DR CALIGARI (1989) – “The Cabaret of Dr Caligari” might make a more fitting title for Stephen Sayadian’s genre-bending Dr Caligari. Long before Dandy Dust there was this fun movie which was sort of a hybrid of Eraserhead and The Rocky Horror Picture Show with sprinklings of Liquid Sky and Repo Man. Nightmarish visuals and deranged sexuality abound.
Many IMDb reviewers trash this movie but their reviews read like they were penned by someone who has never seen an Alfred Hitchcock film knocking Mel Brooks’ High Anxiety as “not funny.” Just like with the Brooks movie if you’re not familiar with the cinematic styles and productions referenced in Dr Caligari then no, you won’t find it entertaining.
This movie, which is full of absurdly horrific imagery and horrifically absurd imagery is simultaneously a celebration of AND a parody of art films and silent movies – especially of the German Expressionist variety. The Cabinet of Dr Caligari kicked off that cinematic style in 1919 and we’re told that the title character of this 1989 product is the great granddaughter of THAT Dr Caligari.
Our thoroughly modern Dr Caligari is played by Madeleine Reynal, who camps it up as if she’s part robot, part dominatrix, and part corpse. The good doctor runs the Caligari Insane Asylum, or CIA (remember MK-Ultra?) She’s secretly using some of the asylum’s more hopeless patients as human guinea pigs for her horrifying experiments.
She’s also brilliant and has brought in millions of dollars in research grants to the institute founded by her ancestor but now run by a board. The director of the asylum is Dr Avol (cult actor Fox Harris in his final movie), who is just fine with the money rolling in. Dr Avol scoffs at the dark rumors surrounding Caligari and chalks them up to professional jealousy.
His daughter Ramona (sexy Jennifer Balgobin) is the Head Nurse at the Caligari Insane Asylum and her husband Dr Lodger also works there. Despite family ties even these two fail to get Dr Avol to question Caligari’s unorthodox methods.
Legendary stuntwoman Laura Albert plays Mrs Van Houten, a former patient of Dr Caligari who keeps relapsing into manic fluctuations between nymphomania and frigidity. The woman’s husband Les Van Houten is a CPA who wants his wife to be open to sex but is too vanilla to handle her kinkier urges. Dr Caligari insists that Mrs Van Houten be re-admitted to the asylum.
Caligari’s prize guinea pig is a masochist addicted to electric shocks – Gus Pratt, played by John Durbin. His depiction of a crazed cannibal serial killer whose favorite victims are little girls was obviously meant to be over-the-top for the time period but is oddly run-of-the-mill here in 2016. Too many similar characters on crime dramas and in horror films have dulled the edge of this figure in the movie.
Once Mrs Van Houten is checked back into the Caligari Insane Asylum viewers get treated to even more examples of our female mad scientist’s horrific experiments in brain surgery and mind-altering drugs. A bizarre procedure using Mrs Van Houten AND Gus Pratt is a success, opening the door for Dr Caligari to launch her Master Project.
***** SPOILERS: That Master Project involves the preserved brain of Dr Caligari’s great grandfather. Mr Van Houten gets killed, grilled on a spit and eaten by his wife. Caligari transforms Dr Avol into a transvestite Mamie Van Doren-style 50s vamp. Avol also wants to have sex with his daughter Ramona but is willing to just be her slave when she axes the first idea. Dr Caligari gets hers in the end but I don’t want to blow all the surprises by revealing anything more.
Overall this movie deserves a wider audience. It perfectly sends up the self-conscious artiness of films like Last Year At Marienbad but also manages to deal with themes about chemistry’s effects on the brain. Other ideas dealt with in Dr Caligari are concepts of identity and gender, making it both ahead of its time AND like a biochemical counterpart to Tetsuo. That Japanese horror film’s motif of prosthetics and trans-humanism becomes in Dr Caligari an examination of psychotropia and psychosis.
The movie will also have you laughing quite a lot plus you and your friends will likely adopt some of the film’s dialogue as new catch-phrases. “Even eternal Hell needs an opening act” is one but the most chilling one is “That Aunt Bea still gives me randy-pants.” (Shudder)
FOR A LOOK AT SIX OFF-BEAT ZOMBIE FILMS CLICK HERE
FOR MORE HALLOWEEN ITEMS CLICK HERE: https://glitternight.com/category/halloween-season/
© Edward Wozniak and Balladeer’s Blog 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Edward Wozniak and Balladeer’s Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.