Dipping into the Far Out vault, we’re revisiting the film that is widely considered to be the first true horror film. Thanks to the wonders of the modern age, we can watch The Cabinet Dr. Caligari on YouTube below in its entirety.
Since it’s release way back in 1920, the silent film from acclaimed director Robert Wiene has become a staple of German cinema and reflects one of it’s most prolific periods in film, during the expressionist cinema movement of the twenties.
The film would be placed alongside other classics from Germany including Fritz Lang’s pioneering sci-fi film Metropolis and FW Murnau’s with the iconic film that must’ve undoubtedly been influenced by Dr. Caligari the genre-defining Nosferatu.
Though the 1922 film from Murnau is most certainly the most well recognised of all the early attempts at Horror, it was Dr. Caligari that arrived first with its warped visuals and surreal plot. It features a hypnotist played by Wener Krauss who uses as a sleepwalker, played by Conrad Viedt, to commit heinous murders—a plot that would likely work very well today.
The expressionist cinema movement channelled specific themes and styles that would go on to inspire countless youth subculture long after the film’s first release. The nightmarish landscapes and stricken protagonists can be seen across cinema and even making their thematic presence felt in the music and beyond.
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, written by Carl Mayer and Hans Janowitz, was born from the utter death and destruction of humanity that occurred in the First Wolrd War. Those influences are clear to see in the characterisations of the film. Of course, Caligari, in this case, represents the German war government while his murderous sleepwalking assistant is the German people, led blindly into the atrocity.
It was a film that would cement German cinema as one of the leading lights of early film and began an illustrious history of the pursuit of avant-garde cinema. Rightly described by Roger Ebert as “the first true horror film” the piece remains a bastion of early creation.
The film also has a secret plot twist for an ending, but we won’t give that away. Even if you have had 100 years to see it. For now, sit back and enjoy the first-ever horror film, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari .