The Lantern of Fear - Page 2

The true origins of screen horror

Paul Philidor presented the prototype phantasmagoria show in 1789, in Berlin. His show included all the paraphernalia of the original seance plus a few additional and spectacular concepts, such as the quaint notion of having the entire seance room burst into flames. Unfortunately, an unsympathetic audience wrecked the show. However, two years later he emerged in Vienna, with an improved show, and enjoyed a run of over a year. In 1793, he took the show to Paris, when the French Revolution was in full flood. Here he attracted large audiences with his popular re-incarnations of martyred heroes. Only when he somewhat unwisely set about satirising Robespierre did the show close.

In 1797, when things had quietened down somewhat, the Phantasmagoria was born again in Paris, under the direction of the Belgian showman Robertson - the Spielberg of the phantom-show. His most atmospheric venue was the crumbling Convent des Capucines , which the audience were obliged to approach via a Gothic cemetery. Robertson introduced new effects - masks, ventriloquism, the projection of three dimensional figures and live actors and scripted scenes. He eventually took the show to Russia and Spain,and soon the concept spread to the U.S.A. and other parts of the World.

Phantasmagoria. This and every evening, at the Lyceum, Strand.

In 1801 Paul Philidor re-emerged in London under another name - Paul de Philipsthal, and presented his version of the Phantasmagoria at the Lyceum Theatre in the Strand, where it enjoyed a West End success on a par with that of the cinema, a century later. Indeed, although the phantasmagoria was an essentially live form of entertainment these shows also used projectors in ways which anticipated 20th century film-camera movements - the 'zoom', 'dissolve', the 'tracking-shot' and superimposition.

Grand Illusions Toy Shop

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