lanterns. But upon discovering the French public's appetite for the macabre in the declining years of the Revolution, he opened an elaborate ghost show in Paris in 1799.
|Beginnings of the Movies: The audience reacts in delighted terror at the 1799 Phantasmagoria magic-lantern show in Paris -- the ancestor of today's Halloween horror movie.|
Suddenly the lamp went out. Thunder roared and lightning flashed. Church bells tolled, the lightning and thunder increased, and a tiny figure -- half-human, half-demon -- appeared in the air, shimmering and ghostly. Gradually the figure seemed to approach, growing larger and larger, until suddenly it disappeared with a wail. Bats fluttered on the walls, ghosts and goblins groaned, skeletons came hurtling toward the audience.
Women who had come to the show fainted in terror. Bold men hid their eyes.
The show was a smash success -- the toast of Paris.
Robertson's performance was staged with the help of several magic lanterns and six assistants, all hidden behind the screen, on which the images were rear-projected. To make the images change size, Robertson used lanterns fitted with special self-focusing lenses, and mounted on large wheeled platforms. The lanterns could move backwards from the translucent screen, making the goblins and skeletons appear suddenly larger, as though they were moving toward the audience. Other images were projected on smoke, which make them swirl magically. Others were projected on the walls with hand-held lanterns, so that bats could flicker in the corners and dive-bomb the women's hair.
Robertson imitators were soon performing all over the continent, and throughout the coastal United States as well. The first Phantasmagoria show in America, in New York in 1803, was only four years after Robertson's show in Paris.
Half a century later the Phantasmagoria was still going strong. Joseph Boggs Beale, the man who would later become America's leading magic-lantern artist, saw a Phantasmagoria show as a young man in Philadelphia during the 1850s.
The Phantasmagoria intensified the tradition of ghost and goblin shows from the lantern's early days of the wandering showmen, and led to a whole genre of macabre magic-lantern slides.
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