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Fury of the Demon
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by Jay Seaver

"... Delight of the early film fiend."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2016 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Fabien Delage's "La Rage du Démon" ("Fury of the Demon" in English) is hardly unique for being a mock-documentary built in such a way that you could probably make a decent nonfiction film out of the material shot to supplant the main story, but that is a large part of its charm: There is genuine passion for all the material here, even the stuff that doesn't necessarily serve Delage's story.

It is, ostensibly, the story about a screening at a Paris museum in 2012 of a Nineteenth-Century film recently unearthed by an American collector, quite possible a lost Méliès. It doesn't receive the rapturous reception that one might expect, though - the theater erupts into violence, the police have to be called, ten people are sent to the hospital. A little research suggests that this has happened both other times the film is known to have played (its 1897 premiere and a 1930s screening in New York). Did Georges Méliès, in many ways the most important filmmaker in history, film something unearthly enough to drive men mad?

The answer, in real life, is no, and even within the film, Delage suggests that this demonic film may be more Méliès-adjacent than anything else. In doing so, he creates characters and a story that has the ring of period truth, tapping into how Méliès, who was a magician before he became a filmmaker, would have moved in the same circles as the spiritualists and others who fed the occult craze around the turn of the twentieth century. The stories of Victor Sicarius would be a worthy period piece on its own, and Delage does a fine job of not just fleshing it and its details out, but imagining the sort of record necessary that what we "learn" would be believably fragmentary, uncertain, and open to interpretation.

And yet, as enjoyable as that is, it sometimes pales in comparison to how the film talks about Méliès, early cinema, and how they influenced genre productions to this day. Méliès, a number of experts pointed out, created fantasies while most of the rest of the world was recording the prosaic, and in many ways did a better job of creating dreams than many of the later people who tried. The vast majority of his work (and that of his contemporaries) is lost, so Delage talks to people in archives. There's genuine enthusiasm to this material and enough interest in authenticity that viewers who came for something a lot more like a conventional faux-documentary horror story might come out having learned something, and maybe having a new interest.

Admittedly, they'll probably also be a little disappointed that what happens in the screening itself amounts to a bunch of dangling loose ends; it just does wind up being that sort of movie. At 60 minutes, it's very close to the border of what many would consider a feature and, sure, there'd be room to do more, but that would dilute the good stuff this has. Instead, it plays like a treat for those of us who are fascinated by the early days of cinema, something of a "Forgotten Silver" for genre fans, and that's a nice little morsel.

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originally posted: 07/21/16 06:33:37
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2016 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2016 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
  Fabien Delage

Written by
  Fabien Delage


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