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Horror, Horror, Uber Alles

5 Oct, 2002 By: Dan Bennett

If they weren't the films that started it all, they were close.

Kino on Video has just released the four-disc DVD boxed set German Horror Classics, featuring these indisputable gems: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Nosferatu, The Golem and Waxworks.

The silent films, originally released between 1919 and 1922, are regarded as masterworks of cinema and have influenced countless directors all over the world.

The set costs $89.95, with individual videocassettes and discs priced at $24.95 each. Special features on the DVD editions include photo and artwork galleries, different choices of musical scores, short films and scene comparisons.

The Golem and Waxworks have never before been available on home video. The restored versions of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Nosferatu are virtually essential study for any student of film history. The former, especially, built a framework for screen images and is considered an audacious example of German Expressionism.

Just for kicks, here are excerpts of a 1921 review of the film in New York City's magazine:

“A strange, new type of picture has been shown recently in New York City. Having seen it previous to its first public showing in America, I am somewhat baffled by it. I know what I personally think of it, but what the motion-picture public will think of it is another matter. If I come right out and say that it is one of the most important and significant productions of the year, some Picture Play reader is likely to misunderstand me and ask the editor to have me committed to an insane asylum.

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is a German production. It is an excellent example of the workings of a morbid, scientific Teutonic mind. And it is also an example of the imaginative stagecraft that has made the German theaters the finest in the world. No American director would have had the cold nerve to produce a futuristic picture.

“But to the reviewer, it is a dazzling and beautiful novelty. To the average motion picture patron who takes his wife and children for a quiet evening at the movies, it could be as pleasant as a trip through a lunacy ward.

“Although you may never see Doctor Caligari, you ought to know about it because you will feel its influence in other pictures that are to come. It may seem queer and ridiculous to those who have been trained to enjoy the routine movie, but it is only by experimenting with the queer, the ridiculous, and the out of the ordinary that motion pictures can hope to escape from machine-like precision and utter banality.

“Its hero is a lunatic, and the narrative of the picture is his autobiography. He tells you the story of a Doctor Caligari, a magician who goes about to country fairs exhibiting a somnambulist. At the instigation of Doctor Caligari, the corpse-like sleepwalker suggests and commits all kinds of crimes. Investigation of the strange tale proves that the hero is an inmate of an asylum, and the man he has imagined as the sinister Caligari is really a doctor of abnormal psychology.

“If you take the children to see Doctor Caligari, just because I have said it is an interesting picture, don't blame me if they have nightmares.”

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