This 100-Year-Old Movie Inspired Many of Your Favorite Directors

1920's Dr. Caligari's Cabinet was the first full-length horror film ever made, and it has influenced filmmakers ever since.

The 1920 German silent film "Dr. Caligari's Chamber of Secrets" was completely innovative for its time and continues to influence filmmakers today. Derived from German Expressionism, a modernist movement in which reality was distorted for emotional effect, Dr. Caligari's cabinet used a set of installations made of painted canvas placed at impossible angles. Every element has been carefully crafted to bring a sense of menace and impending doom. This is the first film to create a state of mind, a subjective psychological fantasy.

Many artists, such as horror film pioneer Alfred Hitchcock and grotesque master Tim Burton, were influenced by director Robert Wien's masterpiece. Dr. Caligari's Cabinet tells the story of Francis, Dr. Caligari and Dr. Caligari's servant Cesare. Dr. Caligari sets up shop in the town fair with his sleepwalking servant Cesare, who has been asleep for 23 years and can still predict the future. A series of gruesome murders ensues and Dr. Caligari and Cesare are blamed. What follows is an unusual plot twist that leaves viewers wondering if these events really happened, or if they are the product of a madman's mind, similar to Martin Scorsese's devious Shutter Island.

Why The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari Is So Influential

Dr. Caligari's cabinet is very innovative, as it uses never-before-seen imagery and techniques. In Tyler Knudsen's film story video, "Dr. Caligari Didn't Just Invent Horror Movies," he discusses Wien's manipulation of light and shadow, and how the film's scenes greatly heighten this unease. In post-World War I Germany, raw materials were hard to come by, which led to designers needing to get creative.

The effect of the painted canvas is disturbing and deliberately distorts perspective and proportion. The focus on the faces of the actors, combined with the surreal backdrops, make this 77-minute film compelling and memorable. Like Alfred Hitchcock's classic black-and-white film Psycho, its look and feel has been copied and reimagined since its premiere.

How Tim Burton Channeled Dr. Caligari's Imagery

Tim Burton on how seeing Dr. Caligari's cabinet photos while growing up affected him. This was reflected in his filmmaking, as was the expressionist movement as a whole. Burton possessed a unique cinematic vision, and his films often feature dark, gothic and eerie visual effects with understated lighting. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Sweeney of Fleet Street is a A good example of this, but perhaps the most obvious influence of Dr. Caligari's cabinet is seen in the image of Edward Scissorhands.

Edward's pale face, sad dark eyes, and lean physique clad in black are exactly what Cesare is. The two films share DNA, as Sweeney Todd implements Tim Burton's original plan for Edward Scissorhands. Burton's aesthetic was instantly recognizable and was inspired by images of Dr. Caligari's cabinet.

The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari's Influence On David Lynch

David Lynch's style coined the term "Lynchian", referring to his highly stylized set designs and anti-realism. The influence of Dr. Caligari's cabinet can be felt in Twin Peaks: My Walk With Fire, Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive. These films feature double tones and disturbing plot twists that are straight out of Caligari.

Lynch also exploits the concept of an unreliable narrator, whereby the audience cannot believe what is being presented because the narrator is not a steady, consistent voice. In Blue Velvet and Eraserhead, David Lynch turns this psychological thriller on its head. Both films create a sense of the surreal that could be explained, including sparking a theory that "Blue Velvet" is about the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. The role of Frank Booth is played perfectly by Dennis Hopper, Has all the insane menace of Dr. Caligari, though the latter lacks Frank's sadism.

Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island Borrows Heavily From Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari

Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island, based on Dennis Lehane's novel, is full of expressionist imagery. The mental hospital setting echoes Dr. Caligari's cabinet. The movie also uses twist endings, a shaky narrative, and a shadowy psychiatrist just like the movie that inspired it.

The scene in Ward C and the cliffhanger show Teddy's search for the truth pushing him over the edge, just as Francis obsessed with finding the killer of his friend Allen in Caligari. Scorsese said Dr. Caligari's cabinet was one of his main influences, and he wanted to adapt the book "Shutter Island" into an expressionist film.

Stanley Kubrick's The Shining Draws On Dr. Caligari

Like Dr. Caligari's Cabin, Stanley Kubrick uses jarring angles in The Shining to depict a deeply broken heart. Jack Torrance's deteriorating mental state is reflected in the setting that slowly takes over him at the Overlook Hotel. Danny's endless wandering in the hotel also presents impossible twists and turns. Overlook's layout seems pointless. Like Dr. Caligari's cupboard, The Shining tells its story through the impossibility of space and the sense that dramas set elsewhere wouldn't be so effective. The movie feeds fear and apprehension into viewers, not through scares and gore, but through the unsettling details of The Shining Overlook Hotel.

Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho Shower Scene Was Influenced By Dr. Caligari

The influence of Dr. Caligari's cabinet is strongly felt in Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. Shot in black and white and using oblique camera angles, the film transports the viewer inside the mind of a madman. The real fear comes not from a maniac with a knife (although Psycho has one of those), but from one's ego. As Norman Bates said, "We're all a little bit crazy sometimes." In both Caligari and Hitchcock's Psycho, the murderer is in the shadows, hiding his identity from the audience, who knows it before the on-screen characters happen. Terrible things will happen. The iconic image of the shadowy arm in Psycho's shower scene, holding a knife, recalls Dr. Caligari's cabinet when Francis' friend Alan is murdered.

No moviegoer is new to Dr. Caligari's Cabinet, even if they have never seen it. it casts a shadow affect everything that follows. Art, music, literature and film, the far-reaching legacy of this 100-year-old film is still seen and felt everywhere. It has inspired such directors as Hitchcock, Lynch, Scorsese, Kubrick and Burton. Dr. Caligari's Cabinet pioneered the horror genre and did it with no sound and a budget of less than $13,000. A century later, the movie is still captivating.

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