If there was ever an art-house film that made a career out of huffing spray paint, this would be it. In other reviews I've discussed the forays into artistic film-making made possible by the Expressionist movement of the 1920's. I've always thought of the 1980's as a decade that served as a revival in its own right, experimenting with abstract and surrealist qualities upon several mediums. Dr. Caligari serves as a possible end of this decade and the experimentation found within. I can discuss topics like New Romanticism from the 80's a bit more in depth but for some of you that might be as interesting as watching water boil.
This film borrows loosely from the original, and I do mean loosely. For one, Caligari is a woman - and hey, change is good - but why is she a sexual deviant? Two, there is mention of an insane asylum much like the 1920 version as well - but that's it. Everything is strewn about in a convoluted, nightmarish heap. Mrs. Van Houten suffers from extreme nymphomania and her husband, Les, seeks possible treatment at the hands of Dr. Caligari. After this small plot detail is established it's basically a free-for-all. There is symbolism portrayed at every turn. You can't make heads or tails of the dialog. Sexual content is found throughout, even more so than violence. The man responsible for the makeup of this film later went on to do the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy - what an impressive resume he must have! Sexual gratuity wasn't innovative by 1989, but that isn't what makes this film visually comparative to the 1920 silent version.
This film was not shot in black and white but the stark difference in contrasting colors and lighting techniques are more than similar to the Expressionist output 70 years earlier. This may have served as a point of brilliance had it not been for the sexual ridiculousness that followed. Literally, and I mean literally, everything in this film deals with sex on some level. I really have no idea why they decided to go down that avenue with a film like this - a name which held importance and value in cinema itself! I suppose it's no shock that the director of this version has been responsible for other "artsy" porn films as well, but why on Earth would you choose to dabble with Dr. Caligari? I wasn't offended by the topics explored - just mystified. Was that really the goal here? To take something that held value and make it laughable?
As with all films of this caliber, it has a considerable cult following. If you're an art house fan that doesn't mind trashy, exploitative themes of violence and sexual content, this may be your lucky day. Make no mistake; aside from visual similarities, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Dr. Caligari are two very different films.