The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari is hailed as both a German Expressionist classic and one of the earliest icons of the horror film genre. It is completely silent and uses stark and surrealist imagery to tell its twisted story. It also has a run time of only 70 minutes; there’s no overstuffed narrative here. Dr. Caligari gets right to the point, and it’s completely harrowing. The plot revolves around a mad hypnotist that is taking advantage of a sleepwalker to commit murderous deeds on his behalf.
That in itself is the crux of why the film is still so disturbing today. While it’s presented in a surreal fashion, the premise plays on the basic fears we have of not being in control and also what happens when we go to sleep at night. There are a lot of uncomfortable subconscious worries being stimulated here, and the unique imagery full of skewed angles and shadows is just off putting enough to make each scene feel downright creepy. It doesn’t hurt that the inherent nature of the 1920s era footage and editing style almost looks “wrong’ compared to the smoother frame rate and quality we’re used to from contemporary film making.
Though steeped in dreamlike imagery, The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari is also somewhat believable on a base level. There aren’t any monsters or mythical creatures running rampant here. It’s all about what could potentially go wrong with the human mind. This is brought even further into the forefront thanks a fairly early example of a twist ending.
Ultimately, The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari is a riveting piece of cinema. Though many today would shy away from it purely on the basis of its age, it is a masterful piece of horror and film making in general. It remains just as impactful and frightening as ever, something few horror films can boast with any degree of honesty. You can watch the entire movie here: