The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) Poster

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9/10
A visual delight
MartinHafer23 July 2006
Warning: Spoilers
This film is a must-see for lovers of silent cinema and is the first great film of the horror genre. That does not mean it was the first. While among the earliest horror tales, I say it is the first "great" one because it is a full-length film and has excellent production values. In fact, in many ways it's a wonderful film because it has such strange and over-the-top scenery representing the German Expressionist movement--with very surreal scenery and fantastic geometric designs. You just have to see it to believe it--it's that weird and original, plus it really adds to the dream-like quality of the film. Also, it rises to the level of greatness due to the fact that the film is not just a horror film but goes much deeper. I have always felt that great sci-fi or horror always has this greater depth and is usually a metaphor for modern life.

The story is about the evil Dr. Caligari who is a traveling showman who uses his "somnambulist" (i.e., guy in a permanent sleepwalking state) to do his evil bidding. The account is given by a man who is trying to warn everyone about the doctor's evil plans. But, what more plot there is I will leave up to you so as not to spoil it.

The only negative about the film at all is that it is a bit plodding here and there and the emotion is a little over-the-top even for the silent era. But, you also must understand that when the movie was being made in 1919-1920, this film STILL represented an improvement over the standard drama of the day and over-acting was more tolerable then than it is now.
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10/10
A milestone of silent film and of Expressionism
TheLittleSongbird30 August 2012
As someone who appreciates silent film and films in the Expressionist style(think FW Murnau), I simply love The Cabinet of Dr Caligari. True, to some people the acting may seem exaggerated and some of the movements stilted. However I felt these added well to the paranoid and sometimes weird(in a wonderfully strange way) atmosphere and also to the titular character psychopathic state of mind. Werner Krauss is the epitome of creepiness as Caligari and Conrad Veidt also makes a memorable impression. The story is interesting, and Robert Wiene directs beautifully. But it is the way it was made that makes The Cabinet of Dr Caligari so unique and a milestone of its genre. The scenery is appropriately sumptuous and their lopsidedness added further to the atmosphere, while the camera work, sometimes deliberately odd, is the best aspect. In conclusion, a great film and a milestone. 10/10 Bethany Cox
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The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
Michael_Elliott29 August 2011
Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, The (1919)

*** 1/2 (out of 4)

This horror classic from director Robert Wiene is the perfect example of what German Expressionist is all about. In the film, the evil Dr. Caligari (Werner Krauss) has his somnambulist (Conrad Veidt) carry out his evil doings while all of Germany is in fear of who this murderous creature is. The "story" to this film really isn't all that important because there's no question that the real highlight here is the terrific visuals that are on the screen. Those who have never witnessed what would become known as German Expressionism should certainly seek this picture out as it contains all the atmosphere, surreal visuals and at times creepy images that you'd need. It goes without saying but after watching this film you can clearly see the influence it would have on countless filmmakers going forward and not just the ones in Germany. Clearly this was an influence on the likes of Fritz Lang and you can't help but watch something like M or METROPOLIS and think that Lang was clearly inspired by the visuals here. I think there are some very powerful moments scattered throughout the film but one of the greatest happens early on at the fair when Caligari presents his "zombie" to the crowd. Just take a look at the terrific white face with black eye as it's in the forefront of some beautiful background images. The look of this creature is quite chilling and just see how the director films it and how important the background images are in bringing out the look of the creature. Another terrific moment happens towards the end of the movie once Caligari is locked up. I won't ruin what exactly happens but it's quite a treat visually. I think the best way to describe the images is that it almost feels and seems as if you're having a bad nightmare that you can't wake up from. Just looking at each scene it really does feel as if the director took hours setting them up and that you had to do everything right the first time or else the image would be lost. The bizarre sets, terrific use of tinting and the dreamlike nature really make this stand out. Krauss and especially Veidt are very memorable in their roles and there's no question that their performances help push the atmosphere even more. THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI isn't a perfect film as some of its story has become even weaker over time and there's no doubt that the film needs the viewer to pay 100% attention. With that said, anyone with a pulse should certainly check this film out at least once to see where an entire format changed.
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8/10
A huge influence on the horror genre
Leofwine_draca10 April 2016
The first feature-length horror movie ever made (not counting the hundreds of shorts made in the previous two decades, usually under five minutes each), this is classic stuff and rightly so. With an age-barrier of nigh on a century you might think that this movie, seen today, is very dated, and you'd be right. The lack of dialogue (although there's a fine music score), the theatrical acting and static direction may make this movie an effort to watch but the effort is well worth it. My main problem with these older films is that sometimes they can be very boring with little action, but that's not a problem here; the pacing is fast and the film is short which makes the time fly by.

The plot, involving Caligari and his murderous somnambulist, may seem deceptively simplistic at first glance, but there are lots of little tricks thrown in to fool the viewer. Also, other characters whose lives act as other plot strands, flowing in and out of the central thrust of the story. All this and a twist ending to boot.

The acting is generally top-notch, if you allow for the acting style of the period. Werner Krauss makes the most of his bookish Caligari, complete with horn-rimmed glasses and odd-looking attire; his outlandish and very atypical character makes him highly watchable. Stealing the show, though, is a very young Conrad Veidt (later to go on and pursue a successful Hollywood career) playing the somnambulist, around whom most of the action is centred. Veidt's striking appearance (black clothing, white eyes, black sunken eyes) fits together well with his understated acting approach so that he appears very deathly and almost like a living corpse; just looking at him gives you the creeps. The supporting characters are humane and normal and thus forgettable, but fine.

