Sunday, October 31, 2010

A Halloween History Lesson

Forget Saw I-III, Hostel I-II, Halloween I-whatever and anything with Freddy Krueger, bad backlighting and a chainsaw. This Halloween, go back to the classics.

As far as I am concerned, the horror genre began with Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari a.k.a. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) a German silent classic that is best known for its Expressionist sets (German Expressionist to be exact). Dr. Caligari plays the first true mad doctor/scientist who exhibits a somnambulist (sleepwalker) who predicts the future which of course include murders, madness and mayhem. It is considered by film historians (Martin Scorsese as one) to be one of the best of films of all time and the first to introduce the ending with a twist.

The wild, warped and perhaps dizzy-inducing sets were wildly applauded for their Expressionist style and a template for horror films to come. Flat panels and floors of painted horizontal and vertical lines, distorted camera angles,  inventive use of shadows, costumes and makeup (all in stark black and white) create the menacing atmosphere. Street lamps that hang askew and long twisted alleyways that fall into each other are just a few of the elements that make the production design unique.

Edward Scissorhands was said to be influenced by Caligari's style

And if you can't find the film at Blockbuster (pretty sure it's not in the Red Box outside of your local Walgreens), you can always resort to The Shining or The Exorcist two films that are always on my top ten list.

The Shining

The Exorcist

Happy Halloween!


  1. Thanks --- I try to shake it up every now and then with the old and new. Next week I will report on an upcoming release.

  2. The sets of "Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari" must rank among the most artistic of all time.