"I must know everything. I must penetrate the heart of his secret! I must become Caligari!"
Have you ever seen anything directed by Tim Burton? How about the RHCP video for Otherside? If you have, then you have seen the two things most obviously influenced by one of cinema's fist ever horror films. In 1920, Robert Wiene released a German picture called The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. This is a film that features some of the most interesting long shot camera angles I have ever seen. With noticeable camera artistry and trip-tastic set designs, Cabinet is a film that astounded me aesthetically.
And aesthetics is exactly where I would like to start. The most original thing about this film is the fact that it is shot in mostly long shots. This is the case because of the numerous twisted and manipulated sets. These camera shots were needed to display the entire enormity of the backdrop, but they also created an uneasy feeling for the viewer. Willy Hameister's cinematography forced us to look in on the action from an impossible distance. We were left helpless and confused. It is a terrifying feeling.
But it is the sets and backdrops that really compliment the camera work. Cabinet featured settings of twisted roads, angle and dimension defying staircases, knife like grass and razor sharp trees. The look of the film is scary and unusual enough to directly endorse the horror ethos. Though these gigantic, cardboard theatrical sets must have been significantly less expensive than some of the D.W. sets of the time, this is not why Wiene used them. He was an incredibly meticulous filmmaker. He knew and understood the power that his sets could have. His film was dealing in the violent, supernatural and uneasy- he needed his set to match. He succeeded.
Though the film is absolutely an aesthetic experience, it is also a pretty decent horror flick. It tells the story of a crazy carnival worker and the somnambulist that he has power over. After a string of mysterious murders, people begin to suspect the unusual and spooky somnambulist. It is then that we fall into the ever-twisting and supernatural world of the crazed Dr. Caligari. And his is a world that you will not easily escape from. It is an interesting story throughout.
Horror is a pretty easy genre. And silent horror films have a tendency to stick in your mind for a longer time. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is not an exception to the rule. Its blue and bronze color schemes create a lasting and spooky visual to go along with the mind-altering sets. Wiene did not use the modern scare tactics that horror directors are reduced to using today. This is a film that is creepy on content alone. You'll like this one.
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari: B+
My Next Film....Rosemary's Baby (Polanski. 1968)