What is most striking about this movie are the sets, most of which were constructed form paper or cardboard. The abstract drawings, and the oddly surreal, angular walls create a visually stimulating fantasy world for the sinister events to take place in. Much has been made of the "painted shadows" employed to give the movie more of a balance between black and white and the effort pays off. Karl Freund's photography certainly brings out the atmosphere of the sets and they're unforgettable. Like Tolkien did with Lord of the Rings, all involved with the making of this film transpired to create a believable fantasy world which is similar to, yet very different, from our own; an alternate reality perhaps. Whatever the motivation, the expressionist art displaying itself here made the movie a classic.

Seen today, the horror is subtle and all of the murders offscreen (aside from one memorable shadow-play). A far cry from the movies of today and, indeed, the wealth of absurdly violent (heads, bodies being chopped apart) shorts made in the early 1900s. Yet the image of Veidt stalking his victims through long corridors have undoubtedly influenced all that has come after it, from Lugosi's Dracula to Michael Myers in HALLOWEEN. Altogether, THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI is a horror classic which should be seen at least once by any fan with a passing interest in the genre, or indeed in the cinema, as this is a highly influential and important film in every respect.
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8/10
Weirdly unique
SnoopyStyle13 March 2014
During the annual carnival in Holstenwall, Francis and Alan visit The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. The other worldly doctor awakens the Somnambulist Cesare sleeping inside the cabinet who predicts the future. Cesare predicts that Alan will die before dawn, and he is found dead exactly as predicted. Francis suspects Cesare and Caligari. The next night, Cesare is about to kill Jane, but instead tries to kidnap her. Jane's father and servants awaken and rescue Jane. Francis pursues Dr. Caligari to a madhouse where he finds the truth.

This is one weird film. It's an early black and white silent German expressionism film. The sets are using the slanted absurd perspective that early films use to denote psychological instability. It is very effective. The entire film has an unstable feel to it that isn't effectively done in modern movies. For an uniquely weird experience, I recommend checking this out.
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9/10
Visually Stunning
Hitchcoc12 February 2007
The expressionistic scenery allows characters to travel through geometric patterns. The odd characters play against this background, using a classic horror story plot. What, exactly, a somnambulist is is never made very clear. I assume he was just a man, who, through whatever methods Caligari used, could do the bidding of his master. Most of the time he is asleep but awakes, makes pronouncement, and does evil. Caligari treats him as a son. He balances his work at the university with the basest venue, the circus sideshow. The images are striking. The excessiveness of the acting in silent films might be amusing to us today, but my guess is the whole thing was terrifying. There are also twists and turns including quite a satisfying conclusion. I saw this film many years ago. This time I had a chance to watch it with a more critical eye. I was much more impressed. I plan on seeing it again soon.
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6/10
Okay watch, even if would not agree that it has aged into a silent film classic
Horst_In_Translation10 February 2015
Warning: Spoilers
I assume that "Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari", a black-and-white (although sometimes more like yellow-and-white) movie under 80 minutes from 1920, would make actually more sense if you read the description of what it is in detail about before watching it. This, however, is not the purpose of a movie and sometimes it is difficult to really understand what is going on from the camera action and intertitles (that surely could have been more frequent, especially given the fact how people are seen constantly talking in here) and that is why overall I hesitate a bit in saying that this is a good movie. I shall still be generous eventually with my recommendation despite the quality going considerably south in the second half. Well.. let's see. We have a man who presents a somnambulist named Cesare at a fair. Briefly afterwards, we find out that somebody is murdered and apparently this is just the beginning of a crime series. The film consists of 6 acts, all of them not too long as, like I stated earlier, this is not a lengthy film by any means, and the first problem is that the same action from the end of act one is repeated at the beginning of act two. Why? Obviously Cesare is not only a somnambulist, but also a fortune teller, or I should say misfortune teller as he predicts that a man will get killed by sunrise. Which happens and makes it easier for the good guy to close in on dating the girl he wants. Okay this is not 1920 language, but you know what I mean. Still also kinda funny, they were pretty sure that she would take one of them. Had the pursuit been at a more advanced stage, I would have wondered why nobody considered the main guy to be the killer. Anyway, back to the other side of the law: The professor who presented Cesare is somehow creepy and funny in a strange way at the same time, although I am sure he was not meant to be funny by director Wiene for whom this is definitely the most known career effort. Same is true for the duo of writers Mayer and janowitz, even if the former also worked on Murnau's Oscar-winning Sunrise, another film considered a silent movie classic nowadays. But back to this one here: Another problem one could have with the film is the overacting. For the most part, they got away with it though I'd say, especially the title character, because it emphasizes his creepiness and insanity, but in terms of the good guy and his fear I struggled here and there. He should have showed more subtlety. On a positive note, there may be no sound, but still it's not necessary at all to make the story heard.

