In his chapter ‘When the Woman Shoots: Ladies Behind the Silent Horror Film Camera’ in Silent Women: Pioneers of Cinema K. Charlie Oughton writes about some of the women working behind the film camera who made striking contributions to early Horror Cinema.

One of these is the French film-maker Alice Guy-Blaché who directed the first film version of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Pit and the Pendulum (1913). Oughton writes: “While Guy-Blaché’s status as a pioneer and indeed prolific filmmaker is evident, what is also interesting is that her direction and subject areas include not only the supposedly ‘ladylike’, but an early dedication to horror… The original story works as an imagining of torture at the time of the Spanish Inquisition. Focused as a study of fear, it comprises of the narrator’s sensory recollections of a time when he was left to die in an encroaching, mechanical torture chamber before being rescued at the last moment before death. Guy-Blaché’s adaptation works by adding an intimate, personal plot to explain the motivation for torture… in this manner, Guy-Blaché incorporated a romance into the narrative.”

Watch the surviving 7 minutes of the film:

On the missing final reel Oughton writes: “Sadly, the final reel of the film has been lost over time, and all that remains is an image of the climactic scene showing Alonzo underneath the blade. What we do know from Guy-Blaché’s memoirs is that she was an image innovator and that the sequence incorporated the use of rats nibbling at the ropes that restrain the innocent Alonzo. The rats then swarmed across his body and ‘penetrated the legs of his trousers’ (Blaché and Blaché, 1996) conveying yet more terror and revulsion to the audience, as stated in The New York Dramatic Mirror.”

To read more about Alice Guy-Blaché and the many other women pushing the boundaries of film-making in these pioneering days snap up a copy of Silent Women: Pioneers of Cinema.

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