Thursday, March 9, 2006

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)

I have finally gotten around to viewing one of the great-great-great ancestors of the horror genre, the great German Expressionist film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. says that Caligari is:
A milestone of the silent film era and one of the first "art films" to gain international acclaim, this eerie German classic from 1919 remains the most prominent example of German expressionism in the emerging art of the cinema. Stylistically, the look of the film's painted sets--distorted perspectives, sharp angles, twisted architecture--was designed to reflect (or express) the splintered psychology of its title character, a sinister figure who uses a lanky somnambulist (Conrad Veidt) as a circus attraction. But when Caligari and his sleepwalker are suspected of murder, their novelty act is surrounded by more supernatural implications. With its mad-doctor scenario, striking visuals, and a haunting, zombie-like character at its center, Caligari was one of the first horror films to reach an international audience, sending shock waves through artistic circles and serving as a strong influence on the classic horror films of the 1920s, '30s, and beyond. It's a museum piece today, of interest more for its historical importance, but Caligari still casts a considerable spell..
The amazing style of this film first lured me in with its funhouse-feel of its design. A very eerie, stylized funhouse, that is.

The film begins with Francis and Alan - bestest of friends, even when in love with the same girl - heading to the town fair. There, they see Dr. Caligari's exhibit of a "somnambulist," Cesare. Cesare can tell the future, and when Alan asks how long he will live, Cesare says, "until dawn!" OK, HERE is where the movie really grabbed me. I was like, "Oh no he didn't!!"

Of course Cesare's prophecy comes true, and Francis is convinced that Dr. Caligari controlled Cesare to commit the murder. Soon, Francis' love, Jane, is kidnapped by Cesare. The townsfolk chase Cesare thru the fantastically nightmarish scenery until he releases Jane but he continues to run. Cesare finally is caught when he drops dead with exhaustion. Meanwhile, Francis has been watching Dr. Caligari...after Cesare is discovered, Caligari makes a run for it, with Francis tailing him. They end up at an insane asylum...and it gets so good after that, I won't spoil it!

Even though this was a silent film, it was very well done. I was yawning a bit towards the beginning, but after I got used to reading the titles and after the story started moving along, I was fully engaged. Yes, it is a grainy black and white SILENT film. Yes you have to read. Yes it is a little slow in places. It is one amazing film, though. I still cannot believe it was made in 1919 (and released in 1920)...absolutely superb! The orchestra that provides the music throughout the entire film is excellent, perfectly conveying the mood and atmosphere. The set design and art direction are just amazing...the story is completely engaging...

This is a definite must-own for horror fans!

Order it on Amazon!

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