And then there is a guy who gets killed. But it seems he only wanted to frame the actual killer? So he is innocent, sort of. There I wondered, however, how he really disappears from the picture after he says that it was not him with the first two murders. Everybody believed him right away? With how relentless they chased him down when he was about to attack the old lady? And why did even even commit that he had the intention to kill her? He always could have said he only wanted to burgle the place or so. On a completely different note, the somnambulist (played by the wonderful Conrad Veidt in maybe his most famous performance, but far from his best) looks a bit like a thinner version of Frankenstein by the way. We see him approach a sleeping girl and he abducts her with a knife. But they manage to free her and she identifies Cesare as the one who did it. However, Cesare has been guarded and sleeping all the time, so it's impossible isn't it? Finally the action switches to an insane asylum and there is more to the professor it seems than we saw earlier as he seems to be the director. Anyway, it got way too confusing at this point to understand. obviously the sleeping Cesare was just a dummy or so. Nobody recognized this when he apparently killed people in other cities? And there is a love story and in the end thee is some kind of strange twist about who is actually insane and who isn't. I myself understood it that the entire thing was really just from the mind of the narrator. He is not the good guy helping to solve the murders, but he is an inmate of an insane asylum (hello Shutter Island) telling us (and the other guy) a story that has nothing to do with reality. He uses things and people he sees to include them in the story (hello Usual Suspercts). Best example would be the girl She is played by Lil Dagover by the way, so a pretty epctacular cast we have here. As for the cast, one final notion: Werner Krauss, the man who played Professor Caligari was only in his mid-30s at that point. Not unusual at all during the early 20th century that they did not cast old actors, but younger ones and made them look old. Caligari, fittingly with the title, was my favorite character here I'd say. But it comes pretty easily because there is not that much to everybody else. The good guy is not written too well, the girl has too little screen time and Cesare is not defining either. It's all about Caligari. Yet, at the same time, there are flaws to this character too. When we see this scene "You must become Caligari!", it is considered somewhat epic with his delucions being visualized as words, but it would have helped had we known who he was before Caligari and also why Caligari specifically. Why he is basically treated like a myth, for example when we read that he wants to penetrate into Caligari's secret. The playful letter style is sometimes almost more interesting than the words itself. They are acting as if this is some epic character from history while I must say I have never heard the name before. Also the good doctor in his beardless form as the head of the insane asylum in the end apparently also knows who Caligari is right away and now he also knows how he has to treat the narrator to help him lose his delusions? I guess this movie is also not exactly a revelation from the medical point of view. No need to further go into detail here. Some of it really made very little sense and honestly, this one is way closer all in all for me to a weak film than to a great film, but I will still say it is a good film because until the point where Cesare abducts the girl and is caught and before the action moves away from the town, it is a pretty decent crime movie. There are weaknesses there too like the entire concept of somnabulism depicted here in a way as if it was the same as hypnotism and also for example the exaggerated 26-year (was it this number?) Sleeping "Beauty" reference, but those were easy to ignore thanks to the good moments. At least in the first 30-40 minutes. And I also thought visually it is a fine film, in terms of make-up and art direction and sets most of all. These deformed houses and equally deformed windows are (next to Caligari) probably the very best thing about this movie and still kinda epic today. Funnily I just saw those pretty recently at Babelsberg where the film was made over a century ago. Yep, this one has its 100th anniversary this year, that's how old it is. Maybe one reason why they are showing it in theaters again now (aside from many considering it a defining film) and I got the chance yesterday to see it there on the big screen with an organ player providing the music. Nice experience for sure, even if I must say I still don't think it is good enough to be considered a classic and I probably never will, but I know many see it this way. I think it could have been better, especially given the excellent cast Wiene had at his disposal here. Klein-Rogge too, haven't mentioned him yet because his role is minimal. Time to finish. I give it a cautious thumbs-up. Positively recommended.
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10/10
"Awaken for a moment from your dark night!"
classicsoncall2 June 2016
Warning: Spoilers
I've seen expressionist films before, "Nosferatu" and "Metropolis" are ones that immediately come to mind, but this movie is probably the most perfect example. Not saying it's the best, but the most perfect example. If Expressionism is defined as a work that elicits emotion through extreme visuals, then you'll readily understand the connection. Director Robert Wiene, filming with a limited budget and a confined work space, used painted sets that are disorienting in a way that keeps the viewer off balance. Adding to this feeling are characters who walk into and out of them as if through some invisible gateway, since one can't define exactly where reality begins or ends. Additionally, angular surfaces require people to walk either slightly uphill or downhill, and rarely does the camera dissolve or open to the center of a frame, but more often from a corner of the screen. All of these effects create an unsettled feeling and distortion from reality.

So there's that, but the story has even more going on, because almost nothing is as it appears to be. It begins with the title - if you really think about it, there was no 'real' Dr. Caligari to speak of, the character attributed to be Caligari was the director of an insane asylum who was influenced by, one would say obsessed with, the work of a predecessor from 1783 by that name, revealed in Act V of the movie. In turn, Caligari attempted to duplicate the work of his namesake in waiting for a patient to show up who was a somnambulist, a sleepwalker, the purpose of which was to learn if that person could be influenced to perform certain acts that would have been otherwise out of character. In other words, he would hypnotize his patient to perform criminal acts, including murder!

The business with the second, red herring murderer was an interesting diversion for both the viewer and the characters in the story. With Francis (Friedrich Feher) maintaining his vigil over the Caligari caravan, he watches what he believes is the somnambulist Cesare (Conrad Veidt) asleep in his cabinet, (coffin?), but is it really Cesare? One can observe Francis slowly going mad as the 'body' in the cabinet turns out to be a puppet, and he's on hand at the asylum to witness Cesare returned as a patient, while Caligari is strait-jacketed and placed in a cell, never to be free again. Seeing the new director and believing him to be Caligari, Francis completes his mental breakdown as asylum workers have another strait jacket handy just for him.

