The Cabinet of Dr.Caligari (1920)

Continuing with my 1001 movies to see before I die challenge, The Cabinet of Dr.Caligari is #3. I’ve always been interested in silent movies. I’m not sure the name of the first silent movie I watched but it was when I was in 2nd grade. The movie had a little boy and some dogs in it. My mom had to read me the little story cards. I remember thinking how much more interesting it was seeing the actions first and then reading the dialogue or story later. The mystery of what the characters were saying actually kept me more engaged.

  The Cabinet of Dr.Caligari is almost a century old horror movie. The story begins with two men talking on a park bench. One of the men starts telling a story about the bizarre happenings in his home town. Once the movie switches towards the mans story, the setting is almost as original and outrageous as a Tim Burton movie. I was thoroughly impressed with the eerie yet fun set designs. Maybe it was because the movie is in black and white or maybe it was the quality of the film but the sets did a great job at adding depth in many of the scenes as well.

You meat Dr.Caligari and his attraction for the carnival which is a man who sleeps for years at a time. Once the man is awoken Dr.Caligari can ask him any question and he’ll be able to answer it. One of the men in the crowd asks Dr.Caligari to ask the sleeping man when he will die. The man tells him he won’t live another day. The dead man walking and his friend sort of brush it off and walk through the town. A beautiful girl walks by them and they’re both head over heals, joking about who will have her. Sure enough the man with the death sentence is murdered. I questioned if the “sleeping man” and Dr.Caligari had anything to do with it. With the number of scary movies we see today compared to people from the 1920’s I definitely had a leg up on the plot.

The friend of the murdered man goes onto seek out the murder. Eventually the beautiful girl is followed and almost murdered by the sleeping man. The lucky lady was fast enough to escape him. By this time everyone in the town is certain it is Dr.Caligari and his sleeping man. The young man seeking to find him goes off a ways and comes about an insane asylum. I hadn’t questioned this part in the plot but the insane asylum did seem kind of random. He talks to some doctors who come out to meet him and he tells them about Dr.Caligari. Sure enough Dr.Caligari works for the insane asylum. I still did not think much of the circumstances.

Round and round the man goes trying to prove that Dr.Caligari and the sleeping man were murderers. The doctors show the man that the sleeping man is simply one of their patients. Suddenly the scene changes and there are patients of all sorts walking about the outside of the asylum. The two men talking on the bench from the beginning of the story were just patients in an insane asylum the entire time. The man looking for Dr.Caligari was a mental patient all along.

Three ancient movies down and I’m slowly realizing that I have surely underestimated old movies. The Cabinet of Dr.Caligari actually got me with it’s plot twist. I don’t know if any director today could make a movie this good without dialogue. TCODC has two things against it: it’s in black and white and it’s a silent film. But this doesn’t negatively affect a single thing. If TCODC was a dancer on dancing with the stars and I was a judge it’d be getting three tens from me. Directors today can barely make me jump, I don’t think any of them could make a horror movie this good especially without dialogue. TCODC has clearly been an inspiration with movies such as The Secret Window and Shutter Island, and that’s just to name a few.

Take some time to watch this little beaut! This movie is sure to give you the creeps.


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