The Cabinet of Dr. Caligary (1920)

Cabinet-Of-Dr.-Caligari-Hey hey, welcome to day 15 of my #31DaysOfHorror. So, after feeling burned by the constant slew of mediocre 2015 horror movies that I’ve been watching, I decided to hop in the way back machine and check out a movie that’s been on my list since I saw Nosferatu last year, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligary.

Dr. Caligari’s somnambulist, Cesare, and his deadly predictions.

Well, that’s just great IMDB, thanks for the detailed plot description. Alright, well the gist here is that we are introduced to two men sitting and chatting while a woman wanders around, as creepily as possible. One of the men tells the other that he and the woman have been through some pretty crazy things, and starts to tell the story. I’m not especially worried about spoilers or anything here, because the movie is 95 years old, but if you are an actual lunatic who doesn’t want to know details, then go watch it or something.

Two things you should know in advance, if you don’t already, is that The Cabinet of Dr. Caligary is a silent film from Germany, just like Nosferatu. For those of you who take issue with subtitles will be relieved to know that this movie contains slides that contain dialogue or information, so you don’t have to worry about missing it (also if you still hate movies with subtitles you need to reconsider that whole outlook). The other thing you should know is what a somnambulist is. I had to Google it, and I’m sure others won’t know too, so here’s the definition:

Somnambulism:
a condition that is characterized by walking while asleep or in ahypnotic trance

So, there you go.

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I really can’t recommend this movie enough. The story is pretty straight forward, but also offers up an early example of a twist ending. For the time it feels pretty bleak and bizarre too, the ending is a genuine surprise and leaves things a bit on the ambiguous side which I thought was pretty great and it felt very modern-horror. The movie isn’t very long, only 70ish minutes, and the story clips along pretty quickly, so you’re not investing a ton of time or energy into it. It’s definitely creepy as well, maybe not in the same sense of jump scares and BRUTAL VIOLENCE that we expect now, but there’s a really sinister energy about the movie that makes it work really well.

A big part of that energy comes from the actor playing Dr. Caligary (Werner Krauss). He is so delightfully evil throughout and at times comes close to being a cartoon character, which was necessary in a film with no sound. As well, Conrad Veidt (Casablanca) is great as Cesare, though he owes a lot of his air of menace to the make up that they put him in.

Really, that is what makes this movie so fabulous to watch, how beautiful it looks. The colour filters on the copy I saw added colour to the whole image to make it clear that it was night, and that was all the colour you really got from it. However, the make up and costumes, and sets all add so much amazing contrast and life to the screen that you hardly notice the lack of colour or sound. The score (again, in the copy I saw) is fabulous and moody as well. There’s something so hypnotic about the high-contrast look that so many of these old silent horror films have (also Nosferatu), and to skip them is to miss out on substantial parts of horror history.

the-cabinet-of-dr-caligari-1920-werner-krauss-and-sleepwalking-cesare-conrad-veidt-are-connected-to-a-series-of-murders-in-a-german-mountain-village-holstenwall-wallpaper

So, if you haven’t guessed already, this one gets a huge recommend from me. Add it to the top of your list, and see it next if you haven’t already. These movies are where the genre we all love so much came from and they really are essential viewing. That said, you could have all seen these already and I could be the loser with no historical horror context.

What other great old movies do you feel are “required viewing” for horror fans? Share in the comments!

RATING: ****

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