The brilliance of the film is probably more apparent if one re-watches it immediately after seeing it the first time. As the picture opens, Francis is speaking to an older man who states "There are spirits. They are around us.", while Francis purports to tell him an even stranger tale. He holds to a belief that Jane (Lil Dagover), who passes into view as some ethereal specter, is his fiancé, though we learn at the end of the movie that she would not marry him because as a 'queen' - "We who are of noble blood may not follow the wishes of our hearts". The full circle aspect of what occurs in the story becomes evident when one realizes that Francis, Jane Olsen, and the older man, are all inmates of the asylum, and if you want to take it that far, are prisoners in the cabinet of Dr. Caligari as well.
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7/10
One of the Greatest Silent Films
gavin694226 September 2010
Dr. Caligari and his sleepwalking fortune teller Cesare (Conrad Veidt) come to the local fair. This event coincides with a series of brutal murders. What, if anything, is the connection?

Widely (and falsely) considered to be the first true horror film ever made, we have to give it credit for all that it inspired. From films of its day all the way to Tim Burton's "Nightmare Before Christmas", the German expressionist art movement put to film creates a strong impression in the stark black and white.

The sets are what really make this film. Rather than being shot outside (apparently due to lack of budget), everything was done in the studio, and the sets were painted. Even the shadows are painted and not actual shadows. What will strike the audience is how much the use of uneven angles was used -- windows, doors, walls and more are all slanted. If nothing else, this really aids in making the film memorable.

While I cannot rate it as highly as most do (I found it to drag a bit at times and could have used about five minutes of edits despite only being 71 minutes long), it really is a must see for anyone interested in the history of horror or film. Or German expressionism, I suppose.

The writers were influenced by the films of Paul Wegener ("Student of Prague" and "The Golem"), which led them to not only make a horror film, but an expressionist film. What level of the art is the writers' doing and which part the director, I cannot say. (On a side note, the producers wanted Fritz Lang to direct... it is anyone's guess how this would have affected the picture. Lang, of course, is a bigger name in early film than Robert Wiene, who made his directing debut here.)

Allegedly, the beginning and end had to be added because of some sort of political influence and concerns about defying authority. Historian Siegfried Kracauer said of this, "A revolutionary film was thus turned into a conformist one." The stories I read differ on this and I don't know what to believe. The important thing to keep in mind, though, is how greatly the film varies with or without the bookends.

The film is silent and not all copies are of the highest quality, so be aware of that going in. If you know this, it is definitely worth checking out. This is one of the first classics, and truly a necessary film for anyone who thinks of themselves as a horror fan.
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10/10
this doctor is in
lee_eisenberg25 June 2005
Many people consider "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" the first horror movie ever made, and I don't feel tempted to debate that. It all begins when Alan and Jane go to a carnival. They go to Dr. Caligari's (Werner Krauss) booth. He has a somnambulist named Cesare (Conrad Veidt), who can predict the future. His prediction that Alan will die proves accurate when the latter is found murdered.

Who is the perpetrator is not the important point. The movie, incredible beyond anything imaginable, relies heavily on surrealism and the depths of the mind. It is one of the many great movies produced in Germany during that country's Weimar era. You will walk away from this movie questioning everything that you've ever known and ever been taught.
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8/10
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
jboothmillard1 November 2009
Warning: Spoilers
I don't think I would normally watch a Russian silent film as odd as this if it didn't feature in the book 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die. Basically Francis (Friedrich Fehér) starts telling a story relating to his friend Alan (Hans Heinrich Von Twardowski) and his fiancée Jane Olsen (Lil Dagover). The story sees Francis and Alan going to a fair to see Dr. Caligari (Werner Krauss), who exhibits the somnambulist (sleepwalker), Cesare (Conrad Veidt), who can predict the future. Alan asks how long he has to live, Cesare says until dawn, and the prophecy comes pass, Alan is murdered, with Cesare as the prime suspect. Cesare is on the run, creeps into Jane's bedroom, abducts her, runs from the townspeople, and dies of exhaustion. While (his "keeper") Dr. Caligari gets away, the police discover a dummy in the cabinet Cesare should be in, but Francis tracks the Doctor to a mental asylum. Supposedly Caligari is the madman who has created the sleepwalking monster, but in the end, it is in fact Francis revealed as the madman, believing Dr. Caligari is a madman from an older generation. Also starring Rudolf Lettinger as Dr. Olsen. Borrowing a lot from German expressionism, I can see that the use of the camera, face pulling, make-up effects and general weirdness caused sensation at the time of release. While they do look impressive, and I suppose make the film deserve five stars, it is very dated and a little laughable at times, but nevertheless, a must see horror. Very good!
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9/10
The Grim Sleeper.
rmax30482326 March 2010
Warning: Spoilers
This 1920 film gets extra points for originality. A young man, Francis, tells a stranger an odd tale of a carnival man, Dr. Caligari, who comes to town to show the locals his "somnambulist", Cesare. Cesare has been asleep for twenty-five years and only comes awake on the command of Dr. Caligari. Cesare sleeps in a cabinet resembling a casket. During the show, Francis wakes the somnambulist. Cesare then answers questions from the audience and predicts the future.

When Francis' best friend, Alan, asks jokingly how long he, Alan, will live, Cesare answers, "The time is short. You die tomorrow." Big joke -- except that Alan is stabbed dead during the night, just one of several mysterious murders that have taken place since Dr. Caligari and his infernal cabinet waltzed into town.

I don't know how much I want to get into the plot itself. The ending isn't really predictable, so let's just say Francis manages to convince the police that Caligari and his somnambulist are responsible for the murders and there is a chase.

However, the first thing one notices about the film is not the characters, all of whom overact according to the standards of silent movies -- and Cecil B. DeMille's sound movies.

