The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) written by Kelly

(No spoilers)

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.


3 thoughts on “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) written by Kelly

  1. First off, good idea adding your past, and future, write ups to this page. They were tucked and hidden away.

    The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is one of THE silent films to see, which is exactly how I came about experiencing it. It has been some time since I viewed it, I would have to see this again, may even buy it – for purposes of antiquity, a then-new form of art vastly different from how we see and use it today.

    Regarding silent, and early ‘talkie’ films, since I’m not certain on what you have watched, I’ll mention the few recommendations I can provide from this era. Most are not “horror”, but will have elements of it – science fiction, murder, psyche wards, circus ‘freaks”, etc.

    Tod Browning is well known for his highly controversial (at the time) Freaks (1932). I suspect you might have seen this, or at least heard about it. Probably his most acclaimed is Dracula (staring Bela Lugosi). Saw the former, not the latter (nor Nosferatu). Some suggestions worth viewing are The Unholy Three (a crime film, with a midget posing as a baby), and his silent horror (starring Lon Chaney and Joan Ctawford) The Unknown.

    Fritz Lang is the other auteur around this period. His “Metropolis” is a timeless science fiction masterpiece. That one is a silent, the next is not. In Peter Lorre’s first leading role, “M”, he plays a child murderer on the hunt. There are memorably creepy scenes in this film, Lorre was an effective villain. Also Lang’s Dr. Mabuse series of films, only one I have watched to recommend is a sequel to “Dr. Mabuse The Gambler”, which is “The Testament of Dr. Mabuse”. The title character in the latter film is in an insane asylum, and carries out his schemes via hyponotism.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello! I have certainly heard of Freaks. And ‘M’, and Dracula. There are a few here that I haven’t seen yet. I suspect Rich has seen them all because he’s the brains behind the movies with this podcast haha. I will have to mention them all to him at some point. We’re definitely going to be covering the lesser known films this year, to venture out a bit more. Thanks for the comment!


  2. Pingback: Episode 35 – The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari & Nosferatu | We're Coming To Get You..

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