The Cabinet of Dr Caligari turns 100: Film considered 'first true horror' available to watch on YouTube

Jacob Stolworthy
A scene from the German silent film 'The Cabinet Of Dr Caligari', directed by Robert Wiene for Decla-Bioscop: Getty

The film considered one of the most influential horrors of all time has just celebrated its centenary.

German director Rober Wiene’s silent feature The Cabinet of Dr Caligari was released 100 years ago this week. It follows a hypnotist (Wener Krauss) who uses a sleepwalker (Conrad Viedt) to commit murders.

Since its release in 1920, the film has been considered a defining film of the German Expressionist cinema movement, alongside others directed by FW Murnau (Nosferatu, 1922) and Fritz Lang (Metropolis, 1927).

These films typically feature protagonists amid nightmarish landscapes, which were stylised in ways that went on to inspire everything from the music of David Bowie to the films of Tim Burton.

The Cabinet of Dr Caligari was written by Carl Mayer and Hans Janowitz in the aftermath of the First World War, with its influences laid bare in the film’s characters: Caligari is a symbol of the German war government, while the somnambulist is a representation of everyday people who were conditioned to kill as soldiers.

Both Mayer and Janowitz were pacifists.

Intriguingly, the film's twist ending is claimed to have been forced into the plot against the writers' will. Not that its addition muddied the film’s success – critic Roger Ebert famously called it “the first true horror film” and its ensuing success helped enhance the artistic merit of German cinema.

The film is available to watch for free on YouTube as well as on Amazon Prime.

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