Wednesday, October 30, 2013

"Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari" (1920)

One of the all-time greats of silent film horror, (if the relatively small amount of such films that survive to this day really makes that an achievement) “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” is ground breaking in several ways. It is a premier example of German Expressionism. It set a visual standard that would dominate horror and noir for years to come. It introduced the “twist ending.” Even if that last bit was not something the filmmakers intended.

Today the film is too outdated to be enjoyed by most audiences, but it really is a great film. The story is simple. A psychologist uses a hypnotized victim—a patient in his sanitarium—to kill people. When the “somnambulist” is too overcome by the beauty of a victim to carry out the job, she gets away and he dies. When the doctor is caught in his scheme, he is committed to his own hospital. With that story deemed a little too intense for the days audiences, the whole thing is capped off with an additional ending revealing the whole story to be the invention of a madman.

Many critics have tried to demonstrate how this story revealed things about the German society of the time that predicted the horrors to come, but that is a bit of a stretch. That being said, all of the art of the Weimar Republic is fascinating to look at in light of where the country had been, the state of things after WWI, and where the world was headed. If you can handle silent films, this one is available online at no cost.

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