Opening The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari

People often quibble about the artistry of the horror genre.

It is an issue I have tackled in my reviews of Suspiria and Se7en. Critics of the genre condemn it as trash and scream of their inability to find artistic vision in horror. Whenever your humble reviewer is confronted with this particular flavor of elitist ignorance, I always brandish one film as my argument winning Excalibur: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

Robert Wiene unveiled his cinematic opus in 1920. The grainy black and white silence of the film is not where the art shines through, though. The genuis emerges in the production design. All the sets are painted and built to artistic perfection. Just after the horrors of World War I, art became flooded with themes of industry, modernism, and the dangers of the thoughtless transforming the brilliant and chaotic soul of man into perfect and ordered machine.

Caligari is an art film from credits to credits. The houses of the setting loom and tower with terrifying sharp angles and punishing geometry, echoing the forced order of a soldier’s mind. Cesare, the gentle and sleeping somnambulist in the movie, once under the influence of the wicked Caligari, becomes a soulless marchig killer. Even the plot perfectly mirrors the artistic concept of what World War I was.

A joyous and peaceful town is visited by an obese, shady, sophisticate who calls himself Dr. Caligari, he submits an act to the local carnival at this town. This act is a terrifying sleepwalker named Cesare, who lies dormant until ordered by Caligari. Shortly after their arrival, the town begins experiencing strange disappearances.

Soon all evidence points to Cesare. The film continues to rise in pitch until it halts at a flawless and controversial twist ending.

Film is art. Most people tug their hair, plug their ears, and immaturely deny whenever horror films are brought up in this vein, but no one talks when Caligari is on, they just sit down, shut up, and watch. After all, it is a silent movie. Surprisingly, it has a quite a lot to say.

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