The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

Nine decades have worn some of the novelty off this most famous example of German Expressionist Cinema. Still, I wonder if audiences reacted to its demented set design and psycho-paranoia with the same excitement that fanboys are these days to something like Sin City. It’s a fairly creepy story–in the vein of Gothic late-19th century European fables–about how a crazed psychotherapist experiments with post-hypnotic suggestion by commanding his “somnabulist” (basically, a homicidal sleepwalker) to commit acts of murder as they travel the countryside under the guise of a carnival act. The story bears down on the events in a small town where Dr. Caligari has arrived and proceeds to use his somnambulist to go on a murderous rampage, terrorizing a young man and his fiancĂ©e. Robert Wiene directs with some visual aplomb (though he doesn’t have the genius of, say, Fritz Lang who came along in the ’20s then promptly blew apart and reinvented German moviemaking). This is one of those curio flicks that can make your skin crawl if you’re watching a good print with a moody orchestral soundtrack. It’s often used in film classes but don’t let its academic value put you off. Caligari is still creepy good entertainment on a rainy day.

Grade: A-

Directed by: Robert Wiene
Written by: Hans Janowitz, Carl Mayer
Cast: Werner Krauss, Conrad Veidt, Friedrich Feher, Lil Dagover

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