Dr. Caligari is a traveling sideshow artist whose show is built around Cesare the Somnambulist. Cesare has been asleep for 23 years, yet can answer any question posed to him. When one character asks him, "When will I die?" you can't help but go "uh oh."
At night Caligari sends Cesare on murderous errands, and our narrator/hero Francis sets about figuring out who is behind the killing. What follows is a series of plans and counter-plans, as well as bizarre and shocking revelations about what is really going on.
For a movie 80 years old, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari still works remarkably well. The sets that director Robert Wiene uses to enliven the production are the very definition of expressionistic, and their influence can be seen in the works of filmmakers even today, notably Tim Burton. Cesare is the model for practically every mute movie fiend that would menace women for the next eight decades. If you want to see the roots of movie horror, you need look no further.
Being an extremely old movie, you can't expect much. The print used is dirty and blotchy, with occasional damage. Still, the image is fairly sharp, and the tinting looks good.
There is a black, semitransparent horizontal line that runs through parts of the film, starting with the scene where Caligari first presents Cesare to the fair. This line, about 9/10ths of the way up the screen, must be a flaw in the original elements because 16mm prints of the film I've seen usually crop the top of the screen off at this line. All in all, leaving the line in is preferable, because the cropped versions badly throw the film's compositions off.
Being a silent movie, the only sound is a
score recorded in modern times. The score is rather conventional, and
does not call attention to itself.
The big feature here is an audio commentary by Mike Budd. The commentary is rather dry, and is devoted almost entirely the artistic merits and techniques of the film. Don't expect many interesting stories about the making of this film, but get ready for theories about how Caligari foresees Hitler!
There is also a small collection of photos,
including the theater where the film premiered and reproductions of
some of the original publicity materials for the film. There is also
another short film called Genuine: A Tale of a Vampire. Apparently only
excerpts from the complete film are included. No context is given on
the disc for why this film is included, but it is directed by Robert
Wiene and features some Caligari-esque sets.
Scott Hamilton, 12/13/00