Sunday, April 10, 2011

Day 10 of the 30 Day Horror Challenge: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari - A Killer Comes out of the Closet

Day 10 - Your favorite psychological horror film –


How is The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari a psychological horror film? (and how is a raven like a writing desk?)I answer that the entire movie is the lunatic ramblings of a patient at a sanitarium/mental hospital (it might be too early in history to truly call what this place is a hospital). Granted a majority of the story reads more like a murder mystery than a psych horror picture, but I think it’ll fit the bill. It’s always the way I thought of it at least. If you find the twist ending a stretch for this characterization as a part of this subgenre than let’s look at the second reason for my classification… somnambulism.

For that we go to Wiki (which sounds like a voodoo term know?):

:Sleepwalking, also known as somnambulism, is a sleep disorder belonging to the parasomnia family.[2] Sleepwalkers arise from the slow wave sleep stage in a state of low consciousness and perform activities that are usually performed during a state of full consciousness. These activities can be as benign as sitting up in bed, walking to the bathroom, and cleaning, or as hazardous as cooking, driving, extremely violent gestures, grabbing at hallucinated objects,[3] or even homicide.[4][5][6]

So what we’ve got here is a killer who’s motive for or at least the vehicle for his killing is based on a sleep disorder and is potentially also under the hypnotic control of one Dr. Caligari. The Somnambulist may not actually be aware of the murder he commits, but ultimately “wakes up” when it comes to killing the beautiful heroin of in the picture. So when we combine a psychological disorder with murder and creepy imagery and often creepy music (depending on which adaptation you have the pleasure of watching) then we get a horror picture. It’s a psychological horror picture before horror is truly a defined genre. It’s a foundational picture.

Now that we have the psych background to classify it (get our you DSM-IV folks), let’s talk about why it’s my favorite beyond Silence of the Lambs or High Tension which were very much under consideration. It is the movie that comes before all others or at least most. It comes out at approximately the same time as Nosferatu and several years before Phantom of the Opera. We’ve got numerous genre pictures before this one, but this started to establish themes that continue to this day in the genre. It’s high contrast Black and White. There’s nothing wishy washy about Caligari. You’ve got some truly talented film makers at the help and some excellent actors who absolutely love and embody German Expressionism.

The twist ending is clearly worth the wait. I was watching this film in a high school film appreciation class circa 1997 and had no idea that films like this even existed much less could impress me so from this time period. I had seen Nosferatu and Phantom, sure, but this one had a plot device outside of straightforward murder and monster pictures. The killer was unlike anything I had seen before. A sleepwalker who murders. I borrowed the film from our school library and watched it nightly for about a month.

I used to sit around with my guitar and play soundtracks for this one. Nothing ever came of that project. Rob Zombie even borrowed some of its scenes for his Living Dead Girl video which I can safely say is Dr. Jimbo Junkfood for the soul.

-Dr. Terror


  1. I've always loved this one. Maybe you should revisit the soundtrack idea?

  2. Hoping to put a small project together soon under the name Dr. Jimmy and the Wurdalaks. Midi controllers away!