Friday, October 30, 2015

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, The Eerie 20s

From Germany, nearly a century ago, came 1920's "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari."  One of the first classic horror flicks? .....Or....a foretelling of the Nationalist Socialist reign in Germany which would sweep the country over the next couple of decades? In either case, this is a most eerie film from the silent era. Though writer Carl Mayer, or director Robert Weine, may not have heard of Adolph Hitler back when they made this film, both men hit on the power of seduction and what evils may befall men when free will is hijacked or poisoned.  Fans of "Casablanca" may remember Conrad Veidt as the National Socialist general.  In our horror film today, Mr. Veidt plays the creature in Dr. Caligari's cabinet.
A carnival enters a small German village.  On their arrival, Dr. Caligari (Werner Krauss) is ridiculed by the town clerk upon requesting a permit for his act.  His act?  Inside a small coffin like cabinet is a somnambulist. This creature is 23 years old and has been asleep since birth.  Dr. Caligari has the power to awaken him, and at that time, the being will tell the future of the spectators at the act.  Uh-oh...that night, the town clerk is stabbed to death.  Francis (Fiedrich Feher) and Alan (Hans Heinrich von Twardowski) go see the act, and Alan asks the zombie like creature "How long will I live?" Not a smart move.  The somnambulist answers...." 'til dawn."  Guess dawn, the somnambulist sneaks into Alan's home and stabs him to death while in bed.  
The police and Francis suspect Dr. Caligari but can't prove it.  Caligari is smart and knows he is being watched. The evil doctor then sets his sights on Francis' main squeeze, and the thing is sent to kill her. Instead of killing her, the ever asleep zombie falls in love with the vision of loveliness and tries to carry her away.  With the cops and Francis on it's tail, Jane (Lil Dagover) is apparently rescued. Now, the cavalry rushes to Dr. Caligari's carnival trailer....but the evil doctor is cunning.  The ending is chilling, and the sets and photography are creepy.  Who is Caligari, and where did he come from? What will be the fate of the somnambulist?  Is Jane really safe after her rescue, or are powers out of our control also at work?  
The ending is most unnerving, and this film's influence on modern horror is obvious.  Whether the makers had social commentary in mind when they made "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" is uncertain, but this film works so well as a horror movie either in 1920 or 2015.  This classic is available on Netflix.   

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