Horror Education Of The Week: ‘The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari’

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“March 12th – At last — at last! Today I have been notified of the case of a somnambulist. Now I shall be able to prove whether a somnambulist can be compelled to do things of which he knows nothing, things he would never do himself and would abhor doing– whether it is true that one in a trance can be driven to murder.”

Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer met in Berlin after World War I and both held pacifist views of authority as a result of the war. The two wrote a script intending to show a symbolic scrutiny of military figures who draft men into war for the sole purpose of becoming killing machines. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari was released in Germany in 1920.

This classic film follows the story of Francis, a young man in an asylum who tells a fellow patient about a fair that came to his hometown. At the fair was a somnambulist named Cesare who was controlled by a strange old sideshow hypnotist named Dr. Caligari. After grisly murders plague the town, Francis follows Dr. Caligari to the mental asylum where he is the director…or is he?

– The film shows tyrannical authority in a dark light. Caligari represents the corruption of power giving birth to the controlling temperament of a dictator.

– The dictator’s drive is to subconsciously turn someone into a mindless killer – an eerie foresight as to what was to come with the rise of the Third Reich.

– The writers objected to the framing story of the asylum that director Robert Wiene added. It is believed that the framing story was added afterwards to change the story from an attack on authority to one that reinstates the importance of authority, in order to maintain a society.

– The film was released drawing in audiences with hypnotizing propaganda posters reading “You must become Caligari.”

  • Lonmonster

    Cool stuff, Lauren!

    • Lauren Taylor

      Thanks, Lonnie! This will be a little feature each week! :)

  • divisionbell

    What an excellent movie. The original twist ending :-)

  • Nothing333

    I love this idea. A weekly “education” on horror films examining the classics.awesome stuff.

  • crow454

    A good idea for an ongoing column. Perhaps a more critical analysis, or at least more in depth rather than quick bullets would be a more interesting read though.