Although "The Cabinet of Dr Caligari" is one of the best known and important silent films of our time, let me point out right away that this is no guarantee that it will appeal to everyone. For many, it is a particularly heavy, depressing and even dreadful film, but this only proves that it is successful in its Horror genre, as well as its experiment to blend commercial movie narrative with the modern art style of German Expressionism. By all accounts it was very successful, giving inspiration to other directors and actors in later years and still holding its own as a landmark in cinema history.
The first thing that strikes the viewer is that most of the sets are entirely artificial, sculpted or painted in extreme Expressionist style with angular shapes which convey a sense of distress, turmoil and dread - all the qualities one would find in the mentally ill, which is the underlying theme of this story. Just like gestures, make-up and acting styles like pantomime were often used in the silent film medium to express moods, feelings and concepts, so do the Expressionist sets in this film convey a great deal about the characters and story. The famous leading stars, namely Conrad Veidt, Lil Dagover and Werner Krauss wear extreme make-up in line with the use of strong light and dark contrasts often used in other German Expressionist films of the 1920s, and their acting style is perfectly suited to the theme and overall atmosphere of the film. It contains all the elements of a disturbing horror film with a mad scientist who has control over a somnambulist - a sleepwalker - to the point of apparently getting him to commit murders for him. When a friend becomes the first victim, Francis - the main character - sets out to help in the investigation and capture of the murderer, but the final outcome is a surprising and perhaps quite satisfying twist which most viewers might not see coming.
The picture quality of this Eureka DVD is extremely good, and the music is simply outstanding. Having viewed literally hundreds of silent films, I can safely say that the musical accompaniment to this silent film is one of the best I've ever heard in terms of expressing the story and visual atmosphere in sounds. Using orchestral instruments, the notes seem to screech, sigh and moan in anguish along with the characters and their distorted surroundings. The overall effect can actually be very mesmerizing and afterwards leaves you feeling as if you've woken up from a very weird dream. After watching it once or twice, one's appreciation of the film will be more enhanced by listening to the audio commentary by an American expert who gives quite an intellectual and thorough explanation of many artistic and social aspects of "Caligari". While this is not a film to be enjoyed as general entertainment in the usual sense, it is nevertheless a special cinematic experience and certainly of value and importance to sincere film and art lovers alike.