[Podcast] The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) – Episode 13 – Decades of Horror: The Classic Era

“Du mußt Caligari werden! You must become Caligari!” Join the Decades of Horror: The Classic Era’s Grue Crew – Chad Hunt, Erin Miskell, Jeff Mohr, and Joseph Perry – as we attempt the cinematic version of Volkswagen stuffing, climbing into The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari together and locking the door behind us. We are a rather close group.

Decades of Horror: The Classic Era
Episode 13 – The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)

Sometimes referred to as the first horror film, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is also a crown jewel of German expressionism. Producer Erich Pommer (Metropolis, Faust) put together a crew that included production designer Walter Reimann, who gave the film its unique and unsettling look. Directed by Robert Wiene (The Hands of Orlac), the film tells the story of Dr. Caligari (Werner Krauss), a sideshow mesmerist, and his somnambulist Cesare (Conrad Veidt). Dr. Caligari uses his power over Cesare not only for sideshow performances, but to commit murders. Alan (Hans Heinrich von Twardowski), one of their early victims, is close friends with Francis (Friedrich Fehér) and Jane (Lil Dagover). After Alan’s murder, Francis becomes obsessed with exposing Caligari’s evil deeds while Jane begins to fall under Caligari’s spell.

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is not, however, simply a slasher film.  The writers, Carl Mayer (The Haunted Castle, The Last Laugh) and Hans Janowitz (Der Januskopf), use personal experiences as the story’s foundation while interweaving several layers, leaving interpretation to the viewer.

Listen as we discuss the answers to these questions: What is German expressionism? How did this moment in German history influence the film? Who faked insanity to get out of military service in WWI? Who was known as a Nazi sympathizer in later years? Who was strongly anti-Nazi? Who was one of Hitler’s favorite actors? To which famous director was the film first offered? How does the framing story change the film’s message? What should you do if you don’t like the score? How does The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari relate to the Batman TV-series of the 1960s (as all films must)?  What does the Babadook have to do with Dr. Caligari?

As always, if you’re paying attention, you’ll also hear which of us makes these comments:

  • “Or it could just be like a family sitting together at dinner and the father says to the mother, ‘So, we must become Caligari. When will we become Caligari?’ ‘It’s up to you. You’re the head of the house.’”
  • “We love everybody here at decades of Horror: The Classic Era.”
  • “My first time was on a family trip to Lake Tahoe, Nevada.”
  • “Chances are it would just be me, like screeching in this little high-pitched squeal that would attract ardent chihuahuas.”
  • “He is one creepy looking dude!”

We plan to release a new episode every other week. Our upcoming and very flexible schedule includes Bride of Frankenstein (1935), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), Jû jin yuki otoko (the original 1955 Japanese version, aka Half Human), and House on Haunted Hill (1959).

Please let us know what you think of Decades of Horror: The Classic Era and what films you’d like to hear us cover! We want to hear from you! After all, without you, we’re just four nutjobs talking about the films we love. Send us an email  (chadhunt@gruesomemagazine.com, erinmiskell@gruesomemagazine.com, jeffmohr@gruesomemagazine.com, or josephperry@gruesomemagazine.com) or leave us a message, a review, or a comment at GruesomeMagazine.com, iTunes, the Horror News Radio App, or the Horror News Radio Facebook group.

To each of you from each of us, “Thank you for listening!

Jeff Mohr
Jeff lives smack dab in the middle of the cornfields of Iowa and is a long time horror fan. His first remembered encounters with the genre were The Wizard of Oz, Tarzan gorilla chases, and watching the first broadcast of The Twilight Zone episode, “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.” While he now qualifies as an old fart, he strives to be an “Old Boy.” Paraphrasing Robert Bloch, he has the heart of a small boy. He keeps it in a jar on his desk. Jeff has written for Horrornews.net and SQ Horror Magazine and co-hosted the SQ Bloodlines podcast. He currently writes for Gruesome Magazine and is co-host of the Decades of Horror The Classic Era and 1970s podcasts.
  • Here’s another one I’ve managed to go my whole life without seeing in its entirety. Until now. 🙂

    And holy cow you guys really geeked out over this one! It was a blast to listen to you deep dive into all the social and behind the scenes stuff going on at the time of it’s filming and release. I actually watched the film after listening to your podcast, and the information you’d brought to light increased my enjoyment of it.

    That being said, I have to say I wasn’t as wowed as you all seemed to be. I GREATLY enjoyed the visuals, and thought Krauss and Veidt gave stellar performances (favorite image was that first time we see Cesare being awoken onstage–the slow, deliberate opening of his eyes, his facial features as they slowly come to life), but at movie’s end it was more of a “curiosity satisfied” for me than a “how soon can I watch that again?!”

    Some of that may have been the print I had–it was a streamed SD print that was jagged with artifacts to the point of distraction. I high quality blu-ray might give me a different experience altogether.

    At any rate, thanks so much for all the insight and enjoyment you provided with your analysis. Fantastic as always!

    • Jeff Mohr

      Salty, Yup, that’s us. The “Geek-Out Squad!” lol! That means a lot to us to know we added some value to your viewing experience. If you’re interested in the connections between the film and German society and politics of the time, you might enjoy FROM CALIGARI TO HITLER, an excellent documentary now streaming on NetFlix. The Kino Lorber 4K restoration Blu-ray is indeed impressive as are the extra features. I’m very visual and I love good silent films because they don’t have all those distracting words. 😉 As always, we really appreciate that you listen and that you let us know your thoughts!

      • Thanks Jeff, I’ve added the documentary to my list. And my guess is a rewatch of the film with that 4k disc would be a different experience. Have to get a 4k tv and a 4k player first, though…. 🙂