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In 1886, French magistrate Simon Cordier kills a condemned murderer in self-defense, thereby inheriting the Horla, an evil spirit that had possessed his victim. Following several mysterious occurrences, Cordier is visited by the Horla and ordered to kill his pet bird. His will gone, he has no choice but to obey. In an attempt to quiet his nerves, Cordier resumes his hobby of sculpting and falls in love with his model, Odette Duclasse. She neglects to tell the magistrate of Paul, her estranged artist husband, but agrees to run away with him; on the eve of their departure, however, Cordier obeys the Horla's command to murder her. The following morning, unaware of what he has done, Cordier goes to his attic and is horrified to discover Odette's decapitated head resting on the bust he has sculpted. When police arrest Paul for the murder, Cordier maintains silence, even though Jeanne, daughter of art gallery owner Andre D'Arville, pleads with the magistrate to protest her lover's innocence. The Horla then orders Cordier to murder Jeanne, but the reflection of a crucifix awakens him from his murderous trance, and he decides to destroy the evil spirit. Sensing its vulnerability to fire, Cordier awaits the Horla's next visit, then sets his study aflame, killing both himself and his oppressor. As Cordier's will and diary are read, a priest who has been telling the story remarks that the Horla will continue to live wherever evil exists in the heart of man.