"Feels like the Edgar Allan Poe story Poe never wrote"
This post-First World War German silent movie, directed by Robert Wiene, is considered a classic of Gothic horror. It's so old (made in 1919) that few people outside of film critics and movie buffs have seen it.Evil Dr. Caligari (Werner Krauss) hypnotizes the somnambulist Cesare (Conrad Veidt), and forces him to commit murders in the night. Ordered to kill a beautiful girl (Lil Dagover), Cesare kidnaps her instead.
The characterizations are deliberately campy and often more comical than scary. The plot, of course, is quite silly, morbid and sadistic, in the same way that Edgar Allan Poe's stories are. Yet, like Poe's fiction, THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI is strangely compelling: the acting style is dated yet entertaining, maybe because the performers know how "tasteless" and lurid this melodramatic material is.
Visual style matches nightmarish substance, which is probably why the movie endures with critics if not with audiences. The set design is very memorable. The disjointed, schizoid, fragmented interiors look like they were conceived by a designer as deranged as Caligari himself. Kafka's THE TRIAL should unfold in settings like these, and Wiene might have been the ideal director for a Kafka screen adaptation. And yet Kafka's writings were all published posthumously, too late to have influenced CALIGARI or any of its darkly surreal contemporaries.It's dated and yet not dated. It feels like a period piece, yet the striking, creepy visuals make their presence felt. And despite being 80 years old, CALIGARI has a complicated flashback scheme as modern as PULP FICTION or THE USUAL SUSPECTS.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2002 Seattle Film Festival. For more in the 2002 Seattle Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Boston SciFi Film Festival For more in the 2015 Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival series, click here.