There is no horror genre, especially in American filmmaking, without the German Expressionist cinema that predated it, and Robert Wiene’s 1920 silent film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is the key work in that movement, a masterpiece in about every definition of the word. Eureka Entertainment presents their first 4K Blu-ray release in their Masters of Cinema collection with a terrific 2160p presentation and adds a few new supplements to make the upgrade from their previous Blu-ray release more than worth it. This release comes Highly Recommended!
What is there to say about The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari that hasn’t been said already? Its waking nightmare feels as haunting as I imagine it did in 1920 when audiences originally saw it. Upon its initial release, the film was marketed to play to both elite artistic and commercial audiences, which is of course odd to think about in the context of which horror movies are made to appeal to both markets nowadays. Would the 2022 version be an A24 release that’s shot in the Academy Ratio and is overwrought to all hell? Alright, maybe this is the conversation of authority and conformity that is awakened in me each time I think about Wiene’s masterwork.
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari immerses the audience in a nightmarish world of jagged, expressionist architecture to tell the story of brutal and irrational authority. It explores the subconscious need throughout history for a tyrant and the oppressed, exposing the core of ego that has littered German history and discovering something deranged. Plus, you know, it’s also responsible for inspiring Tim Burton and his earlier works. That speaks to the flexibility of its legacy, in a way. You find the subject of corrupt authority and those it oppresses in nearly every film noir and it’s a central theme in early Universal Studios horror. Caligari is everywhere, truly.
The first time I watched The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari was in an introduction to film course in college, naturally. But something odd happened at that screening as if the images I was seeing on screen had been haunting my brain for years. Again, that just speaks to how dominant the film’s influence is to artistic form. The story of a somnambulist being controlled by his domineering psychologist, surrounded by structures that threaten them with jagged angles at every corner. There’s nowhere to run when you’re under control. Lofty proclamations aside, the incredible staying power remains.
Whenever I need a palate cleanser after watching so much trash, I return to films like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and sometimes my brain recalibrates and gets obsessed all over again with the many structuralist pleasures that the film has to offer. Not to mention the comforting, familiar feeling it provokes upon each watch.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-rays
“I must become Caligari!” Eureka presents The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari with a one-disc (BD66) 4K Blu-ray release that comes housed in a thick black plastic case with reversible artwork, plus the limited-edition variation comes with a 100-page booklet and a hardcase with artwork by Kevin Tong. The 4K disc boots up to a standard menu screen with options to play the film, set up audio and play bonus features all in one long list on the static menu screen.
“You fools, this man is plotting our doom! We die at dawn! He is Caligari!” One might think given The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari’s age, that the higher resolution wouldn’t do much to an existing 4K restoration. Well, Eureka Entertainment has luckily proved that wrong with a beautifully textural presentation sourced from the 4K restoration performed by F.W. Murnau Stiftung in 2014. That restoration is from the original negative, although the first reel was missing and alternate sources had to be used there. I’m noting that because the opening reel may not convince you that the upgrade is worth it. With a good bit of damage to be found there, not much more detail can be found in something that had to be touched up from what clearly was in bad shape to begin with.
When that reel ends, though, you’re treated to a real beautiful 2160p transfer that reveals minute details like individual hairs, pores and how Cesare’s makeup is uniquely caked on his face. I genuinely think the upgraded resolution does wonders to the strong greyscale used in the film, giving a bit more depth in those deep shadows. No HDR is applied to this presentation, though I doubt it would make much of a difference if it had been applied. If you’ve never watched the film or if you’re watching it for the millionth time, you’ll find this presentation to be the best it has ever looked.
Eureka supplies this release with two scores to choose from, including Cornelius Schwer’s (presented in both LPCM stereo and 5.1 options) and Uwe Dierksen and Hermann Kretzschmar’s (presented in LPCM stereo). The latter score is new for this release, while the former was included on Eureka’s previous release, though it should be said that they’re all crisp and clear accompaniment to a silent film. I’m partial to the 5.1 surround option of Schwer’s score since it has more life in the surround channels.
Eureka pulled out the stops for their limited-edition 4K Blu-ray release of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, as all the previous features from their Blu-ray release have been carried over, plus some additional supplements have been added., A new audio commentary with Kevin Lyons and Jonathan Rigby was produced for this release, and the accompanying 100-page book offers even more writing, art and production notes than Eureka’s previous release.
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari still haunts me to this day and I feel its lasting impression almost daily. Eureka Entertainment has supplied their first 4K Blu-ray release in their Masters of Cinema collection with a terrific 2160p presentation and more supplements to warrant the upgrade from their previous Blu-ray release. Packaged in a nice hardcase with booklet, this release comes Highly Recommended!