As anyone who’s walked into an American retail store in the past two months can tell you, Halloween is coming up. Being the Halloween lover and film trash that I am (not film buff, film trash) I’ve been celebrating this fact for the past two weeks by gathering up all the Halloween-ish films I have – and purchasing some that I shockingly didn’t have – and watching them.
I only just realized that I should have been writing about them as well, but I haven’t, because I am both foolish and lazy. Anyway that all changes starting now! Don’t know that I’ll be able to find anything new to say about any of these films, but when has that ever stopped anyone before?
At least I can compare them to obscure punk albums, right?
So today I watched an unquestionable classic of the horror genre, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. I first saw it as a seventeen- or eighteen-year-old when I was first getting into Weimar-era German films. While I can’t say it changed me as deeply as Metropolis or M did, it was still a revelation – if only because so many other films have “borrowed” from it in the years since its release.
Obligatory plot summary: the film opens on our protagonist, Francis (Friedrich Feher), explaining to a friend that he’s seen some crazy shit. He goes on to tell the twisted tale of how one day the carnival came to his small town and brought along with it the strange Dr. Caligari (Werner Krauss) and his somnambulist, Cesare (Conrad Veidt). After a few people are mysteriously murdered – among them Francis’s best friend, Alan (Hans Heinrich von Twardowski) – Francis discovers that Caligari is sending out Cesare to commit the murders. Not only that, but Caligari is none other than the director of the local insane asylum, driven mad himself by his desire to unravel the secrets of the original Dr. Caligari (who used a somnambulist to commit a string of murders hundreds of years before). Once the truth is out, Caligari is imprisoned in his own asylum. But as we soon discover, Francis himself is insane, a patient in the very same asylum – and Caligari is his doctor.
In the years since I first saw this, I’ve had to watch it at least a dozen other times for various film classes, and unfortunately the trade-off for hearing some interesting theories about the film (“It’s all a metaphor for World War One!”) is that I’ve lost a lot of the enthusiasm I once had for it.
The memes, however, will never stop coming.
That said, I do still have a certain fondness for The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. At this point it’s become a little like The Rocky Horror Picture Show for me: I know the whole thing by heart and even have incredibly stupid callbacks for it. (“Alan, we both love her… SO CLEARLY THE SOLUTION IS A THREE-WAY!”) I may not be able to write an insightful academic analysis of the film the way others can, but I will express my fondness for the film in my own film trash ways, like watching it drunkenly with friends and making music videos for it using Green Day songs.
Well, that’s enough for now. Until next time, have a very merry Hallow and a happy new Ween!