Now wait, you might be saying to yourself. Didn’t he already cover this? Well, yes and no. Yes, I started this week with a post on the 1920 silent film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. But no, today’s post is on the 2005 remake that I can’t absolutely confirm is a shot-for-shot remake, but it’s the exact same movie. Except the characters now talk. A lot. And it’s not good.
If you read Monday’s post, you already know the plot. Caligari, Cesare, madness, blah blah blah. The 2005 remake is the exact same story. Well, it’s 95% the same story, because writer/director Mr. David Lee Fisher decided to use the fact that his actors were going to talk to fill in… plot holes? Calling them “plot holes” suggests the original plot had giant flaws or contradictions, which I don’t agree with. Sure, not a lot was actually explained, but it was a silent Expressionist film; making sense wasn’t its primary goal. But no, this film decided there were a bunch of questions that needed answers. Why did Alan ask Cesare how long he had to live? Because he was mentally ill and had a fixation on death. Why did Caligari target Alan? Because Alan half recognized him from his previous institutionalization. What was Caligari’s cover story for running a sideshow? To raise enough money to properly take care of Cesare. Why did the other doctors help Francis go through Caligar’s stuff? Because the director had been acting strangely for a year.
Does any of that information do anything that helps the film? No. Not at all.
This remake is a surreal experience, but not in the same way as the original. This was shot entirely against green screens with the backgrounds often taken directly from the 1920 original, and any actual set pieces look cheap as hell. It’s all black and white, with the exception of a purple flower at the end–any symbolism escapes me. The name “Cesare” gets pronounced at least 3 different ways, which is relatively minor until the same actor says it differently a few times. There are also two names in this that people would recognize: Tim Russ, AKA Tuvok from Star Trek: Voyager, is the town clerk and first victim, and Doug Jones was Cesare. Who is Doug Jones? Like, half of the movie monsters of the last decade. He’s Abe Sapien in Hellboy, the Pale Man in Pan’s Labyrinth, the fishman in The Shape of Water, even going as far back as Billy Butcherson in Hocus Pocus. It’s always nice to see him; I just wish it was in a better project.
Writer/director David Lee Fisher is a bit of a mystery. He’s either the murderer of David Wilkey and was executed by the state of Virginia in 1999–6 years before this movie came out–or he’s the same writer/director who raised money through a “successful” crowdfunding campaign for a similar remake of Nosferatu–again, starring Doug Jones–that hasn’t had a Kickstarter update since 2018. The few backers that remember throwing money at it are annoyed, naturally. Doug Jones said that the film might be finished soon, but that was reported in March 2020, back before the world ended. So the writer/director is either a dead murderer or a swindling hack. Not sure which is better.
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