© 2017

The Modern Supernatural and the Beginnings of Cinema


Table of contents

About this book


This study sees the nineteenth century supernatural as a significant context for cinema’s first years. The book takes up the familiar notion of cinema as a “ghostly,” “spectral” or “haunted” medium and asks what made such association possible. Examining the history of the projected image and supernatural displays, psychical research and telepathy, spirit photography and X-rays, the skeletons of the danse macabre and the ghostly spaces of the mind, it uncovers many lost and fascinating connections. The Modern Supernatural and the Beginnings of Cinema locates film’s spectral affinities within a history stretching back to the beginning of screen practice and forward to the digital era. In addition to examining the use of supernatural themes by pioneering filmmakers like Georges Méliès and George Albert Smith, it also engages with the representations of cinema’s ghostly past in Guy Maddin’s recent online project Seances (2016). It is ideal for those interested in the history of cinema, the study of the supernatural and the pre-history of the horror film.


ghostly haunted spectral projected image supernatural displays psychical research telepathy spirit photography X-rays sceletons danse macabre Georges Méliès George Albert Smith Guy Maddin Horror supernatural ghosts early cinema

Authors and affiliations

  1. 1.CalgaryCanada

About the authors

Murray Leeder teaches Film Studies at the University of Calgary, Canada, and holds a PhD from Carleton University. He is the author of  Horror Film: A Critical Introduction (forthcoming) and Halloween (2014) and editor of Cinematic Ghosts: Haunting and Spectrality from Silent Cinema to the Digital Era (2015).

Bibliographic information


“The Modern Supernatural and the Beginnings of Cinema is a cornucopia of ideas, arguments and images both scrupulously well researched and highly readable. This original exploration of film history makes for one of the most pleasurable books I’ve read in 2017.” (Alan Price, The Magonia Blog,, April 05, 2019)