Logline: A deranged scientist uses a Somnambulist, who he claims has slept for twenty-three years since birth, to commit murder in a small community.
Review: In the early 1920s, German Expressionism was well established in literature, painting, sculpture, and architecture. It was only a matter of time before it spread its influence to the cinema. Robert Wiene’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari catapulted the German Expressionist film movement, which lasted from 1920 until the early 1930s.
Expressionist films sought to convey the inner struggles of their characters by a highly visualized style that utilized sharp, distorted sets and camera angles, shadow, and contrasts between light and dark. Caligari is one of the most influential and well known Expressionist films. Other examples include F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922) and The Last Laugh (1924), Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) and M (1931), and Paul Leni’s The Man Who Laughs (1928). German Expressionism had a direct influence on Universal’s horror films of the 1930s, Film Noir in the 1940s, and in the films of Alfred Hitchcock and Tim Burton.
Nearly one hundred years old, Caligari may have lost some of its impact. However, it still stands as a deeply compelling film. Caligari is one of the earliest horror films and must have been pretty shocking for audiences at the time. It is also notable for having one of the earliest examples in film of a twist ending.
Caligari is a textbook example of German Expressionism in its purest form and its influence continues to this day. It is a must-see for cinephiles. With its striking visual compositions, the film continues to cast its spell on viewers.
Rating (out of ****): ***1/2