The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

Day Fifteen of the 2010 Silver Shamrock Happy Halloween Countdown!

Happy Halloween Countdown Day Fifteen

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
Released in 1920, the iconic The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is not only  one of the first feature length horror films, but also sets in place the foundation of horror genre that even current films are built upon.  Consider how many horror film tropes were indelibly defined by this film: the mad doctor, a living creation that becomes an instrument of death, the hero detective, the indifferent or ineffective police who are unwilling to believe the truth, the villain kidnapping the heroine as she sleeps, the use of an atmospheric setting to tell the tale, and lastly, the horrifying twist ending.  Film historians can no doubt point out earlier examples of each of these, but I think would be hard pressed to argue that those films surpass The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari in terms of influence.  The imagery of the film alone is worth the price of admission; its visual style echoed down through such films as Nosferatu, Frankenstein, Cat People and film noir in general — ultimately appropriated wholesale by Tim Burton.

Yeah, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is an important film, but how does it hold up as entertainment?  Visually, it’s an awesome movie, with its weird sets, deep shadows and dreamlike quality.  There is dramatic tension and for a silent film, it has a quicker pace than you’d expect from that era.

Here is where I admit mea culpa, I like many of you, have a hard time sitting through silent films.  I don’t mind black and white film, or the stagey style of acting you get in older movies, I can even deal with slow pacing; but I have a really hard time with the total silence. Even worse than total silence is the horrible tinky-tinky piano music that accompanies many silent movies, having no relationship whatsoever to the mood of event occurring on the screen.  If you have reservations about sitting through a silent movie, I suggest that you check out the 2005 remake of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.  The remake is an excellent companion to the original, featuring some great performances in addition to having sound and a musical score.

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