Wednesday, December 15, 2010
CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI, THE
(March 1921, U.S.)
We now return to another silent film and the first of the letter 'C' in my alphabetical film collection. THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI is one of the most influential of German Expressionist films and is often considered one of the best horror films of the early times of cinema.
Watching this film is definitely an exercise in opening your mind and your imagination, because when you do so, the images on screen and the physical elements, gestures and actions of the actors can be very creepy. The character of Cesare, a somnambulist (sleepwalker) has been under the control of the evil Dr. Caligari for twenty-five years and is being passed off as a simple carnival side show. But like the character Raymond Shaw in THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE (1962), he is being used (presumably against his knowledge and his will) to commit brutal murders throughout the small German mountain village. And getting back to the creepiness of it all, just watch carefully as Cesare slowly opens his eyes and moves his body at the command of his master. In it's black and white and grainy imagery, it can be truly eerie and frightening, even by today's horror film standards. But like I said, it's all in the open mind of the imagination.
What's most interesting about this film is that it's one of the first (if not THE first) films cited as having introduced audiences to the "surprise twist ending" in cinema. The entire story is presented as a flashback by one who has supposedly lived through it. It is only at the "twist" end that we find out the entire story was actually a deluded fantasy of one of the patients at an insane asylum and that Dr. Caligari is actually the asylum doctor who may or may not be able to cure the patient of his delusions. Hey, does all of this sound more than vaguely similar to Martin Scorsese's SHUTTER ISLAND or am I just crazy??
Favorite line or dialogue (it's a SILENT film, so the pickings are slim!)
Alan: "How long shall I live?"
Cesare: "The time is short! You die at dawn!"