Say what?! A 1960s remake of the famous early silent film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari that I’ve never heard of? And it’s written by Robert Bloch? Okay, you know I’ve got to check this one out.
Yeah, well, not so much. Not so much a remake, that is. I suppose you could say it’s “inspired by” the original, but even that would be something of a stretch. Yes, there is a bit of a connection, but what that connection is is only revealed at the end, and I’m certainly not going to give it away here.
Let’s simply say there’s no somnabulist, no canted angles (which the original is famous for) except for one small scene, no German expressionism on display. Oh, and no cabinet, either.
On the other hand, there is quite an interesting mystery going on. The story opens with Jane Lindstrom arriving at the estate of a man named Caligari after having had a blowout in her motorcar that results in it winding up in a ditch. Though he is welcoming and invites her to stay the night while her car is repaired, she soon finds that she is actually a prisoner in the house and is unable to leave or even use the telephone to call for help.
She soon meets other guests .at the estate, including an older man named Paul who seems to want to help her not just escape but to understand what is going on around her and why she is being held against her will. Also at the estate is an elderly woman named Ruth who also seems to be at the estate against her will and who, after promising to help Jane is tortured and them seemingly murdered. Also, thee is Mark, a younger man who seems especially interested in Jane’s plight and with whom she soon forms something of a romantic relationship.
There are other characters who move in and out of Jane’s life as she ties to find a way to escape from Caligari’s compound. There’s an intriguing mystery surrounding the entire enterprise, and the viewer is often led to wonder whether the entire thing might not be a sort of Gaslight scenario where the people involved are trying to either drive Jane insane or at least make her think she is.
I’m not going to go much further in explaining what’s going on because even though it may not be a classic, there’s still enough intrigue and mystery and atmosphere to this movie to make it worth seeking out. No, it may not have much to do really with the original, and it honestly might have been more successful with a different title that wasn’t quite so evocative of the past (though I wonder really, especially at the time of the film’s release how much of mainstream America would even have been aware of the silent German classic. For that matter, I wonder how many people now would be.).
Nonetheless, if you’re looking for a relatively quiet, slow burn, heavily atmospheric creeper, then I do recommend giving The Cabinet of Caligari a look.
Here’s your trailer: