This year's Halloween Special is gonna consist of something a little bit different. I'm actually gonna delve into a whole whack of early films that have inspired further film making, especially for the horror genre, which ran rampant in the early days of film as a way to engage the viewer's imagination.
This particular German film could easily be seen as a classic for the horror genre, being one of the first very big names in, not only horror, but film in general. Not that film hadn't already been around for a while, but in my observations, this seems to have been where film really started to take off, and continue to put stuff out.
The film engages imagination quite well, even today. The old, grainy, black and white film really adds to the creepiness of it all. To give a more modern audience some idea, Rob Zombie's 'Living Dead Girl' music video was largely inspired by it, and draws from it for various scenes, featuring Zombie as the Doctor. However, the freak show in question is NOT a female corpse that comes to life, but a somnambulist (a sleepwalker, but not one of those Stephen King thingies).
Basic plot summary is that Caligari (Werner Krauss) comes to the small town of Hostenwall to try to show off his sideshow attraction at the local carnival. The attraction, is this somnambulist named Cesare, and the act is basically Caligari sort of half waking him so he can tell audience fortunes. Through a bit of struggle, Caligari is eventually able to show Cesare off.
A small audience comes to the attraction, who include Franzis (Friedrich Feher) and Alan (Hans Heinrich von Twardowski), two men after the same woman's heart, Jane Olsen (Lil Dagover). We all know from the getgo how this ends up, as Franzis is narrating the story, telling a man about what happened with him and his fiancee, Jane. Whatever happens to Alan is predicted by Cesare near the beginning, and the whole movie turns into a murder mystery with a creepy side to it.
This could be seen as the first slasher movie, if we really wanna go that far. Murders are done by way of sharp kitchen knife, and even though murders are done off screen and in silhouettes, the creepy factor is still pretty effective, even today. Try to imagine seeing something like that in 1920. The first World War had just ended a couple of years prior, and the symbolism here is everything to do with the German war government conditioning soldiers to kill for them. This symbolism is seen by some in such a way that it's a premonition to Hitler's rise to power, and the Nazi government to come. It largely represents the German "need' for a tyrant in power.
The themes in this movie could easily be brought forth today, and I'd be curious to see some sort of remake to this. With its twisted and eerie visuals, I could easily see this as a Burton re-imagining. It brings to mind what people are bringing back and remaking these days, and it's a head-scratcher when there's a whole massive sollection of silent films that could use it. This, to me, is one of them. The themes are still alive and well, it's be an interesting, creepy take on a thriller, and computers could make the strange and twisted environments really pop. But what do I know? Go ahead and remake 'The Princess Bride' instead 'cause for some reason we think that's what's needed.
Anyway, themes aside, I can recommend this one pretty highly, regardless. This fits the Halloween spirit very nicely with the way it's all filmed, and it's a piece of cinematic history. Considered "the quintessential work of German expressionist cinema", it's very clearly in that library of classics that we should all dust off and get more inspiration from, as opposed to things from the 80s, which I appreciate, but we're kinda beating a dead horse at this point.