Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Film Review: Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) 80min

(Figure 1: Opening Title)

The godfather, creator and ancestor of the 21st Century horror/thriller films,  The Cabinet of Dr. Calligari directed by Robert Wiene is a one of a kind. The film is highly influential of the German expressionism and paranoia about a fairground hypnotist who uses a somnambulist (Direct translation: A sleepwalker) to carry out his murders. ''A case can be made that "Caligari" was the first true horror film.'' (Roger Ebert) This film is the trend setter of many classics you see in the most generic of horrors and widely admired by many filmmakers, including Tim Burton and David Cronenberg. 

This silent, black and white film features the main character named Franzis. A lonely town clerk haunted by his frightful memories that he and his fiancé Jane had recently experienced. The character then seems to go into a long day dream or flash back recalling these events.

(Figure 3: Caligari Poster)

The scene blacks out and visits a man reading within his bedroom. The room itself is disfigured and twisted, very much like a portray of Psychopaths mind. The window is of misty brown tinge and is clearly distorted, blocking out any view of the outside world which can very well be a metaphor for a recluse. The furniture around the room is very elaborate, seats and tables with elongated legs and back supports appear very dream-like. 

During the events of the village fairground, Franzis and Jane come across a sinister old man known as Dr. Caligari, declaring to have a show to amaze everyone and anyone. The facial expressions the Dr. shows is very exaggerate, which is very important around the era of silent films. This becomes very clear to the audience; ''Caligari feels closest to the dark world of psychological horror...'' ( He reveals that he is the master of a 23 year old sleepwalker, called Cesare. Dr. Caligari unveils the cabinet from behind the curtain which is instantly recognizable as a traditional gloomy coffin rather then a cabinet. With the twist of the wrist, Dr. Caligari reveals the emaciated body of Cesare to the public. 

Throughout the story, whoever speaks to Cesare is destined to be murdered by him that very evening. Another town clerk is murdered and Franzis seems suspicious and begins to spy on Dr. Caligari and his zombie-like companion. The way Cesare holds his body, no facial expressions and murmurous sounds quickly reminded me of 'Frankenstein'  with the original film published in 1931 directed by 'James Whale', with the later adaptation of the tale later produced in 1994 from Mary Shelly's book directed by 'Kenneth Branagh'.

(Figure 3: Cesare murdering the office clerk; Blue light)

The film is classed as being black and white, however in some situations there is a a filter over certain settings. During the night time scenes, there is a blue filter which clearly indicates to the audience the change from daylight. During this setting, there is a particular scene where Cesare is creeping towards the house where Jane lives. Seen in Figure 4, His extended limbs, pale face and being completely dressed in black appears shadow-like. Each step Cesare takes looks robotic and stiff. The walls have several numbers and shapes painted repetitively along with patterns and spiraling lines which could become hypnotic. The village itself is not prospectively correct, but from an expressionist point of view, this must have been very experimental for the concept artists.

(Figure 4: Cesare creeping towards Jane's House)

The film ends with a plot twist, where we are shown that we have all experienced Franzis' crazy imaginary world; with no real Dr. Caligari, or so we think. We never truly find out. 

Overall, this film really is the blueprints for the film industry which follow through to the films we see today. ''It's a museum piece today, of interest more for its historical importance, but Caligari still casts a considerable spell.'' (Jeff Shannon) Robert Wiene must have seeked inspiration to what it must be like for mentally ill mind and what their intake of the world must be. This being said, I really recommend to whom has not viewed this film to do so and see history in the making.

Illustration List:

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Bibliography: - Link: - Link:


  1. This is SO much better than your earlier review Heidi! Well done!!
    For your next review, try introducing your quote by giving your reader the author's name first... so for example -

    As Jackie Hagan observes in her book ‘Writing a Film Review’ (2013), 'academic writing has a particular style.' (Hagan, 2013: 24) This seems to demonstrate that it is a skill that can be learned.

    (Actually, that may not be an ideal example, as I am unable to put the correct bits of text into italics! But you get the picture...?)
    So basically, I am introducing the author, quoting them, then going on to say what I have deduced from the quote. After you have used the author/film maker's etc full name once, you just refer to them by their last name from then on.
    Also, just double-check that you have all the info you need in your referencing... generally, if you are using websites for your research, the reference should look like this for example -

    Giles, J. (2001) A Filmmakers' Guide to Distribution and Exhibition. At: (Accessed on 14.06.09)

  2. Hey Heidi,

    You're a fast learner :) As Jackie says, this review of Caligari is a million miles away from your first plot-synopsis-centric review. I'm very encouraged - and you should be too. Well done.

    1. Thank you, Phil. I'd like to think so. :)

      I felt this film had a lot more content that I could discuss into some detail.
      But I did have my older post for reference.

    2. but how about making your images bigger next time around too? Make your blog as visual as possible, so make all your visual content big and appealing :)