Release date: Out now
Starring: Werner Krauss, Conrad Veidt
Director: Robert Wiene
BBFC Certificate: U
Running time: 77 mins
One of the absolute cornerstones of horror – for a film made in 1920 this still packs a huge punch. An extraordinary technical achievement, it virtually invented the idea that films have a world of their own, that characters don’t have to live in a ‘real’ world but an emotionally heightened one with its own look and feel, with those extraordinary sets. Replicas of the sets can still be seen in Berlin’s film museum and they still produce a thrill up the spine.
The story itself is an eerie classic. Dr Caligari has an attraction at the local funfair – somnambulist Cesare (the extraordinary Conrad Veidt) who seems to be able to predict murders. Is Caligari ordering the murders, or is Cesare actually awake and a serial killer? Whichever, the outcome is truly terrifying.
Along with Nosferatu and Metropolis this is one of the genuinely great films of the early 20th century, and ripe for analysis. Is it a product of the shattered Germany after World War I? Is it a prediction of the horror of World War II? Does it suggest that the authorities are basically useless and that chaos is actually prevalent even in an ordered society? All of these theories are put forward in a reason to buy this disc even if you already own it – an extra disc called From Caligari to Hitler. It’s a doc made in 2014 which examines the social and cultural impact of the Weimar Republic.
The budget for the film was quite low, resulting in great leaps of imagination being taken by the set department. Most of the sets are actually made of paper, but the effect is a unique world entirely of its own. Veidt too has a look that would go on to influence a millions goths – tall, skinny, pale, clad in black, and moving like a ballerina. It’s chilling and impressive in equal measure.
The only blip is the wraparound bookends which suggest “it’s all been a dream’, but the rumour is that the government added these to take the edge of the film’s anarchic message. If true it doesn’t succeed – it still worms its way into your brain and stays there.
Overall Verdict: If you don’t have this disc in your collection, sort that out right now. A genuine five-star classic.
Reviewer: Mike Martin
Stereo and 5.1 Surround sound,
From Caligaro to Hitler
Audio commentary by David Kalat
Video essay by David Cairns
The Birth of Horror in the First World War
On the Restoration