An asylum inmate recounts the tale of how he was committed,
telling a wild tale about a crazed doctor and a murderous sleepwalker.
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)
Directed by Robert Wiene
Written by Carl Mayer and Hans Janowitz
Starring Werner Krauss, Conrad Veidt, Friedrich Feher,
Lil Dagover, Hans Heinrich von Twardowski, Rudolf Lettinger
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is widely considered to be the first true horror movie. In terms of set design, film score, and cinematography, it's nothing short of groundbreaking. However, nearly a century after its initial release, the film does fail to hold up. It's hard to follow the plot and it tends to drag. It does have a surprisingly shocking twist ending that puts the entire film into a different perspective, but there isn't really much else to praise. Being a huge fan of Charlie Chaplin, I know that silent films can develop characters without dialogue, but considering this was the first horror movie, they were still working out the kinks.
The film score is still unsettling to this day and the bizarre, nightmarish set design helps to create a sense of overwhelming paranoia and discomfort. It's really the characters that cause this film to not be as great as it should. Apart from Dr. Caligari himself, there's very little reason to care about anybody else. I didn't even know their names, let alone why I should care if they die. The story reads like a German folk tale and ends with an admittedly unpredictable twist in which its revealed that the evil doctor is actually the director of the insane asylum that the narrator is committed at. It was all his own inner turmoil spinning a yarn. I'll admit I was impressed by that.
In a world dominated by traditional filmmaking, it's difficult to look back on early films like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and see them as anything less than masterpieces. Films like this one are the reason cinema became what it is today. With a mindset like that, who would dare to say that this is a bad movie? I won't say that, but I will say that this isn't a great movie. It's groundbreaking for cinema as a whole, but on its own, it suffers in story and character development. I may not be a fan of this film, but that doesn't change its contribution to modern horror.