The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

26 05 2010

Metropolis (1927) is probably the most well-known silent-era German expressionist film, closely followed by Nosferatu (1922). But pre-dating both yet just as influential is Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (1920): everything from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) to Edward Scissorhands (1990) can be in some way traced back to this important work, but so can A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and The Sixth Sense (1999) as well.

This is one of the first bona fide horror films and the first to employ a twist-ending. More importantly, it was the first film to place a real narrative in a very unreal-looking world. The sets are truly staggering, looking like reality as seen in a fun-house mirror. Nothing exists at right-angles, with walls lurching in on the characters and trees almost seeming to grasp at passers-by (cue Snow White). Even makeup is, at times, heavily stylised, with flat-white faces and dark, ominous eyes marking-out one character in particular (cue Edward Scissorhands). The world as we know it has been twisted, distorted, up-ended in a nightmarish landscape that threatens with its stark, foreboding design.
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