“In the grip of an obsession.”
If you are the slightest bit interested in discovering what German Expressionism is all about, then there’s no better place to start than with the 1920 horror film, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Directed by Robert Wiene, the film begins with two men sitting on a bench exchanging their stories of woe. One of the men, Francis (Friedrich Feher) says that his troubles all began when the fair came to the small town of Hostenwall….
A rotund, shabby, toad-like and repulsive individual named Dr. Caligari (Werner Krauss) arrives in town and takes his sideshow to the fair. Here he attracts a large audience to see his somnambulist–a young man named Cesare (Conrad Veidt) who’s kept in a coffin, and brought out by Caligari to answer the audience’s questions. Caligari brags that Cesare can answer questions about the past, present or the future, but Caligari also uses Cesare to commit a series of horrible murders in the town.
Gripping, mesmerizing and infinitely creepy, this film maintains its bizarre, grotesque otherworldly atmosphere to the very last frame. It’s a perfect example of German Expressionism–with unrealistic sets painted with bold, wild geometric designs, and objects set at impossible angles. The complexities of this impressively eerie film must be seen to be appreciated, but the most amazing scenes occur when Caligari’s ego becomes entangled with the fate of the somnambulist. Just how this silent film manages to convey Caligari’s imagination and runaway ego is truly impressive.
This Image DVD is marvelous quality for its age–however, a horizontal line appears through some of the frames. Image states that this is a fault in the print and they made the decision to leave it–rather than crop it out. The DVD also includes commentary by film scholar Mike Budd and a 3-minute portion of the film, Genuine: A Tale of a Vampire. The clip was just long enough to intrigue me. Film buffs, silent film lovers, or those interested in the beginnings of horror film, do yourself a favour and seek out this film.