No 6 on the 1001 Films to Watch Before You Die. Now it’s over to Germany in 1919 for the rather bizarre experience of The Cabinet of Dr Caligari.

The storyline is pretty simple – a young man tells a tale of terrible occurrences in his village. A carnival comes to town and a mysterious Dr Caligari demonstrates a somnambulist – a young man in a coffin-like box who never wakes from his slumber – except at the command of the sleepwalker. Then people start getting murdered at night. Can you tell where this is going? Well, it does kind of go there but also has a twist or two along the way.

But the real point of watching this film is its example of what’s known as German Expressionism. Unlike the Americans, who were aiming for realism in their film (e.g. if you watch D W Griffiths at this time, he would often insert small children and animals in lots of scenes because, by nature of the fact that they can’t really act, give an added level of realism to the scenes). But not here. The sets are all clearly painted, and designed to look over the top and surreal. Doorways and buildings are set at lurching angles. Everything looks out of place and sinister.

I watched this online at the following link, and considering it’s got a relentlessly atmospheric string quartet soundtrack, it was rather effective on the whole. Worth seeing as a predecessor to some of the famous horror films that were to come.

3 1/2 out of 5.

One thought on “Review: The Cabinet of Dr Caligari

  1. A tangent: What’s disappointing about the posting of the film online in this way is that while the film itself is in the public domain, the soundtrack and the recording of it are almost certainly not (if it’s the Timothy Brock score then it dates from 1996).

    It’s such a simple thing to strip the more recent audio from an old silent film in order to share it legally, but it clearly hasn’t occurred to those doing the posting as something they must do. Probably more due to ignorance than anything else. I wonder whether many people actually “think” about soundtracks as creative works in themselves.

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