After Francis launches into his tale, what one notices are the sets. This is one cockeyed world that he and his friends inhabit. It's a cartoon world. These are all indoor sets that seem built of plywood. The backdrop is a complicated suggestion of a mountain with a village on its slopes, but it's sloppily drawn, like the rest of the decorations, as if by a child with a set of finger paints. The carousel at the fair spins at 45 degrees from plumb. What passes for streets, buildings, roofs, chimneys, and interiors are all drunkenly askew, leaning this way and that, each on its own trip and totally indifferent to the leanings of others. One might say there isn't a right angle in the joint. I've never seen anything like it.

The characters, their dress and grooming, fit right into this insane landscape. When we are first introduced to Cesare, when Caligari opens the door of the upright casket, we're treated to a close up of Conrad Veidt's face with its black eye shadow and the thin glossy smear of what looks like paste across his thin lips. And when he opens his eyes, it's pretty spooky -- the equal of Karloff's monster when he first appears and slowly shuffles around toward the camera. Caligari himself is adorned with an unruly aura of white hair and thick, goggle-like eyeglasses. He wears white gloves with three thin black strips on the back, just like Mickey Mouse.

It might be possible to argue that this is expressionism for expressionism's sake -- but that's not the case. The framing story takes place in sets that more closely resemble the world that you and I are familiar with. The Boschian garden of earthly delights in which most of the story takes place is as crazy as it is for a good reason, which I can't explain here.

There's no other film quite like it. Expressionism been pretty influential over the years, but the dark shadows and crooked streets of most later films are only dry, dead leaf echoes of this original.
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6/10
Wiene's cabinet displays iconic visuals but poor pacing.
BA_Harrison18 January 2021
A young man, Francis (Friedrich Feher), recounts the story of Dr. Caligari, proprietor of a unique fairground sideshow: Cesare, the somnambulist. When the fair arrives in the town of Holstenwall, it marks the beginning of a series of brutal murders. Is the mysterious Caligari responsible, waking his sleeping attraction and sending him into the night to kill?

At the risk of sounding like a philistine, I think that Robert Wiene's silent horror classic The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari drags a tad too much. There's no denying the occasional brilliance of its expressionist set design and the ingenuity of the surprise revelation at the end (almost 70 years before Shyalaman made twist endings his thing), but I believe that the story would have been better suited to a shorter runtime. Wiene has a tendency to linger on scenes, and while this admittedly gives the viewer more opportunity to drink in his bizarre, angular visuals, it also allows boredom to set in.

If you're a dedicated horror nut, I'd say that watching the film is a no-brainer, worth a go if only to witness iconic imagery such as Cesare (Conrad Veidt) carrying woman-in-peril Jane Olsen (Lil Dagover) over the town's zig-zagging rooftops. Just expect to be a little underwhelmed and a tad stupefied by the film as a whole.
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10/10
important for the movement of expressionism and, more importantly, in the realm of fantasy and horror
Quinoa19841 October 2009
Oh what a tangled web the world of the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is. It may all be sane in the focus of a madman, or it may just all take place in a crazy world. We see this story in the context of a guy telling a story to his friend or someone on a bench- following the sight of a 'spirit', perhaps, drifting by, a woman in a white dress who is in a complete daze. The story is that of what we would assume is Dr. Caligari, who in a town that could easily be called a geometrical nightmare (all those shapes and curves!), goes to a fair with his own exhibit: a Somnambulist, a person who has been asleep for quite a long time and is just about to be awoken. The question he's asked is right to the point, and the response is too: "When will I die" "Tomorrow at dawn." This is not just a cryptic message, we see, as people start to be killed by a mysterious murderer, brought on (or just directly because of) the doctor and his Somnambulust.

This is basically the story, and it's a very good one, even a great one in its dimensions of a mad scientist and his quarry. And of course when we suddenly get that great big twist (or is it a twist?) at the end, it gives the rest of the film a whole other perspective to read into. But what you go to see the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is not for the story, per-say, but for its unique perspective as a work of cinema. Despite the imitations, and despite (or in spite) or those who would dare to be inspired by the work (Tim Burton springs to mind without a flinch), it stands tall as a mammoth work - surprising since it's only 70 minutes long - by creating its own view of humanity and the world, of the way a civilization and houses and roads and places can or should or would ever look, and giving its own characters a mood of dread and the Gothic. If you ever need to drag someone to show them how to get "fantastical" with a set, this is it.

Robert Wiene, along with being a competent storyteller, is just a superb director of his actors in these sets. While it would be a little much for me to go on and on about how glorious the staging is within these seemingly un-navigable roads, and how the walls sometimes seem to be closing in or giving an extra edge that you only get in a nightmare, its important to note how well the actors come off here. It's because of them, as much as Wiene and his crew (Willy Hameister especially), that one will remember Dr. Caligari long after it ends. One such example is just seeing Conrad Veidt, as the somnambulist, awaken the first time in front of the audience - it's so chilling and gradual that it draws one in completely, and looking in Cesare's eyes becomes all the more frightening. In fact, it's hard to tell which actor gives off the more horrifying aura: the scientist (Krauss, with a great crazy head of hair and catalog of evil facial expressions) or Veidt's cool demeanor.

