THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARINR
One of those rare, amazing technical accomplishments that also succeeds as art, this mesmerizing feature by an award-winning software developer and video-game animator stands to become a Halloween perennial.
Writer-director-editor David Lee Fisher, the son of a NASA engineer, conceived the notion of scanning the silent, public-domain horror classic The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) into digital form. He then re-shot the Expressionist masterpiece scene for scene, as a sound film scripted with both the original intertitles and new dialogue, using ingenious, three-dimensional green-screen sets that would later contain the original Caligari backgrounds and sets. He added occasional close-ups to add variety to the mostly wide-shot scene, and turned the squarish film widescreen.
That result would be a notable achievement in itself, but Fisher, working with one of cinema's most distinctive, thematically fascinating and visually influential movies, has enriched it with an added depth of which the original filmmakers, one can't help but think, would have approved.
Set in the early 20th century during a carnival's annual arrival in Holstenwall, Germany, the story--familiar to anyone who's taken a classics-of-cinema or introduction-to-film class--again finds stalwart young Francis (Judson Pearce Morgan) telling the story of how his fiancée Jane (Lauren Birkell) came to her state of walking catatonia. He relates how his childhood friend and romantic rival Alan (Neil Hopkins) suggested they take in the carnival together. There, the two enter the tent of psychiatrist Dr. Caligari (Daamen J. Krall), a traveling showman who displays his somnambulistic patient, the ghostly Cesare (Doug Jones).
Cesare, the doctor claims, can tell the future, and the one he predicts for Alan is death by dawn. When that comes to pass, Francis becomes obsessed with proving Caligari was behind it, and the arrival of a criminal (Scott Lincoln) with a knife similar to Alan's murder weapon does nothing to dissuade him. Surreal psychological twists and smoky visuals entwine around Eban Schletter's appropriately off-balance, neo-retro score.
The acting is, to be kind, uneven. Two standouts are the relatively unheralded Hopkins--best known as the heroin-addicted rock-star brother of Charlie (Dominic Monaghan) on TV's "Lost"--playing essentially two roles, and the absolutely amazing Krall, in two even further-apart parts. Also of particular note are the veteran actor Richard Herd as the police commissioner and "Star Trek: Voyager" Klingon Tim Russ as a particularly Klingon-like town clerk in a nicely color-blind take on what was once, like the rest of the film, a white German role.
Exhibitors might consider pairing the film with metal musician Rob Zombie's 1998 music-video "Living Dead Girl," in which director-star Zombie restages some scenes from the original film--complete with film scratches and the Expressionistic tinting--with himself as Caligari.
Trivia note: Caligari's University of Berlin diploma gives his heretofore unknown first name as Daamen--that of the actor playing him here.