The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

December 25, 2009
This film will count as my second venture into German expression, a very unique style of film-making that was quite popular in the days of silent cinema. The style utilizes small, and often disorienting and artistic, sets - making the film feel like a beautiful dream...or a powerful nightmare. The latter would have to be the more accurate term here, as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari proves to be a delightfully creepy, atmospheric, and Gothic horror picture. Seeing as how this film was made in 1919, this film is arguably the first proper horror film ever made - depending on whether or not you count 1909's Edison's Frankenstein.

The film follows an average sophisticate, Francis, as he recalls a bizarre and paranormal event that occured in his life. Francis, a native of a well-sized German village, comes across a strange, new citizen at the annual fair by the name of Dr. Caligari. To add to his strange apperance and nature, the good doctor brings with him a "somnambulist" named Cesare, who Dr. Caligari promises knows all things. The plot continues on in a very interesting and dark narrative.

The scenery of the film is just pure art, with its use of small sets being heavily complimented by the "un-geometrical" style of the sets. It's hard to describe in words, but nothing's quite normal-looking in this film, with doors being crooked, windows, being strangely-shaped, etc. and so forth. It certainly feels like a dream watching this film, with the use of shadow and the aforementioned use of very artistically-pleasing sets.

The film's also quite original, not having to borrow plot elements, characters, or anything of the sort. The entire thing is purely imaginative, and perhaps even created the elements which would inspire subsequent horror films to come. The plot and characters are all quite interesting, leading us and winding us through what feels like the "six thousand steps", if you'll pardon the H.P Lovecraft reference. We follow these terrifying events and subsequent madness, until we come crashing into an ending that left me completely shocked. And this is coming from the guy who saw the ending to The Sixth Sense coming from a mile away.

The version of the film I saw had an updated orchestra recording, circa 1998 or so. I HIGHLY recommend this version, as the score is amazingly haunting and gothic - totally capturing the mood of the film. It creeps, it lingers, it stalls - I can't praise the score enough. This updated score only adds to the lingering effects of movie.

All the acting's great as well, especially that of Cesare's. The first time we see him alone, which is when he's coming out of his "cabinet", is just down-right creep.y After being commanded to awaken, the thing - for I'm not sure if the title of a man can even suit him - very, very slowly opens his eyes wide, as if awakening from death itself. Words cannot describe the stare, as it's just amazingly performed.

I can't really think of any complaints for the film, as any I've come up with seem like elitist nit-picking, as if I didn't want to be considered a "lame critic" for shelling out 10/10s all over the place. This film, however, simply deserves it. It's over 90 years old and it STILL can compete with the thousands of horror films that have come out in cinema history.

Dark, creepy, and atmospheric, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is horror cinema in its finest, which would later influence many horror films to come.

10/10 - Best of the Best

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