Wednesday, October 12, 2005

31 Days of Des' Horror Favourites: #20 The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

Why I like it: All right, I know what you're thinking: another silent German film? Yep...

And I'd tell you why if I didn't think this film should speak for itself. If you haven't seen it then you haven't seen what a horror film can truly do. 1920's Das Kabinett des Doktor Caligari continues to stand as a landmark of horror film-making 85 years after it was made.

Robert Wiene directed this film about a devious hypnotist/therapist who travels with a carnival named Dr. Caligari. Caligari (played by Werner Krauss) "awakens" his sleeping performer Cesare (awesomely portrayed by Conrad Veidt from the Man Who Laughs but probably best remembered as Major Strasser in Casablanca) who moves like a ghost from a modern J-horror film and tells the future of fair-goers. His prediction that a fair-goer has until dawn to live comes true and Cesare becomes the prime suspect when the murder is uncovered. In an odd move, Cesare kidnaps the murdered man's wife and then runs until exhaustion kills him (which is even odder considering all the guy does is sleep). There is a tacked on prologue and epilogue which is the murdered man's friend who tells the story and lightens the impact of the film. Its initial ending insinuates that authority is insane can't be trusted. That's the cut I'd like to see. There is a remake scheduled for 2006 but I tremble in fear (not in a good way) to think of how the film will be handled.

It's the look of this film that sets it apart from all others. The angled set pieces add an eerie sense of nothing being right as all of the buildings tilt and all of the doorways are crooked. It's amazing to watch. My favourite part of the look of this film is the lighting. It was a rarity as it was filmed in a studio (imagine that) and it was consistently lit from all angles. In order to get a contrast the shadows were painted on. It adds the most surreal aspect that it makes this one seem not right at all. It was the first horror film to truly twist the fear throughout its geography.
Geography is an extremely important part of a horror film. There are several ways in which geography can be used to guide a horror film and a scary setting is one of those ways. This setting goes beyond scary into the realm of twisted and brilliant.

Check these out:
-Casablanca-For more Conrad Veidt-y goodness. Not really though. I just think it is one of the greatest films ever made. Ever. You must watch it.
-Night of the Hunter-For reasons which will be explained in a couple of days.
-Der Golem-More expressionistic German silent film stuff from the 1920s. Although there is no longer a decent existing copy of this it still has a couple of good moments.
-Rob Zombie's music video for "Living Dead Girl"-A great homage to this movie in its near perfect remake of some key scenes from the film. I saw the video first and thought it was cool until I saw this movie and made the connection.

1 Bitching, Moaning and Praise

Blogger Rick Geerling said...

Ahh...can't wait until you get to Night of the Hunter, amigo!

Also, while I'm so-so on Nosferatu (I appreciate it for the landmark that it is, but it doesn't do a lot for me otherwise), Caligari is one of my favorite films, period. It's just amazing.

I think I'd also add Metropolis onto the Check These Out List, if not early Fritz Lang films in general. Along with Caligari, they make up some of the most wonderful sets that have YET to be topped by Hollywood.

3:45 am  

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