The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari – German: Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari – is a 1920 silent horror film directed by Robert Wiene from a screenplay by Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer. It is one of the most influential of German Expressionist films and is often considered one of the greatest horror movies of the silent era.
The film used stylized sets, with abstract, jagged buildings painted on canvas backdrops and flats. These unique sets gave off somewhat of a theatrical sense. To add to this strange style, the actors used an unrealistic technique that exhibited jerky and dancelike movements. This movie is cited as having introduced the twist ending in cinema.
At a local carnival in a small German town, hypnotist Dr. Caligari presents the somnambulist Cesare, who can purportedly predict the future of curious fairgoers. But at night, the doctor wakes Cesare from his sleep to enact his evil bidding…
“The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari exerted an influence on the style of nearly every horror or suspense movie made since its release. That influence is indeed there, however, operating as a ripple effect: Caligari influenced this movie, which influenced that one, which in turn cast its shadow upon another— a chain which picks up with Paul Wegener and F. W. Murnau and then passes through Universal Studios to touch practically everybody who ever called out “Action!” with the intent to terrify an audience.” 1000 Misspent Hours and Counting
“A case can be made that “Caligari” was the first true horror film. There had been earlier ghost stories and the eerie serial “Fantomas” made in 1913-14, but their characters were inhabiting a recognizable world. “Caligari” creates a mindscape, a subjective psychological fantasy. In this world, unspeakable horror becomes possible.” RogerEbert.com
“This venerable silent classic changed the way movies were made and appreciated.” Adrian Turner, Radio Times
“Undoubtedly one of the most exciting and inspired horror movies ever made […] There are plenty of boring sociological/critical accounts of the film; best to avoid them and enjoy the film’s extraordinary use of painted light and Veidt’s marvelous performance. ” David Pirie, Time Out Film Guide
“The sheer audacity of the film’s physical and psychological conceit will haunt you forever.” Empire Magazine
Audio commentary by film historian David Kalat
New video essay by film critic David Cairns
56-page booklet with new writing, reprints, and rare archival imagery
“Spellbinding and intriguing, 71 minute long Caligari is an incomparable experience. Along with early 20s horror film (such as F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu, etc), it is a paragon of classic horror that becomes an inspiration to many, many others that follow in its period or much later after that. The film deserved its iconic status in the history of cinema and all the praises that go with it.” Karamel Kinema
“Today, The Cabinet of Dr Caligari seems dated and stagy, even occasionally laughable. There is never any sense of place to any of the jutting, angular, shadowy settings – there is nothing that differentiates say the police station from the streets, or a hillside from a boudoir – the effect is more like actors playing on a single stage set. Also working against it is the hammy acting, particularly of Werner Krauss as Caligari and Lil Dagover who badly overdoes the weeping Gothic willow role.” Moria: The Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy Film Review
Studies in Terror: Landmarks of Horror Cinema – Jonathan Rigby, Signum Books, UK, 2011
101 Horror Movies You Must See Before You Die – Edited by Steven Jay Schneider, Cassell Illustrated, 2009