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The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari Blu-ray Review

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The film is psychologically intense and utterly diabolical and the Blu-ray is mesmerising

by Simon Crust Dec 10, 2014

  • Movies review


    The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari Blu-ray Review
    SRP: £15.00

    The Cabinet of Dr Caligari Blu-ray Review

    Horror, film noir and gothic cinema – all can be traced back to Caligari.

    A young man explains a chilling story to his companion. The mysterious Dr Caligari, a hypnotist with a somnambulist who tells the future and terrorises a small German town. But as the story unfolds it appears it is just the ravings of a madman. Or is it? Could it be that the insane asylum director is one and the same Dr Caligari? There is something totally magnificent about this early German horror, quite apart from the skewed story narrative, that has many different interpretations, the whole production encompasses and indeed kick-started the German expressionism movement that was to become so influential throughout the world. The weird, nightmarish painted sets were quite unique and like something from fantasy.
    In this case a horror fantasy leading to the whole psychologically sinister atmosphere that seeps through the screen. The young man may be telling the story, but the audience is living it. The fact that it has several interpretations has kept the film alive quite apart from its place in film history. Many of the great German directors had a hand in its development and it is because of them that the film towers above many of its peers. This, along with Nosferatu and The Golem (and to a lesser extent the Phantom Carriage) helped define a genre and, in effect, wrote the film grammar that is still being used today. The film plays like a nightmare and stays with you like a nightmare because Dr Caligari is a nightmare.

    Dr. Caligari Blu-ray Picture Quality

    The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari Dr. Caligari Blu-ray Picture Quality
    The disc presents a theatrically correct 1.33:1 1080p transfer using the AVC codec and is Region locked to B.

    I’ve seen some pretty great clean-ups of old films, even from the silent era, but this 4K restoration from Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung in Wiesbaden carried out by BertelsmannSE is nothing short of remarkable. The blurb at the beginning of the film as well as its own dedicated feature explain exactly what has gone into restoring this picture, from finding lost and damaged prints, re-inserting missing frames, clean up, colour timing etc., and what has been produced is a clean, bright image with a breath-taking greyscale that is stable, holds edges and shows incredible detail that has hitherto been missing in the gloom.

    This 4K restoration is nothing short of remarkable.

    Detail is quite astonishing, you can now see skin texture, the wild and carefree make-up of Caligari that makes him look comically demonic, clothing weaves as well as the dreamlike painted backdrops being sharper than ever. The tints given to the film come across well, the yellows, pinks and blues are suitably bold, but never garish and never blush or plume. Contrast and brightness are set to give an extraordinary greyscale that adds punch and depth to the picture. There is now shadow detail where once there was just a murky mess. There is no crush or clipping, everything remains stable and there isn't any brightness variation. Original print damage has virtually been eliminated, but it is still present in places, this is to be expected considering the age of the film; there also remains the occasional frame jump but most have been smoothed out so that you'd never even know they were there.

    Stunning picture.

    Dr Caligari Blu-ray Sound Quality

    The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari Dr Caligari Blu-ray Sound Quality
    Two tracks to choose from, dts-HD MA 2.0 and 5.1, I went with the 5.1 surround. Both tracks are the same in that they play the score given to the piece, but I felt the surround track had a little more depth and presence. There are no ‘effects’ as such, but there is a nice amount of separation around the speakers as well as some nice layering to the music. Bass is well handled and the top end is never shrill. The track plays without any hiss or distortion and as with most silent films it plays to the film's strengths well. The film shows the original German inter-titles but at the bottom of the screen are the subtitles, with a nice white font, not too big, grammatically correct and they hang around for just the right amount of time.

    Dr Caligari Blu-ray Extras

    The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari Dr Caligari Blu-ray Extras
    Audio Commentary – From film historian David Kalat whose prose is well mannered and whose delivery is, at times, machine gun fast. His knowledge about the film is almost encyclopaedic and he spends the majority of the first half of the film talking about such aspects, whilst the latter half he directs his attention to the motifs and his interpretation of the film, putting forward a strong argument for it. Very interesting.

    Caligari: How Horror Came to the Cinema – Nearly an hour long ‘making of’, all in German with English subtitles, delves deep into the film, how it came about, the sets, its position in film history and many other aspects. Thoroughly recommended viewing.

    You Must Become Caligari – A ‘video essay’ about the themes of the film and its interpretation by David Cairns, matches those of Kalat meaning there is a little crossover here.

    On the Restoration
    – first few minutes plays as a promo for BertelsmannSE the company who completed the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung restoration; while the second half looks at the before and after images (both on screen at the same time) showing just how incredible this restoration is.

    Re-release trailer

    Booklet – Writings, reprints and archival imagery.


    Is Dr Caligari Blu-ray worth buying

    The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari Is Dr Caligari Blu-ray worth buying
    There is no denying the power and surreal nature of what can justifiably be called the first real horror film - The Cabinet of Dr Caligari. It also holds the claim to fame of being the film that ushered in the German expressionism movement that was so influential. And of course, its skewed narrative implies multiple interpretations, which is why it can be viewed multiple times and remain enjoyable.

    The story involves a mysterious doctor, who transports a somnambulist (sleeping man) around a carnival, but is able to control him and tell fortunes. In a particular town there is a spate of murders attributed to the man in the cabinet, who is doing Caligari’s bidding. The tale is told by a young man, who may or may not be insane, and the good doctor may in fact be the insane asylum director! Clearly a nightmare is unfolding in the wild painted sets but the film is psychologically intense and utterly diabolical. A masterpiece.

    Eureka’s presentation has to be applauded

    Eureka’s presentation has to be applauded; the picture is a genuine revelation in terms of quality, from detail, greyscale and damage removal. The sound is well represented too. Extra content explains much behind the scenes, how the film came about and looks in detail about some of the themes within. Highly recommended.

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