horror film made in 1920 Germany, starring Werner Krauss as the titular mad doctor and Conrad Veidt
(the bad guy from Casablanca...
oh, and the original Joker
) as the fortune-telling sleepwalker Cesare (pronounced "cheh-ZAR-ay")
, who lives inside the cabinet.
The film was deals with dangers of hospitals in World War I when "malingering" soldiers were confined in hospitals under their manipulative doctors. Within a larger context, it also deconstructs the self-justifying narratives that were beginning to take hold in Germany and eventually lead to the rise of Nazism.
This film is best-known for its extremely messed-up set design: all the angles are crooked, the shadows are painted onto the sets
, and it's all made out of paper. More notably, some sets are twisted versions of World War I battlefields.
This movie is frequently homaged by music videos (see Rob Zombie's "Living Dead Girl" as well as "Otherside" of the Red Hot Chili Peppers
). In 2005, it received an indie remake starring Doug Jones, of Pan's Labyrinth
fame, which digitally imposed the new actors onto the original set. (Perhaps not coincidentally, Doug Jones also had a small role in Tim Burton
's Batman Returns
, a movie that owes a lot
to the German Expressionist style.)
In addition to being the first psychological thriller, this movie also received one of the first-ever Viral Marketing
campaigns for a movie: before its premiere, German streets were plastered with posters that read "Du mu▀t Caligari werden!" ("You must become Caligari!"), without telling you anything about the fact that they tied in to a movie.The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
was tremendously influential in cinematic history, as all the Trope Maker
examples below attest. It is in the public domain and may be viewed in its entirety at YouTube
This movie provides examples of various tropes, and subverts most of them by the end:
- All Just a Dream
- And You Were There: Most of the characters turn out to have real-world counterparts hanging around the asylum.
- Art Shift: The parts that Francis is imagining have the famously psychotic set design, some of which are twisted version of battlefields in World War I.
- Bedlam House
- Bizarrchitecture: Good lord. It borders on Alien Geometries.
- Brainwashed and Crazy: Cesare
- Circus of Fear: probably the Trope Maker
- Cuckoo Nest
- Deranged Animation: Despite being live-action, it's more stylized than your average cartoon
- Distressed Damsel: Jane, when Cesare attempts to kidnap her.
- Eerie Pale-Skinned Brunette: Cesare and Francis
- Empathic Environment
- Excessive Evil Eyeshadow: Cesare wears black makeup underneath his eyes. Notably, it's absent in the final scene where he appears as a harmless mental patient.
- Executive Meddling: A benevolent example. The Twist Ending was originally the idea of a studio exec, and it makes the movie much more interesting and uncomfortable. Apparently after screenings, a man would come out and reassure the audience that everything was going to be alright.
- Framing Device: Francis and the old man sitting in the courtyard.
- German Expressionism: the Trope Maker, or at least, Trope Codifier
- Homage: it's received countless, which eventually caused the Weird Al Effect
- Iris Out: A common trope in the day, and used many times in this film. The one that ends the film is particularly chilling.
- Jack the Ripoff: A villager takes advantage of Cesare's killing spree to try to cast off suspicion from his own attempt.
- The Killer in Me: It's very subtly implied that Francis is the real killer.
- Kubrick Stare: The anonymous attempted murderer (played by an uncredited Rudolf Klein-Rogge, of Metropolis fame) gives one from his cell.
- Looks Like Cesare: Cesare
- Madness Mantra: "I must know everything."
- Madness Montage: Surely the Trope Maker.
- Mad Scientist: Caligari.
- Mind-Control Eyes: The mind controlled Cesare reveals a particularly demented stare◊ when Dr. Caligari first wakes him up.
- Mind Screw: The sets are pure Mind Screw. In fact, if you compare actual World War I photos to some scenes, you'll find that some of the movie scenes are twisted version of WWI battlefields.
- Morally Ambiguous Doctorate: Dr. Caligari. Actually a deconstruction of this trope, since the character turns out to be a fairly harmless psychiatrist, and Francis is perceiving him as a Diabolical Mastermind.
- Murder the Hypotenuse
- Names to Run Away From Really Fast: If you meet a guy who is named after one of the Borgias, don't mess with him.
- Nice Hat: Plenty, but top notch goes to the Doctor with his stovepipe.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Francis may have given the Doctor a wicked idea which the Doctor will then proceed to try on everyone in the asylum. The statement of "Now I can cure him" means that Francis would be the first test subject.
- No Ending: "Now I can cure him." The End.
- No Name Given: Apparently Dr. Caligari renamed himself and Cesare after the legendary 17th century doctor and somnambulist he wished to emulate. We never learn what Dr. Caligari and Cesare's original names were.
- No Sneak Attacks: Averted, as Cesare's victims are killed in their sleep. His, too.
- Only Sane Man: Oh, no you're not.
- The Reveal: Possibly another Trope Maker for film history.
- Roofhopping: Cesare
- Room Full of Crazy: Or Scenery Full of Crazy—Dr. Caligari hallucinates the phrase "DU MUSST CALIGARI WERDEN" (YOU MUST BE CALIGARI) appearing all over the scenery once he gets the inspiration to mimic the legendary Dr. Caligari.
- Sacrificial Lamb: Alan
- Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: It's easy to predict when someone will die if you go and kill them.
- Shadow Discretion Shot: The murder of Allan. Remember, we never actually see Cesare in that scene.
- Surreal Horror
- Talkative Loon: Francis, although we don't realize it till the end. This trope is also the final fate of poor Jane.
- They Plotted a Perfectly Good Waste: The sets don't look real at all. This is because they're not.
- Things that Go Bump in the Night: Cesare
- Touch of the Monster: The PietÓ Plagiarism on the cover is the first in film
- Twist Ending: It's All Just a Dream and Francis is crazy. Also, supposedly the Trope Maker for the film medium.
- Unreliable Narrator
- Viral Marketing
- Woman in White: Take a look at that poster up there.
- Zombie Gait: Cesare makes yet another trope