Another scene I should mention, which is simply one of the greatest scenes ever filmed and should be seen by anyone with a pulse: it's when Cesare, after seeing Jane Olsen come into the doctor's place to try to find her father and the two make bizarre eye contact, drifts into her bedroom at night. There's the contrast of dark and light, white and black, for one thing to note, how staggering everything is lit and staged in this setting, and with the walls and windows off-kilter and deranged. Then there's the body language of Veidt as he comes up to the window and into the bedroom towards Dagover - it's seemingly supernatural, out of this world, but still in it, which gives it a whole other dimension. And then the shock of when she awakens, which gives the scene full-blown suspense and danger. I would watch this scene over and over, though it's not the only one that would continually fascinate.

Cabinet of Dr. Caligari doesn't carry the same weight of its director's name as Murnau or Lang in German cinema (sadly, Wiene made only a handful of other films seen outside of his native country), but with one film and its standing in the expressionist movement (or, I would also add, surrealist to the degree of its importance in dream/nightmare cinema) it's just as important, and potent today. Watch it in the dark, and hopefully not alone.
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10/10
Opening the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
wes-connors16 February 2009
In flashback, freaked-out Friedrich Feher (as Francis) tells the surrealistic story of when the carnival came to his small German town of Holstenwall. The fair's main attraction is weird Werner Krauss (as Dr. Caligari), who hawks his "somnambulist" (sleepwalker) act. The menacing Mr. Krauss "awakens" creepy Conrad Veidt (as Cesare) from a 25-year sleep, for the viewing pleasure of carnival attendees. Otherwise, Mr. Veidt is kept in a coffin-like cabinet, in Krauss' trailer.

Mr. Feher attends the carnival show's "awakening" of Veidt with pal Heinz von Twardowski (as Alan). Krauss tells the crowd that the mysterious Veidt "knows the past, and sees into the future." So, Mr. von Twardowski asks, "How long do I have to live?" Veidt tells the him he dies at dawn! - and, sure enough, a shadowy figure murders the man.

Feher thinks the somnambulist is the serial killer threatening the village (a town clerk was the first victim). But, some think Feher knifed his friend, a rival for the affections of dark beauty Lil Dagover (as Jane), but why would Feher kill the clerk? When a completely new killer is caught red-handed, it seems like everybody wants to get into the act…

"The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" is one of the most outstanding film productions of the silent era. The "Art Direction / Set Direction" - by Hermann Warm, Walter Röhrig, and Walter Reimann - so beautifully photographed and directed, should be counted among the best designed of any era. The film is inspirational.

********** Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari. (2/26/20) Robert Wiene ~ Werner Krauss, Friedrich Feher, Conrad Veidt, Lil Dagover
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10/10
The First, the Ultimate
Coventry7 November 2013
Nearly a full century old but still more astounding, overwhelming AND scarier than 99,9% of all the other horror movies that ever got released or ever will get released in the future. "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" is widely – and righteously – considered to be the first true horror movie and will always remain a role model, a landmark and a masterpiece to everyone that is even remotely fascinated by the genre. The film embodies the pure brilliance of German Expressionism, with decors, lighting and photography that are simultaneously mesmerizing and nightmarish. The plot, countless times imitated but rarely ever equaled, narrates the macabre fable of a vigorous madman that uses a minion to commit horrible crimes for him. The impressively charismatic and naturally frightening Dr. Caligari passes by the town of Holstenwall during the annual fair and exhibits Cesare, his supposedly clairvoyant somnambulist – which is some kind of permanent sleepwalker. Cesare predicts that a spectator will only live until the next morning, so when his buddy Francis discovers his dead body at dawn, he's convinced that Dr. Caligari is responsible. While Francis attempts to get inside the Doctor's cabinet and investigate further, Cesare develops an interest for his beautiful fiancée Jane. Time for Dr. Caligari to flee, but when Francis pursues him he discovers Caligari's true identity as well as his fiendish intentions. This film is unsettling, disturbing and incredibly petrifying from start to finish and there are several aspects contributing to its immortal strength. The gloomy and depressing interbellum atmosphere, the extremely well-written screenplay (courtesy of Hans Janowitz), the haunting architecture as well as the different color shades and the dreamy musical guidance (the version I watched featured music by composer Rainer Viertelboeck). Last but certainly not least, there are the unforgettable and indescribably marvelous performances of both Werner Krauss (as the titular Dr.) and – especially – Conrad Veidt (as Cesare the somnambulist). With his performance, Werner Krauss single-handedly set the standards for cinematic mad scientists ever since, while the image of Conrad Veidt, with his dark eyes and penetrating stare, is still more fearsome killer in history. This is undoubtedly one of the most influential and fundamental movies ever accomplished and there's only one rating justified for a monument like this; an impeccable 10/10.
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The Eyes Have It
dougdoepke23 December 2016
Surreal nightmare. Being a silent movie, visuals count for all, and here they add up to a world of eerie imagination. I gather the production had meager funds, so the sets amount to a triumph of artistry over budget. Note how effectively the angular contours intensify the ghastly mood. Oh sure, the acting—if you want to call it that—is resoundingly florid, to say the least. Of course, exaggeration was unavoidable since narrative could not depend on dialogue, nor endless rounds of caption interruptions. As a result story is sometimes hard to follow, and probably subtleties in the story were lost on viewers like me. But, oh boy, for folks stuck on eye shadow, there's enough here to keep a mascara factory going full blast. The eyes definitely have it. Note, however, that the amount and kind of eye shadow pretty much defines the character. So it's not just for show. Anyhow, the 67-minutes counts for more than a milestone in movie-making. It's still an unreal visual experience.
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Straight and Twisted Reversed
tedg10 April 2002
Warning: Spoilers
Spoilers herein.

