Macabre Movie Mausoleum: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

Do you hear that? That’s right gravetoppers and tombstones, you don’t hear anything. Macabre Movie Mausoleum is reviewing its first silent film. Silence…

“The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” (1920)

Director: Robert Wiene

Stars: Werner Krauss, Conrad Veidt, and Friedrich Feher

I don’t like silence, let’s get that right out in the open from the beginning. No, I’m not scared of it. I don’t fear anything; except herpes. That shit is everywhere. I don’t like the silence because I need something to drown out the voices in my head. They make me do bad things, and that can be exhausting. So I typically steer clear of silent movies, but sometimes that just can’t be avoided. Case in point, “The Man Who Laughs” was the last silent movie I watched. I highly recommend the movie, especially for anyone who likes Batman, as the laughing man was a direct inspiration of The Joker. But even without the Batman connection, the movie was fantastic all around. It didn't seem possible that I could watch two good silent films without getting a dud in between. “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” did not disappoint. 

Before I continue, let me make it perfectly clear that I am neither a movie historian nor a movie buff. I’m just a horror author that likes to watch scary movies and write about them. With that said, this 1920 movie was absolutely striking and has to be among the first to be filmed with a psychological emphasis.  What I mean is, everything seen in the movie, from the actors' makeup to the set designs, were all crafted to create a 'crazy' feel, and meant to warp the viewer’s perception. From the set design to the props used, there were absolutely no squares or rectangles, and virtually no right angles throughout the entire film.

This may seem like an odd thing for me to focus on, but if you look around, you’ll quickly realize how many right angles, rectangles, and squares you’re surrounded by. Chances are the screen you’re reading this on is a rectangle, your windows are squares, where your wall meets the floor/ceiling is a right angle. The creators of this movie took all of this into account and understood how disturbing it'd be to see none of this in everyday life.

This sense of unease, and let’s face it ‘craziness’ is to play into the fact that someone in the movie is disturbed, to say the least. We're supposed to figure out what exactly is going on when two people in a quiet town are murdered. Suspicion falls on a traveling sideshow attraction of a somnambulist (someone who sleepwalks under the control of another). The blame is passed around to a few people, including the main character.

This may just be the first movie to introduce flashbacks, special effects using lights, and a twist ending.  (Again, not a historian, but this came out in 1920, there couldn't have been much competition). Regardless of your feelings on the genre, and let’s be honest if your reading this you most likely are a fan of horror, I highly recommend this movie for anyone who appreciates the roots of film.

Rating...

I really can’t say enough about this movie. It almost bothers me that in 1920 we were able to get this masterpiece with a budget that most current independent movies could easily double or triple, but with more resources, better technology, and nearly a 100 years of practice, we still get utter trash like 2015’s Lazarus Effect.

To make things even better, it was recently announced that The Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau Foundation will be doing a new 4k restoration. There’s no release date for this yet, but either way this is spectacular news that everyone should get excited for. I’d recommend watching the movie now, and seeing the difference after watching the restored version upon release. But that’s just me, and what I’ll be doing.

OK, that’s all for now my little gravetoppers and tombstones. For more from Alex Azar go to azarrising.com