Director Robert Wiene was once creully dubbed a one-hit wonder following the success of his German expressionist silent film, The Cabinet of Dr Cagliari, which celebrates its centenary this year. Cruel because its stature as a film both in the horror genre and the celluloid art form as a whole is elevated, even now in modern times, audiences can still view the film and appreciate its vivid structure and powerful storytelling. This concept has been carried out through a number of Wiene’s films since and as such places the auteur in a higher pedigree as a result.
Part of the reason for TCoDC’s success is its beauty and why I believe that it still resonates today is because of how the Expressionist movement that Wiene articulates throughout the narrative heightens the sense of fear, horror and dread. The use of exaggerated framing within the set, scenery, dramatic lighting and obscure camera angles, all of which have been harnessed and inspire many great film directors today. This abstract style of filmmaking that broke down the parameters of the environment is a welcoming device that unsettles the viewer, and it’s this discomfort that is dialled up and emphasised during the early 1920s with films such as Phantom, Nosferatu, and The Golem: How He Came Into The World, that captured the imaginations of their audience and captivated them.
I’ve alway been drawn to this style of storytelling and combined with Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer’s screenplay that twists and turns our perception of the world, we are left questioning our judgement and a little foolish at our trust in the storytellers.
The device is a simple one that plays with the audience, who have come accustomed to the conviction of the author, that when the reveal happens we see that the true horror lies within the mind of our narrator. This device has oft been repeated, but the simplicity of its tale is what continues to captivate audiences and any cinephile who has yet to catch this masterpiece, should do so without haste, and it is fairly easy to stream it without any restriction involved. Without it, the term calgiarism wouldn’t have been formed, a word that I might add warrants resurrection to highlight madness and obsession with distorted visuals.
In short, don’t judge this film by its age, black and white images, and lack of audio dialogue, as it is a strong and compelling film and a fascinating insight into the formation of the horror genre on screen. We at Surgeons of Horror raise a goblet and celebrate its centenary.
- Saul Muerte