Days of Terror: “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari”

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Days of Terror: “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari”

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Referred to as “the first true horror film” by Roger Ebert, “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” is a silent German horror film created in 1920 and directed by Robert Wiene. The film follows an evil hypnotist, Dr. Caligari, who uses a somnambulist, Cesare, to commit murders for him.

Where I watched: Netflix

Length: 71 minutes

Prior knowledge of the film: Besides taking film classes and having professors discuss it while I pretended to know what they were talking about, none.

Innovation at its best

I came into this movie knowing that it’s a classic, but expecting a formulaic retread of other old horror films I’ve seen (I think “Nosferatu” left a bad taste in my mouth for ‘20s German Expressionist films). There were so many aspects of this film that the horror genre obviously drew inspiration from in the years that followed. The makeup, the casting (especially with Werner Krauss actually being a horrible person in real life) but most importantly the twist in the last five minutes of the film all made for a spectacular viewing experience.

Was it actually scary?

The sets have a large part to do with the scariness of this film. Each cityscape and different set was painted crooked and slanted, adding to the sense of uneasiness that persisted throughout the film. Cesare is also very convincing as the murderer-in-a-trance — I would certainly be terrified of him if he came to my town.

Overall consensus

The film was surprisingly great. Of course, I knew it would be good in the sense that it’s a historic and influential film, but after being completely bored by “Nosferatu,” I thought “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” would put me to sleep just as easily. Instead, the film kept me captivated with its creative plot and humorously bad acting. The fact that the film was broken into parts, as theater is as well, helped to keep focus and keep me hooked. If it wasn’t broken up, it’s possible that this would have been a significantly more boring viewing experience. Overall, it’s a fantastic film and I feel like a better film viewer for having watched it.