Listen to our full discussion of this genre-defining horror film on our podcast series Mysterium Pictorum! Available on any podcasting app you like!
Caligari has always been my least favourite among the holy trinity of foundational German Expressionist films (Metropolis, Nosferatu, Caligari). Still, its influence and the way it enchants the audience are undeniable.
The sets are beautiful and make me wonder time and time again why this style wasn't used more - In theatre, for example.
There is so much potential still to be mined here! As soon as my films (and theatre shows) have budgets high enough to pull it off, I want to make Neo-Expressionist films (and stagings of classical plays)!
Cesare looks weirdly contemporary - As he always does. First, he was a Goth, then an Emo, and now he's your basic NB dark academia TikTok fuckboy. Fashion comes and goes, Cesare's style is eternal.
The F. W. Murnau foundation DVD has a ghastly soundtrack, but that was just a bit distracting. Caligari's power is visual.
And what power it has, visually! Watching it this time, I became really aware of how well the actors always fit the images, visually. They were looking, moving, behaving and emoting the exact way characters in expressionist paintings do. Want to see "The Scream" or Otto Dix' haunted soldiers in action? Here they are!
Apropos of haunted soldiers: The whole subtext about war traumata was never clearer to me than on this watch, making the framing device all the more infuriating. Not only does it turn the message in all its layers on its head - It also breaks the otherwise perfect atmosphere of expressionism with its ugly first shot. Still, even the worst thing about this film is influential and iconic: I can't think of an earlier instance of the Shyamalan-style "mindfuck" twist.
"Caligari"'s influence, especially on horror cinema, can't be overestimated. Tracing its inspirations when familiar with the influence of World War I on society in the Weimar Republic as well as the basic classics of German Romanticism (E. T. A. Hoffmann and his insistence on giving villains Italian names - Why is that, I wonder?), is also fun - Especially when one is interested in the evolution of the horror genre.
This isn't an immersive film experience to me like "Nosferatu" and "Metropolis" are. But it is incredibly interesting to analyse and think about. It's also pretty fast paced and feels fresh and kind of exciting and innovative, even over 100 years after its release. If that's not a feat to behold, I don't know what is.