On This Day In History – “The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari” Was Released (1920)

On this day in 1920, 26th February 1920, one of the most famous and influential examples of German Expressionism was released, Robert Wiene’s silent horror film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari aka Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari.

the cabinet of dr. caligari

One of the first films to use a frame story narrative, The Cabinet of Dr Caligari is told as a flashback with protagonist Francis telling the story of his hometown of Holstenwall, a German mountain town when it is visited by the mysterious Dr Caligari, who displays a hypnotically controlled somnambulist named Cesare at the local carnival. When mysterious things begin happening in the town, Francis discovers that in 1703 a mythical murderous monk named Caligari visited towns in Northern Italy with his own somnambulist companion whom he controlled and used to commit a string of murders, and at the same time discovers that Dr Caligari is the doctor of the local insane asylum. As the story unfolds the fate of the local residents is discovered and the true identity of Dr Caligari is finally revealed.

As well as being revered as one of the most quintessential examples of German Expressionism, The Cabinet of Dr Caligari has become a classic film, frequently screened as parts of Introduction to Film and Film History courses at universities across the globe. It is also widely regarded as being one of the first horror films, and is said to have introduced the “twist ending” style of storytelling. Loosely based on Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”, The Cabinet of Dr Caligari taps into a part of the human psyche that universally fears the vampiric figure.

The film has in recent years been digitally restored and the restored feature premiered in February 2014 at the 64th Berlin International Film Festival.

By Kat Lawson

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