Most commentors remark on the `expressionist' sets and lighting. But these in fact were already common in contemporary stage productions, and just represented here as if they were stage sets. It is true that these have odd angles. But notice how the camera is always rectilinear: stationary, it shoots straight from eye level. That part isn't novel at all. The consciousness of the camera as a character comes from Eisenstein.

But what is novel is the framing device which is the first example I know which plays with the veracity of the film's eye. And in THIS respect, the film is important. It is the progenitor of many experiments in folded, shifting narrative from `Rashomon' to `Mullholland Drive.'
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8/10
Despite The Myth Of It Being " The First Horror " It Remains A Good FIlm
Theo Robertson23 January 2010
Warning: Spoilers
German Expressionism in its most basic simplified term is " Expressing in visual form what the artist is feeling and thinking " It started in Germany at the start of the 20th Century and by 1920 found itself in cinema . THE CABINET OF DR CALIGARI is one of the first German Expressionism films and remains one of the best , a fact reflected in the way it keeps slipping in and out of this site's top 250 movies

The story itself is fairly simple to modern audiences but is far more complex than many movies from the period where directors still saw themselves as magicians rather than storytellers . It's not often that a film from these days has the type of ending seen here . What is typical for Expresionism is the set design which is bizarre and discordant . A fair come to town and a carousal spins in the background at a near impossible angle while the buildings are of a shape and jagged architecture that don't exist in any town you've seen in real life

One good thing about silent cinema ( The only good thing according to some critics ) is how easy it is to sell an non English film abroad . All that has to be done is swap the captions to a native language for the country showing it and then you've got something universal . Unconciously though CALIGARI remains an example of the German mentality of the time . Jewish film critic Siegfried Kracaucer brought forward the theory that Francis considers Dr Caligari to be a danger because he is an outsider and you can understand Kracaucer's line of thought

Unfortunately one myth that has grown out of THE CABINET OF DR CALIGARI is that it was the " first horror film " when in fact it's not . There is some dispute as to what was . Certainly I have seen a contender with the 1910 version of FRANKENSTEIN directed by J. Searle Dawley . It might have very metaphysical aspects to it but probably still qualifies as being under the horror genre
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10/10
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
Scarecrow-8812 September 2015
A devious hypnotist named Dr. Caligari arrives in town to promote his somnambulist in a wooden "cabinet" (basically a wooden casket) in the local fair, with a series of knife murders starting up as a result. Werner Krauss is the golem-faced Caligari while Conrad Veidt is his controlled victim (claimed by Caligari to have been in a twenty-three year slumber, only awakened for the fair), sent out at night to kill. I didn't realize this until I was reading some of the film's back story but the plot is related to the writers' aftermath in the military, using the Caligari character as a symbol for them while Conrad is a representation of themselves as soldiers manipulated into killing for their country. Anyway, when a local named Friedrich Feher is talking with an older man claiming spirits were responsible for ruining a life with his family, driving him apart from them. Feher claims that a methodically-walking woman moving past (Lil Dagovel) them is soon to be his wife. He proclaims that they have been through a lot and starts to tell the Caligari story. Where the three of them are actually located is a twist right out of a horror film.

The film presents the village Feher lives in a visually askew style where the architectural structures, furniture, landscapes, and backdrops (distance shots of the city and mountains) aren't aligned or presented in a fashion we are accustomed to, angled and pointed in directions that describe what we see as off-kilter and irregular. The stylistics in the use of shadow (like the silhouette of a knife murder against a wall as it is being committed), and even how the makeup and eyeliner are used for the faces of the characters encourage this feeling that we are experiencing a world quite alien to our own. This is purposely surreal so that the twist (although against how the writers wanted to end their film) makes sense in the grand scheme of things. The painted sets and matte backgrounds correspond with the visually misshapenness of the village. It is not supposed to look and feel like a place that exists in our world, but the village is of another place entirely. The image of Dagovel, with her eyes totally devoid of life, walking past Feher in a trance, in her white gown is an instant grabber. Veidt's eyes opening for the first time, his slinky body dressed in black steadily leaving the cabinet, foretelling the doom of Feher's friend in a fair "performance" is another memorable scene. Krauss has a marvelous face for a silent horror/cult film. The way even the titles are designed in relation to the film's visual content (and there's this fab moment in the film when Krauss' thoughts are literally spelled out overhead to torment him) is extraordinary. Veidt standing over Dagovel's bed might just remind viewers of Nosferatu hovering over Mena…both are night sequences where the damsel is in bed at her most vulnerable. The whole insane asylum development and diary discovery sure take the film in a whole different direction in regards to Caligari. It is that fork in the road that the viewer takes along with the film that leads to an unexpected finale. The performances are very much heightened to match the presentation...so over-the-top as a description for this film seemed appropriate. And how the camera's eye opens and closes on characters to further emphasize where the story is going is a technique quite creative in how it tells its story.

This is a silent film quite deserved of its rep, and the newly restored and meticulously "repaired" version that is certainly a patch over the public domain print is the best I've seen thus far. The differing color hues of alternating scenes, while unintentional by restorers, actually gives the film an extra otherworldy effect I wasn't expecting.
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9/10
A superior shocker.
Hey_Sweden7 February 2015
Warning: Spoilers
A young man named Francis (Friedrich Feher) recounts his horrifying past experience to an older man. At a fair he'd attended with his friend Alan (Hans Heinrich von Twardowski), he'd watched a novelty act involving a somnambulist, or sleepwalker. The somnambulist is Cesare (Conrad Veidt), a strange looking man who makes eerie predictions. When Alan is killed, Francis takes an interest in shadowing Cesare, until he realizes the truth of the situation.

