The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Wiene, 1920)

In early 1920, Germany was introduced to what is considered the first horror film,The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (with Nosferatu a close second). A bit disorienting and incredibly creepy, it’s hard for a modern audience to consider Robert Wiene’s expressionist masterpiece “scary”. However, back in when it was released, the film shocked audiences. Featuring a visually intriguing set full of oblique angles and odd shapes, the film embodied early German expressionism, and resembles any Tim Burton movie you have ever seen. 

The film is most remembered for its bizarre look. The set is full of diagonal stairs, jagged angles and shapes, and other crazy distortions. It’s as if the viewer is watching a movie through a mirror at a carnival funhouse. The actors are all decked out in dark, radical makeup, creating a shocking and dramatic look.  The set is just as twisted as the story.

The eerie silent film is about an eccentric man named Dr. Caligari and his zombie-like sleepwalker, Cesare. At a carnival in Germany, Caligari claims his “somnambulist” can see into the future. The predictions are quite ominous and a series of dark events occurs. The plot was extremely intense for 1920 and audiences were shaken and terrified.

If you’re a horror movie fan, or enjoy influential cinema, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is a must watch. You may think silent films are boring, but this one just might change your mind. 

—Britt Poteet, Film Studies Student