Dr. Caligari (1989)
Back of the box...
“Meet the surrealistic psychiatrist with the camp couch, Dr. Caligari. She’s totally twisted and continuing the mind bending experiments of her grandfather, the original Dr. Caligari. She treats her patients like human lab rats as she swaps their psychoses with cross cranial conulations. Witness the sexual fantasies of a lovely, lust-crazed “erotomaniac.” You’ll be shocked by her high voltage therapy for a “juiced-up” cannibal. Sigmund Freud is turning somersaults in his grave over this doctor’s demented diagnosis. Fall victim to the captivating Dr. Caligari. She’s got a straight jacket with your name on it.”
Director: Stephen Sayadian
Starring: Madeleine Reynal, Fox Harris, Laura Albert
Watch the Trailer
German expressionism meets the MTV generation for a match made in a disturbingly “erotic” heaven. In 1920, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari set the expressionist film movement in motion with its heavy emphasis on stylized visuals and exaggerated performances. The distorted, angular set design along with the jerky, slowed down performances were used to heighten the films emotional states and suggest a sense of mental instability. The surreal aesthetic lends itself perfectly to popular imagery in graphic art and music videos that are emblematic of the 1980’s.
As you may have guessed, the similarities between the two films are no coincidence. 1989’s Dr. Caligari (Madeleine Reynal) is the great granddaughter of the doctor from the original film. At the Caligari Insane Asylum, concerned members of the medical staff try to stop the mad doctor as she attempts unsanctioned experiments on her unwilling patients. The main focus of these experiments is a fast talking cannibal named Gus and a nymphomaniac who goes by Mrs. Van Houten (insert Simpsons joke here).
The dark, bizarrely constructed sets are great to look at and the dialogue is equally interesting and strange. The acting is what might be considered terrible by some but is perfect for the film. As we mentioned, Dr. Caligari is a modern expressionist film and the unusual acting is a stylistic choice characteristic of the original film movement. In a lot of ways, the movie feels like a pseudo avant-garde music video by some 80’s new wave band stretched out to an hour and twenty minutes...without music. This probably sounds like a negative thing but the sets, dialogue, performances, and bat-shit-crazy unfolding of events make for an entertaining watch.
The cast is a real rag-tag group of weirdos who have pretty much only appeared in the kind of random crap we like to watch. Our lead, Madeleine Reynal, has only one other acting credit to her name: Jennera, the head Bellerian, in the hilariously bad movie Space Mutiny. There’s also Dr. Avol, played by Fox Harris, whom the film is dedicated to. You may know him from his appearances in a few noteworthy Alex Cox films such as Sid and Nancy, Straight to Hell, and, what we initially recognized him from, Repo Man. Sadly, Dr. Caligari was one of Harris’ final films as he died before the film’s 1989 release.
Dr. Caligari was really a treat for us to watch! It made us feel nostalgic for our teen years when weird old movies like this were shared by word of mouth or VHS in parking lots outside community center shows. If you’ve ever shared 40s with friends in a nearby park and then snuck everyone passed your parents bedroom at two in the morning to watch a David Lynch film, you might know what we’re talking about. The movie is that kind of weird that, when you discover it as a teenager, it feels exclusive. You knew none of the sports guys or mall girls at school were watching stuff like this. For that night, it was just for you and your friends.
From what we read, Dr. Caligari was a popular midnight movie for some time. Uh, why isn’t it now and who do we need to talk to about getting this back on the big screen again? Who knows, maybe one day The Popcornomicon will host a movie night and we’ll return Dr. Caligari to its rightful place.