HOME   News   Reviews   Adv Search   Features   My DVD   About   Apps   Stats     Search:
  Directed by
  • Full Frame
  • English: Dolby Digital Stereo
  • None
  • Audio commentary
  • Featurette
  • Photo gallery
  • Animated menus
The Cabinet of Dr Caligari
Force Entertainment/Force Entertainment . R4 . COLOR . 72 mins . PG . PAL


The Cabinet of Dr Calgari is a true classic of international cinema – mentioned in nearly every film history text there is and yet, compared to many of its contemporaries, few people seem to have actually seen it. This is a film that boasts so many firsts - the first horror film, the first psychological thriller, and the first Expressionist film to come out of Germany – one which helped to pave the way for the international success of other German classics such as Nosferatu, The Golem, and Metropolis.

This chilling tale opens in a mental institution, where Francis (Fredrich Feher) relates his fateful encounter with one Dr. Caligari in the small German village of Hollenstanwall. Beginning with a day of harmless fun with his good friend Alan, the two attend a fun fair that has recently rolled into town. The fair’s main attraction turns out to be the mysterious Caligari and his somnambulist Cesarè (Conrad Veidt) who has slept day and night for the last 23 years. Apparently Cesarè awakens only at Calgari’s command to predict the future of lucky patrons. Intrigued by what mysteries the tent may hold, Francis and Alan enter, and Alan dares to ask Cesarè a question - "How long will I live?". Cesarè’s shocking reply "'til dawn tomorrow" turns into prophesy when Alan is murdered in his sleep by a shadowy figure.

It turns out that Alan’s murder is not the first in recent days, and with Cesarè’s words echoing in his mind, Francis vows not to sleep until he tracks the killer down. After he confronts Caligari (his prime suspect), the doctor sends Cesarè out to kill Francis’ fiancee Jane (Lil Dagover). But once Cesarè claps eyes on Jane, he is bewitched by her beauty and decides to steal her away. Thus begins a mad chase for captor and captive, but Jane is later found unharmed on the side of the road. In the meantime Caligari has fled, but Francis tracks him down to an asylum where he is apparently the director. Finally, Caligari's mad obsession is revealed - or is it?

As a movement, Expressionism seeks a representation of reality that is distorted for the sake of conveying a meaning or theme. First released in 1920, The Cabinet of Dr Caligari is a definitive example of Expressionism applied to film. Various manifestations of the movement appear within the film, including distorted, angular sets (conveying the anxiety and mental unbalance of the narrator), as well as stylised and highly gesticulatory acting.

By today’s standards, The Cabinet of Dr Caligari is feeling its age, but what I find extraordinary is that while the Germans were constructing such dark and inspired art-as-cinema, American filmmakers were cranking out slapstick comedies or morality tales that were about as artistic as wallpaper. These days Caligari may only be of interest to film students, but we should be thankful to director Weine for helping to bridge the gap between the artistic elite of his day and the burgeoning yet commercial medium of cinema. Without this contribution, cinema may never have become what it is today.


For a film that’s over 80 years old, we can’t really expect much in the way of video quality, but this print of Caligari (re-mastered in 1996 from an archive print), looks pretty good. Of course there’s grain aplenty, it swarms with white flecks, and there are lines every so often, but the print is more than watchable – the quality’s quite surprising really. At times jerky due to cropped frames, the print exhibits the set of tints with which it was originally released - predominantly sepia for daytime shots, but also cool blues for night time and purple in Jane’s boudoir. Of course the film is presented at its original aspect ratio of 4:3. At only 73 minutes duration, a single-layer disc is more than sufficient to hold it.

In terms of audio, we are treated to a Dolby Digital Stereo soundtrack that contains a new accompanying score by Timothy Brock. The score adds greatly to the experience, highlighting the drama well. Through a Prologic decoder it sounds surprisingly good, filling out the soundstage very nicely - a satisfying proportion being mixed to the rear. As you might expect, the subwoofer has nothing at all to do.

In terms of extras, the disc is a real surprise, with a number of additions. Firstly we have a wonderful commentary by film historian Mike Budd that places the film in its historical context and gives the viewer a much greater appreciation of the film’s contribution to the medium. In addition, we get a photo gallery containing promotional images for the film's US release, as well as pictures of the Marmorhaus Cinema Berlin where the film premiered. To round out the extras, we are also presented with a short featurette Genuine: A Vampire’s Tale that provides a short scene by director Weine that involves a painter who falls asleep and dreams that a painting in his living room has come to life. Rounding off the disc are some nicely animated menus. All in all a great presentation by Force.

There’s no question that The Cabinet of Dr Caligari has a unique place in the history of cinema. No other film had such an intense influence on the further development of the German film industry, and it helped lay the foundations of many of the genres that we enjoy today. If you have an interest in the history of cinema, then you might like to take a look at this nicely presented disc. If nothing else it’s fantastic to see these classics being released in our region!

  • LINK: http://www.dvd.net.au/review.cgi?review_id=1291
  • Send to a friend.
  • Do YOU want to be a DVDnet reviewer? If so, click here

    Cast your vote here: You must enable cookies to vote.
  •   And I quote...
    "This first ever horror film holds a unique place in the history of film.."
    - Gavin Turner
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Toshiba SD-2108
    • TV:
          Panasonic TC-68P90A TAU (80cm)
    • Receiver:
          Yamaha RX-V795
    • Amplifier:
          Yamaha RX-V795
    • Speakers:
          B&W 602
    • Centre Speaker:
          B&W CC6 S2
    • Surrounds:
          JM Lab Cobalt SR20
    • Subwoofer:
          B&W ASW-500
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard Optical
    • Video Cables:
          Standard Component RCA
      Recent Reviews:
    by Gavin Turner

    Daddy Day Care
    "Steadfastly walking the firm, middle ground of ‘family-values’ entertainment, it’s a light, sometimes funny and often enjoyable film full of cute kids and obvious gags. "

    Please Teacher! Volume 1 - Hot For Teacher
    "It’s one of the quintessential schoolboy fantasies…"

    "What's in a title? Returner may well be a self-fulfilling prophecy… "

    Hulk: CE
    "Collector's or Special Edition? That is the question..."

    "Combining camp Summer-blockbuster with compelling, human drama, Ang Lee's Hulk is essential viewing."

      Related Links
      None listed


    Search for Title/Actor/Director:
    Google Web dvd.net.au
       Copyright © DVDnet. All rights reserved. Site Design by RED 5