The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)

One of my goals for 2022 is to cover more franchises on the blog. Outside of events, most of what I do are stand-alone movies and that has not been conducive to clearing out my list of “movies I’ve mentioned on the blog but haven’t covered yet.” But it’s never too early to start a project, so let’s have a mini event this week, starting with the horror classic, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari! What’s the theme? All in good time…

The story is told through flashback by Francis (Friedrich Feher) about why is fiancée is borderline catatonic. Some time ago, his small town was visited by the sinister Dr. Caligari (Werner Krauss) who showed off his pet somnambulist/sleepwalker, Cesare (Conrad Veidt, last seen here in Anders als die Andern). What starts as a vaguely spooky spectacle turns to horror when Cesare predicts the death of Francis’ friend, and sure enough the guy is murdered in the middle of the night. If a goth living in a box told me I was going to die in my sleep, I would simply log off the internet, but to each their own. Caligari is immediately suspected, but a completely unrelated murderer getting caught, allows him to continue his schemes. Cesare is caught while trying to abduct Francis’ ladyfriend, and Caligari runs away to a nearby insane asylum. Francis investigates and finds out that Caligari is the director, who took the names “Caligari” and “Cesare” from a story of a man who used a somnambulist to murder people. Once his crimes have been revealed, the director is institutionalized and the day is saved… only not. Turns out Francis is insane and his whole story was made up, referencing patients and doctors around him. Now realizing that Francis believes him to be the mythical Caligari, the director now believes he can properly help the poor man.

This is one of the first horror movies ever made, and it’s influence reverberates to this day. It’s a posterchild of the Expressionism movement, which produced other films like Nosferatu and paintings like Edvard Munch’s The Scream. The buildings are crooked and the whole thing has a surreal nightmarish feel to it, which tracks since it was all the delusions of a sick man. Modern references to the film include the Penguin from Batman Returns being modeled off of Caligari himself (see also Edward Scissorhands and Cesare), Rob Zombie’s entire “Living Dead Girl” music video being an direct reference (and was also co-directed by Joseph Kahn of Detention), and even the rival characters of Zomburger from the YouTube series “Bigtop Burger” all named after characters and actors from Caligari.

Because this movie is so old, it’s just about everywhere on the internet. Tubi has it, but I’m really hesitant recommending that version. See, I decided to be a snob and picked up the Blu ray 4K digital restoration of the film, and holy shit, I don’t know if it ever looked this good. Proving more YouTube links to prove my point, but this trailer is the same quality as the version on Tubi, while this trailer is for the digital restoration. It’s practically a different movie, but oh no, different version of Caligari are the theme this week, so I’ll have one of those next time.

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

  1. Pingback: The Man Who Laughs (1928) | Chwineka Watches

  2. Pingback: The Cabinet of Caligari (1962) | Chwineka Watches

  3. Pingback: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (2005) | Chwineka Watches

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