Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) and Dr. Caligari (1989)

As a start to this October season, I'll be looking at one of the very first horror movies ever made, 'German expressionist' film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, and it's 1989 'sequel', the insanely surreal Dr. Caligari...

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is a famous German silent film from 1920, and is noted for having either introduced quite a few movie tropes, or being one of the first films to employ them, and for its bizarre set design.

The film focuses on Francis, a man who lives in the village of Holstenwall, where strange things are afoot. There's been a string of murders, and the most recent of them is Francis' friend Alan. As the police get nowhere, Francis takes it upon himself to investigate the mysterious Dr. Caligari, an entrant at the local fair, whose attraction is Cesare, a somnambulist who prophesised Alan's death...

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is a film whose reputation precedes it greatly. I've heard many great things about it, although I didn't particularly gel to it. I admire the film's style by far over the plot. Until the reveal of Caligari's history, and the ending (a first of its kind in film), the plot just seemed kinda...dull to me. It was also partly confusing in the final third. I'd try to summarise why, but I did in my draft, and it was probably more confusing than the film itself, so I'll leave those who decide to watch the movie to judge.

The score is the lifeblood to any silent film, and without it, many films of this type would be nothing, plain and simple, and as for Cabinet, the soundtrack is great, and definitely adds to the trippy feel of the movie! Apparently the soundtrack depends on which version you watch though. For example, the DVD I own has a less ooky and engaging score.

The film's title cards look stylish, and the bizarre sets definitely help the movie, and are a much-lauded aspect. I'd be inclined to agree, if said sets didn't look like flimsy cardboard. It's not that I don't love their look and design, but some of them look a wee bit too fragile. Still though, that's but a small complaint.

With the film's colour tinting alternating between yellow, blue, and pink, it looks like a human, a smurf, and Princess Bubblegum took a piss in the camera! As strange as they look though, the different colour tints in silent films do sometimes add to them, in my opinion.

The film does have a somewhat creepy, off vibe to it at times, thanks largely to the music, and Conrad Veidt's creepy performance as Cesare.

The acting is strange, given silent films tended to involve wild gesticulations and/or exaggerated facial expressions. The highlights are definitely the sinister looking Werner Krauss as Dr. Caligari, and silent film niche/genre darling Conrad Veidt as Cesare, the sleepwalking killer.

Overall, I didn't love everything about this movie, but it's a classic for a reason, and I still recommend watching it.


Now onto kooky Stephen Sayadin flick Dr. Caligari!

Dr. Caligari is about Mrs. Van Houten (Laura Albert), a delusional nymphomaniac, who is re-admitted into the Caligari Insane Asylum by her husband Les (Gene Zerna). Mrs. Van Houten is extremely disagreeable, and constantly at odds with the calm, icy Dr. Caligari (Madeleine Reynal), a doctor who has more on her twisted mind than simply curing patients.

Meanwhile, two doctors-husband (David Parry) and wife (Jennifer Balgobin)-at the asylum are fiercely opposed to Dr. Caligari and her methods, calling her an experimental sadist, a statement that proves to be dreadfully accurate...

Now this film was a confusing watch! Not because of its surreal nature, but because I hated its guts for the first twenty minutes!

Dr. Caligari invokes the surreal architecture and setting that the original used, and since this isn't a silent film, it looks a lot stranger here than it did in its 1920's counterpart.

The film has a heavily sexualised feel, which distances it from Cabinet, to detrimental effect. It's fine for the movie if you ignore the Caligari connection though. I can only wonder what Sayadin's other films, like Cafe Flesh, are like!

I've read people say that this movie and Cabinet shouldn't be compared-why not? This movie is called Dr. Caligari! It's a so-called sequel, so why shouldn't I compare? This film has nothing to do with The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. If this purports to be a sequel, they should have made it one, and if it wasn't a sequel, they shouldn't have made it one! If it's a spiritual sequel that's not meant to be similar to Cabinet in any way, then why was the movie called what it was? This feels cheaper than that movie from the 60's that used the Caligari name supposedly just for the name recognition, and nothing more.

On its own merits, I felt the film was boring at first,  and it looked and sounded pretentious when it wasn't looking just plain stupid. But I did eventually warm to it, and I really enjoyed it, come the end. It's one hell of a goofy ride!

The dialogue is great fun, and the film is pretty quotable ("For five happy years, my wife and I enjoyed a normal sex life in accordance with church values. Now I wake up at 4:15, she's buck-naked and squawking for Sinatra. She wants me to pretend I'm Frankie Jr, well I'm not, I'm not and I never will be! "-"She's turned the woman I love into a flesheater!"-"I've got an EKG you can dance to!"-"Describe your life in three words or less."), and the character of Dr. Caligari is nifty. She's kinda like the mother and daughter from Singapore Sling. I particularly liked the in-sync married doctors, who were deliriously kooky. And the Albert Fish-type character of Gus Pratt was fun too.

The acting is largely VERY over the top-mainly from the married pair, and the asylum director-and the line reading doubly so. It definitely works in the movie's favour.

The sets and effects are surreal, and very good! The movie looks just right for what its trying to get across. And what surreal things am I talking about? They have to be seen to believed!...Which is why I was mean enough to take screenshots of some, and place them before this paragraph. Hey, it's the Halloween spirit! Mwuhahahaha!

Overall, I was very disappointed by Dr. Caligari, at first, but I liked it more and more as it went on. I dig it a lot, although I kinda wish it was called something else...

So, to finish, I recommend The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari if you're into 'German expressionistic' films, or silent films in general, and I absolutely recommend the 1989 Dr. Caligari!-Although don't do as I did and watch the films as a double feature. That's all from me today, but assuming all goes well (that is to say, if my internet connection goes well this October), I shall have a review up each day, and on the 31st, I'm gonna have another special double-feature review up, as a companion piece to this post...

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