Dir: Robert Wiene (Raskolnikov; Panic in Chicago; A Night in Venice)
At the behest of a reader, I watched this classic of silent horror hoping for more than I had found in Nosferatu. And I did. Not enough to really enjoy the film, mind you (my irrational prejudices and poverty of taste continues to control the silent movie experience). But there was a richness of detail to the production of the film that I can say its high reputation is more deserved.
The set design is the hands down triumph of the film. The expressionist trends in art at the time get faithful adaptation here. The buildings, for example, slant at odd angles, with windows and doors in the shapes of trapezoids and right triangles. Furniture is out of proportion, such as the high stools that government clerks sit on so that they have to lean forward to reach down to their desktops, twisted in tension creating pretzels. The sets feel like they were for a Kafka play, adding an artificiality and discord to every single scene that is very effective. A lot of detail and attention went into creating the environment for this movie, and many of the frames could hang in museums. Think Munch. Really good stuff.
Everything else about the film is dated and silly. The plot has something to do with psychological hysteria, where a shrink takes a guy who sleeps all the time and manipulates his mind to make a killing machine. But the killer is also horny, so he goes after the girl. I am sure this was all too shocking back in the day, but now it is just incoherent. The acting is acceptable, I guess. Caligari is creepy, and the sleeping guy does some nice stuff with his eyes. But there are significant pockets of dead time when the two aren't on the screen.
This really isn't a horror movie. It is an excuse to utilize the fascinating sets that Wiene had built. I could have looked at those for an hour and just skipped the acting, writing, and story.
But at least now I can say that I have seen the thing.