While still a relative newcomer to what is referred to as "German expressionism", this viewer can say that this movement created, for him, some of the loveliest atmosphere and scares to be found in the genre. Director Robert Wiene and company capture on film a succession of incredible images. "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" is beautiful to look at and plays like a painting come to life. Light, shadow, and use of colour tinting are all extremely impressive. This is the kind of old style horror film that could legitimately creep out its audience, whether it's in the wee hours of the morning or not. This viewer watched a version featuring a newly added music score that did add to the mood at times, and was merely distracting at others.

The primary asset is an amazing performance by the young Veidt, also very well known for playing Strasser in "Casablanca" near the end of his life and career. Veidt plays a character who, while undeniably creepy, is not entirely unsympathetic. Cesare does soften when he beholds the beauty of Francis's love interest Jane (Lil Dagover). It's the diabolical Caligari himself (Werner Krauss) who is the true menace. And Krauss is delicious, in a decidedly theatrical turn.

The action is divided into six acts, and finishes with a very fun twist ending.

Essential viewing for not just horror buffs, but film buffs in general.

Nine out of 10.
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10/10
The first horror film ever and one of the best
preppy-316 April 2016
Dr. Caligari (Werner Krauss) keeps a somnambulists named Cesare (Conrad Veidt) in a cabinet as part of a sideshow. At night he order Cesare to go out and kill his enemies. Will he be caught?

The plot is not the main focus here. What is are the sets which are brilliant. They're all crooked buildings and things you would see in your nightmares and not in real life. This is an example of what was called German Expressionism. The settings keep you off balance constantly throughout the film. Even better is Veidt who's downright terrifying as Cesare. He was a very handsome man but here he looks terrible and frightening. There's also excellent direction and a twist at the end while somewhat predictable today was probably shocking back in 1920. Also this is reportedly the first full length horror film ever made. Only about 60 minutes and well worth seeing.
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10/10
Extreme-Exaggerated-Expressionism
LeonLouisRicci25 September 2013
The impression that a Film had on Movie Audiences at the Time of release is a very difficult thing to quantify. Even reading Reviews posted simultaneously are only an account and can only attempt to verbalize Emotion. Essential as an Historical Document and Reflection, but nevertheless inherently incomplete.

The exaggerated Expressionism on display here set the Standard but was never again attempted in such an audacious manner thereafter. The Style was imprinted on the Art Form but few bothered to take it to such an extreme. Its sharp heavy contrast and definitive distortion of the surrounding images of landscapes, buildings, and everything inanimate is the World these Characters inhabit and exist nowhere but in the imaginative recesses of the Mind.

This Film is many things. It is considered by most as the first Horror Movie. The Psychological aspect was Groundbreaking. One of those that after seeing it remains in the Memory forever. Influential, to say the least, Daring, Powerful, and one of those that put Cinema on the Map.

A must see for anyone interested in the Art of Films, the History of Films, the Film as Mind-Control/Propaganda, and not the least of which, as an early example of why Films became one of the most Popular and Successful Culture Phenomenons of the Twentieth Century.
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8/10
No Narnia in this coffin shaped Cabinet...
CinemaSerf24 February 2021
This is a seriously creepy affair that follows the story of the young "Franzis" (Friedrich Feher) who goes to a fairground one night with his friend "Alan" (Hans Heinrich von Twardowski). They happen upon the performance of the coffin-dwelling somnambulist prophesier "Cesare" (Conrad Veidt) and his spooky master "Dr. Caligari" (Werner Krauss). "Casare" - who is all but skeletal in appearance, portends looming disaster for "Alan", and when he is found murdered next morning suspicions turn to this enigmatic pair- even though there is no real "evidence" at all! Things take an even darker twist when the anaemic seer predicts that "Jane" (Lil Dagover), a gentle creature admired by both the deceased and his surviving friend, is not long for this mortal coil either... It falls to "Franzis" to solve the mystery and save his love from... The story is bleak at times, the settings stark and angular, frequently almost abstract in appearance. Veidt is outstanding, as if he were in a nightmare in an Escher drawing, or some other such challenging structure for our minds to comprehend; and Krauss, too, with his maniacal eyes and almost orchestra leading hand gestures is wonderful too. The photography has a tendency to draw out the shots a little too much, but again - they help create a genuine sense of scariness. Nothing gory, or bloody - just eerie, and enormously effective. Unlike so many films that have attained critical acclaim, or cult status, this is actually a really good story with strong acting talent and wonderfully vivid visuals from Robert Wiene (and Willy Hameister) that really is amongst the best of it's - or any other - genre..
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8/10
You fools, this man is plotting our doom! We die at dawn! He is Caligari!
lastliberal9 April 2009
A German Expressionist classic with warped sets, lots of shadows, and heavy makeup, this is one of the first modern horror films.

It is also one of the first serious films with a "twist" ending. You never are really sure of what is going on, and you are soon caught up in trying to figure out who is committing the murders.

Two men, Alan and Francis, are rivals for the same girl, Jane (Lil Dagover). After visiting a circus with Dr. Caligari (Werner Krauss) and his somnambulist Caesar (Conrad Veidt), Alan (Hans Heinrich von Twardowski) is murdered. Suspicion, of course, falls on the somnambulist. When the murderer comes to kill Jane, he takes her instead.

After chasing the murderer, Francis (Friedrich Feher) ends up at an insane asylum, where he discovers the Caligari secret.

But does he really discover what is going on?
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