Silent Horror Deep Dark Thoughts
I will never say that I know everything about the genre of horror. I do consider myself a student who strives for further enlightenment, but I never thought as I was formulating the master plans for the “House of Horrors” that silent films and in this case silent screams would fill the voids of this rotting landscape I call home. But with the inclusion of these classic films in The Vault, I have, along with you, now begin to take the step in our pilgrimage toward the Mecca of true horror fulfillment.
We cannot overlook these classic films just because the “screams are silent”, but we must embrace them as the foundation of horror. As always please e-mail me if you have anything you can add to this page, or if you have any comments, criticisms or suggestion.
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari Story
This chilling tale begins with Francis (Fredrich Feher ) relating his chance encounter with Dr. Caligari. As the scene fades, we find ourselves in the tiny German village of Hollenstan, where a carnival has put down the stake. Francis, along with his good friend Alan, decides to head out for a day of fun, but little do they know what terror awaits them. At the same time, a strange and dark figure with thick spectacles approaches the town’s clerk in hopes of securing a permit for the fair. After a lengthy wait, Dr. Caligari (Werner Krauss ) finally gets his permission to exhibit.
Barking loudly for all to hear, Caligari entices the patrons with the tale of Cesare (Conrad Veidt), the somnambulist, a man who has slept day and night for 23 years, who only awaken to tell the fortunes of others. Intrigued by what mysteries the tent may hold, Francis and Alan enter. While inside Alan dares to ask, “How long will I live?” to which the Cesare prophesies “to dawn tomorrow”. At first, he is a little shocked by his foretold demise, but Alan madly laughs it off as pure nonsense only to meet his untimely end at the hands of a shadowy figure as he sleeps.
This is not the first murder in recent days for earlier the town’s clerk was found murdered. Francis vows not to sleep until he finds out who killed his dear friend as the deadly words of the somnambulist echoes in his mind. Quickly he’s off to confront Caligari only to find out later that the authorities have captured the man who they think is responsible for the death. Fearing that his secret may be uncovered, the doctor sends Cesare out to dispose of Francis’ fiance Jane (Lil Dagover), but once the beast catches a glimpse of her beauty he decides to steal her away. A mad chase begins in pursuit of this monster.
Jane is later found abandon on the side of the road with no sign of his abductor. A still dazed and confused Jane tells Francis that it was Cesare, but he doesn’t believe her because he had been watching Caligari all night. When the authorities finally decide to talk to Caligari, they find a dumb of Cesare in his box as the good doctor flees. Francis finally tracks down a doctor to an asylum where he is the director. Finally, Caligari’s mad obsession is revealed or is it?
This was one of the first Expressionist films to come out of Germany and it helped to lay the groundwork for such classics as “Nosferatu“, “The Golem“, “Metropolis“, and many others. This style of filmmaking grew from many influences such as the artistic works of Van Gogh and Edvard Munch (The Scream), as well as, the writings of Sigmund Freud. In his book “The Rise and Fall of the Horror Film“, Dr. David Soren discusses the Expressionist’s use “disorienting diagonal” as a way to illustrate the perversion of the moment.
It is from this skewed vantage point that Caligari’s madness seeps out. Also, like many of the films from post-WWI Germany, the social commentary of the time is deeply rooted in the final product. So much so that rumors have persisted for years that tell of the government’s pressure on the filmmakers in forcing them to add the prologue and the ending. This was done so that the body politics was seen as the cause, but rather the solution for the insanity of the characters. The film was directed by Robert Wiene, who was the second choice after Fritz Lang ( “Metropolis“) declined the reins. A must see for any horror fan!
The story begins as a young man, Hutter (Gustav von Wangenheim), is sent eastward into ancient European by his boss Knock (Alexander Granach). He is to serve as a personal escort for wealth Count who has recently purchased an estate. Upon his arrival, Hutter notices that the villagers live in fear of the castle and its unholy dweller, Count Orlok (Max Schreck), but he brushes it off as mere superstition. He quickly comes to know the villagers’ fear and the beast that is “Nosferatu”.
Imprisoned by the blood that fills his body, Hutter stands helplessly by as he sees the Count preparing for the long journey to his new home. It seems that the Count has taken a shining to Hutter’s wife, Ellie (Greta Schrder) and in a distant land she dreams of the evil that now comes for her. The journey begins for both.
A ship drifts slowly into the harbor carrying only the dead. It’s crew left bloodless the remains of the Count’s insatiable thirst. Immediately, the authority believes a plague has swept into their land, but little do they know that it is just the cadaverous appetite of Nosferatu. At the same time, Hutter races tirelessly back to save his beloved Ellie from her pending doom. But is he too late?
Originally, Nosferatu was supposed to be called “Dracula” and to be based on the novel by Bram Stoker, but the film almost met its untimely death at the hands of Stoker’s widow. Unable to reach a financial settlement, a court order the destruction of all the prints and negatives of Nosferatu. Luckily, several copies escaped the clutches of the authorities and would resurface years later.
We all should count our blessings that this masterpiece was spared final death, because it one of the first films that catapulted the horror film away from the novelty of a quick scare into the drama of exquisite fright. F.W. Murnau masterfully crafted one of the greatest horror films of all-time. His techniques, imagery, and style were light years ahead of many of the auteur of his day and those that followed. A definite classic and one all horror fans own it to themselves to see.