Georges Méliès’ silent film, The Treasures of Satan (AKA The Devil’s Money Bags) reminds us that the Devil, demons, and Hell were among the most captivating images early in film history. In this case, Satan has a chest full of treasure, seemingly used to lure a man (played by Méliès) to be demonically pranked by its powers. Like so many of Méliès’ films, The Treasures of Satan carries a dreamlike quality, and, even though modern audiences might find these silent shorts tame or boring, they don’t actually put me to sleep. If nothing else, I am interested in seeing some of the earliest recorded films in history, and love that they often had what could be construed as horror themes.
There is an added bit of cuteness here, too. Because information is scarce about the cast, it’s fun to imagine that the real Satan plays himself, perhaps as a vicious God is viewing the entire spectacle from a hideout above the clouds, laughing and taunting the man below. It’s subtly implied that the man may actually be in Hell, suggesting that Death awaits its turn to take us, but not all of us end up in the best place. By the short film’s end, the character is gone, suggesting either that Life is taken from him, or maybe Satan is just bored with him for now. Granted, Georges Méliès likely played the Devil himself in classic DIY fashion, but still…
What “The Treasures of Satan” doesn’t have
Regarding the ordinary man in The Treasures of Satan, we at no point see him truly physically tortured, in the sense of physical gore or blood (at no point are his legs chopped off, and neither do we see his body lying on the floor, bloodied and convulsing, Texas-chainsaw style). However, there is that age-old message: Satan descends from the quest for wealth, and there may come a time when penance is in the air itself. Granted, this short film doesn’t initially carry a lot of weight, message-wise, but the themes are there waiting to get picked apart and explored. So definitely check this one out!
Other themes we could explore regarding money and evil
Personally, I can imagine a modern horror anthology series full of themes about money and evil, similar to what we find here. Granted, it might be that I am even misinterpreting the meaning of The Treasures of Satan, but it gave me ideas nonetheless. Maybe have some Christmas Carol “Tiny Tim” characters gang up on a Scroogian jerk and smash his face to pieces, believing him to be a literal piñata of wealth. Why not throw his cold, withered, skinflint heart into a hot furnace? There’s lots of room in Hell for a Scroogian figure, who screams and screams until Satan silences him with his tail.
Imagine that Satan heads towards Hell, grabbing a greedy billionaire by the hair and dragging him along? Or how about a war profiteer who has his day in the flames? The human falls off a precipice into Hell, moaning, while Satan sits on his back riding all the way down, bucking bronco style? So many scene options!
The horror twins vs. evil dog angle?
One last idea inspired by apparent themes from The Treasures of Satan, this time highlighting devilish greed itself: Imagine an abandoned house near a graveyard, with two homeless twin children taking refuge there momentarily. It is night, and they light a fire. Without warning, a giant hellhound appears, tearing at the children’s clothing, attacking them to take what little dignity they have left on this earth. The dog pursues them as a reincarnation of some Scroogian jerk, cursed to prey upon the innocent to perpetuate the evils of worldly greed and usurpation, like a corrupt, wealth-hoarding Cujo! Whiny audiences might complain about kids being placed in peril, but isn’t that what unmitigated greed does in real-life anyway? I think it’s a perfect analogous image.
What are your thoughts on The Treasures of Satan and these story ideas? Get greedy in the comments!