Often misidentified as the 1898 Méliès film, The Damnation of Faust, which is presumed lost. Faust in Hell is instead a 15-scene epic that introduces some excellent new tricks, such as the descent beginning at the 4:48 mark. The scenes as described in the Melies catalog are as follows:
1. The Route to the Depths of Perdition (a Dazzingly Sensational New Effect.)
2. The Fantastical Ride.
3. The Gloomy Pass.
4. The Stream.
5. The Entrance to the Lower Regions.
6. The Marvelous Grottoes (tableau with six dissolving Scenes.)
7. The Crystal Stalactites
8. The Devil’s Hole
9. The Ice Cavern.
10. The Goddesses of Antiquity (a Superb Fantastical Ballet in a Snowstorm.)
11. The Subterranean Cascade (a New Trick with Apparition in a Waterfall.)
12. The Nymphs of the Underworld.–The Seven Headed Hydra–The Demons–The Struggle of Water with Fire (a big Novelty.)
13. The Descent to Satan’s Domain (a clever trick now first shown.)
14. The Furnace.
15. The Triumph of Mephistopheles
One possible theory about this work which makes it more than just a well-executed trick film: the 10 ladies under a single umbrella could be symbolic of the potential for peace within a unified Europe, led by their 10 most prominent nations at the time. Notice the variations in the original set of “maiden” costumes. Perhaps before the film print deteriorated over time, we could have more easily differentiated between the specific countries represented. Color would have also been beneficial.
Regardless, did Méliès foreshadow the European Union? Or are things simply as they appear on the surface – a fun movie with an arbitrary number of beautiful ladies. Note that the women’s dresses each become modernized and conformed between each other near the end, but before that happens, their garb is briefly changed to that of antiquity, eliciting a bow of praise from Melies. Then, before making his own dramatic exit, Melies conjures a sign that reads, “Galathea Theatre”. This is a reference to the Greek myth of Pygmalion, the sculptor who fell in love with his statue of Galatea, and was eventually granted a wish (thanks to the goddess, Venus): the ivory sculpture was brought to life as a woman of flesh and blood.
Comical “ghost tale” by Méliès that uses the blurred, out-of-focus superimposition trick to creepy effect. Also of interest is the subtle symbolism invoked from the lodger’s rebuffed advancements towards the maid, followed by the candlestick that won’t sit still, grows much larger, and distracts until its flame finally seizes the man’s full attention.
So much to enjoy and appreciate in this one: the striking colors (especially the flames and demon green), the devilishly macabre subject matter, and the Méliès special effects. The coolest tricks involve fireball spirits that become ash and the use of out-of-focus superimposition to create the most visually-impressive ghosts in film up to this point.
Méliès takes his detachable head game, as previously seen in The Four Troublesome Heads and The Man with the India Rubber Head, to the next level as Le mélomane (aka The Music Lover). Curiously, the notes selected can be considered the opening to the United Kingdom anthem, God Save the King/Queen (and in the United States, My Country, ‘Tis of Thee, aka, America). One can wonder if this was intentional by the Frenchman, and whether it was perhaps a nod to the other two pioneering nations in cinema at the time along with France: the USA and England.
A King is blessed to have fulfilled the fantasy of many men and women: a sorcerer to summon a beautiful mate (with accompanying handmaidens), just for him. But he blows it, of course, after being offended by one of the magician’s follow-up tricks in which the throne is temporarily occupied by someone other than himself. Psssh, men. Typical.