2017 is going to be the start of different film choices for the podcast, and what better way to start this year off than with a 1920 German silent horror film to review? It struck me last night that I have never seen a silent horror film before, not in full length. It seemed quite bizarre and almost disrespectful for me to have never seen the much older films of the genre I love so much, so here I am starting with “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari”.
The first thing that stood out so much even from the beginning of “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” is the film’s very strange look. It all comes across as very dreamlike – with so much distortion, jagged landscapes, a backdrop that is clearly a painted wall, trees with wired and spiked leaves, grass that look like knives, misshapen glasses, crooked doors and slanted walls. These particular settings took me back to being a child in those strange crooked houses at the funfair. The camera with the strange blackening look gives it this unstable touch that almost makes it feel as though something has been placed over the lens in order to highlight a specific visual or character. The extremely pale faces of the characters only make them look more ghastly and disturbing. These wide-ranging visuals immediately set the film apart from anything I’d witnessed before. The soundtrack to the film also deserves a mention for being very dramatic and terrorising in certain scenes.
The basic idea of this story is that of a man relating a story that happened to him and his friends – their alarming discovery of a crazed man, Dr. Caligari, and his prophetic sleepwalker. Shortly after the plot follows a series of murders and growing madness, keeping you in constant suspense and confusion until the very last scene.
After doing a bit of research, a case can be made that “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” was the first true horror film. There had been earlier ghost stories and notable choices but it seems “Dr Caligari” creates a mindscape and a subjective psychological fantasy. In this world, unspeakable horror becomes very real and possible. I can only imagine how that went down back in the day.
Partially the reason I went ahead with suggesting this to be covered on the podcast was that I had obviously heard about this many times and it never really gripped me as I am pretty stubborn when it comes to venturing out of my horror genre comfort zone. However, I eventually gave in and this is definitely worth a watch if you want something a bit different. German Expressionism films are not something I’ve been familiar with upon until now, so I am keen to check more of this kind out.
This is a genuinely creepy film which delves deep into the mysteries of the unstable mind – an uncomfortable journey to say the least. Everyone is a suspect and, in the end, we must ask ourselves: “who is really the crazy one here?” Incredibly subtle, we see the world the way an insane person might see it; warped and confused, a nightmarish place where nothing makes sense and balance is not to be found.