30 January 2017



What can I say about this magnificent film that hasn't already been said? Ninety-six years is plenty of time to write all the movie reviews in the world, and this film has had its share of 'em. Critic Roger Ebert calls it 'the first true horror film.' It's also arguably the first film ever to feature a twist ending. Whaddya think about that? It's kinda neat, right?

It's famous too for being the film everyone thinks of first when the movie genre of 'German Expressionism' is mentioned, and it's been referred to as the first cult film and also the first arthouse film. It almost certainly paved the way for superb silent films such as Murnau's NOSFERATU and Fritz Lang's METROPOLIS and M. It was the defining film of the Weimar Republic, which exists no longer but is undoubtedly a by-word in culture and artistic innovation.

I think we've gotten a lot of the film history stuff out of the way now (some old critics will no doubt turn in their graves at our modern-day flippancy, haha), so we'll have a peep at the plot, I think, for the benefit of those folks who haven't seen the movie but might like to. 

The story is told through flashback by a chap called Francis to another older chap who, like Grampa Simpson from THE SIMPSONS, was probably glad of the attention, haha. I'm sure you can remember at least one episode of the hit animated series in which Grampa, seated on a public bench just like Francis, offers to tell his life-story to a total stranger...!

Francis and his young chum Alan, in the flashback, are living in the tiny German town of Holstenwall, a town of dark shadows, crooked buildings and winding streets. They're both into a chick called Jane, who's as comely a 'Twenties beauty as you're likely to see. The two young rips visit the town fair, anyway, where a strange and not altogether comforting character called Dr. Caligari is exhibiting a rather unusual spectacle...

Dr. Caligari is exhibiting a 'somnambulist' called Cesare, a handsome but ghoulish-looking young man who's apparently been asleep for the whole of his life so far. A likely story, eh? With a bit of a prod from the good doctor, however, the young man can be persuaded to wake up for a minute and fore-tell the future. This proves to be bad news for poor Alan, the comrade of Francis, the chap who's telling the story.

Alan's verbal fortune cookie, as it were, from the young man with the super-abundance of black eye-makeup, is less than inspiring. I can't tell you more for fear of spoilers. Let's just say that an unexplained crime spree that coincides with the arrival in town of Dr. Caligari and his young cabinet-dwelling chum is no coincidence at all. Sinister, eh? Well, the plot is only beginning to thicken, dear readers. You can't even imagine the grim horrors that lie ahead.

The dark, twisted and irregularly-shaped gothic landscapes of the film are the main cause of its surreal, nightmarish look and feel. They remind one of a truly terrifying surrealist painting or something. The world created by the director Robert Weine is not a safe and comforting place to be.

It's the very opposite, in fact, with dangerously sharp and jagged angles, black shadows and the kinds of twists and turns that can cause a person to lose their bearings and become seriously, as it were, discombobulated. What a marvellous word, movie buddies.

Some critics view this silent film as a sort of fore-telling of the coming of Hitler and his Nazi party, with Hitler being the evil mastermind Caligari who is all too able to hypnotise the willing and malleable German people into doing his bidding. Bit far-fetched, maybe, but you know the way film critics are always trying to read stuff into things, haha. They're never happy unless they've made something out to mean something, if you know what I mean.

Well, sometimes, dear readers, a cigar is just a cigar. Whatever the hidden meanings behind this magnificent cinematic tour de force, there's no denying that it's an incomparable piece of work. Well, it's comparable to those few Murnau and Lang films we mentioned earlier, but that's it, haha. It served as the forerunner to any number of horror films that came afterwards, but whether or not these came up to scratch is up to the individual to decide.

Anyway, there's fantastic news for fans of the film, in that it's available now in a new Limited Edition 2-Disc Blu-Ray Steelbook. This comes courtesy of the MASTERS OF CINEMA SERIES and EUREKA ENTERTAINMENT and the extra features on it have got to be seen to be believed.

A gorgeous forty-four-page booklet contains vintage writing about the film and some fabulous still pictures from the archives. There's also a fifty-two minute documentary on the cultural and historical impact on the film called CALIGARI: THE BIRTH OF HORROR IN THE FIRST WORLD WAR. I watched this myself (on your behalves, if you please!) and it's top-notch stuff.

The best thing about the whole package, apart from the film itself, of course, is the inclusion of a second Blu-Ray disc on which you'll find a two-hour documentary on German Cinema during the Weimar Republic (1918-1933) entitled as follows: FROM CALIGARI TO HITLER: GERMAN CINEMA IN THE AGE OF THE MASSES.

This has archival footage in it of loads of old silent films from the era in question and even an interview with Fritz Lange himself in which you get to hear his lovely voice. I watched this documentary on a Saturday night when, on the streets outside, people were spending their paychecks on booze and kebabs, or so it seemed. Without wishing to sound superior or snobbish or anything, I honestly believe I had the better night...!

THE TIMES describes THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI as 'the mother lode of the horror genre... a full smorgasbord of pop-eyed terror, lunatics, murderers and possessed somnambulists in its eerie shadows.' Sexy film critic Mark Kermode calls it 'thrilling, chilling, electrifying.' Film critic Sandra Harris from Dublin says: 'Yeah, what those other guys said...!' A ringing endorsement, surely...?


Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger and movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens' fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra's books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:


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