Synyster Graves

The Cabinet of Dr Caligari

by on Oct.11, 2010, under Angry Rants

The Rosetta Stone of Horror

When discussing the greatest horror films of all times, most modern audiences will discuss names such as the Exorcist, the Shining, Ring, Nightmare on Elm Street and many other names. Older generations will most likely focus on titles like Night of the Living Dead, Psycho, Dracula, Frankenstein or even Nosferatu. And yet all of these films owe a huge debt of thanks to the Cabinet of Dr Caligari.

Filmed not long after the end of World War I, The Cabinet of Dr Caligari is the archetypal German Expressionist film. This sub-genre was characterised by extensive use of shadows and lighting but was never used so much as it was here. Not only is the lighting unusual but the sets are grotesquely distorted with everything set at bizarre angles. The effect is that it looks as though someone has taken a camera and filmed one of your nightmares.

The plot itself is not a conventional horror story, lacking many clich├ęs and stereotypes and this all adds to the creepy environment set by the film as it works its way to a thrilling and haunting crescendo. Unlike many of the early horror films from the USA, Caligari retains much of its original scary atmosphere which has aged well.

From an historical point of view, horror films didn’t exist before this (apart from a couple of one-reel Edison films) but within 15 years of its release, we saw the Phantom, Dracula, Frankenstein, the Mummy, the Invisible Man and of course Nosferatu and many more released. This film did for horror what the launch of Sputnik did for space exploration. Thankfully, the film has been lovingly restored and is in excellent condition.

On a final note on this film, you must appreciate the ending. If you loved classic ‘twists’ such as Verbal Kint losing his limp, Tyler Durden’s real identity, the sight of the ruined Statue of Liberty or who ‘Mother’ really is then remember, this is the film that invented the twist…watch for yourself and see.


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