Alamo Drafthouse Weird Wednesday’s Presents; DR. CALIGARI (1989)

I rarely can encapsulate a review in just two words, but today is an exception- neon nightmare. I have never spent a film viewing fantasizing over the idea of the projector breaking, releasing the audience from a torture almost equal in measure to the one inflicted upon the patients of DR. CALIGARI.

Masking an experiment in visual extremes taken to their most vulgar end, was a film whose name sake bares little to no resemblance to the original. Directed by Stephen Sayadian, DR. CALIGARI (1989) is set 70 years after the original. The granddaughter of Dr. Caligari picks up where her grandfather left off using patients more as lab rats for her own ends than providing treatment. The horror in over medicalization, and the power that wields is on full display in this film. But lets not be too generous, this was not used as an effective narrative tool. Instead it provides the perfect excuse to take everything a step more extreme than the plot would allow.

Originally DR. CALIGARI was intended as a sequel to Night Dreams, a horror influenced porn flick. Instead DR. CALIGARI became a pornographic horror movie, yet the simplicity of its plot gives away its origins. “In the original script, ‘Dr. Calagari’ wasn’t mentioned once, but one of its investors, mentioning that the original classic had lapsed into the public domain saw an opportunity for a cash in”. In this regard the lapse in quality and skill is obvious. This is not a film with a story to tell, no narrative it intends to weave its audience through. Instead viewers are strapped in, eye lids sown open and tied down for a hyper stylized visual nightmare set to erotic themes played out with nothing left to hide.

Unless you are also fixated by objectified, sexualized body horror you will often be left bored, and a bit confused as a viewer- much in the same way that a “porno” isn’t going to provide riveting content… But with that said, the visual experiment itself is a tremendous success, and quite unique. At times the dialogue is quite witty, self deprecating of its viewer, and casts visuals in the same high contrast it displays its themes. There is a reason this rests as a classic in the midnight movie world, and reason for why you may quite enjoy a viewing. But if you are looking to dive into a narrative driven film, instead of observing a visual contemporary art piece, it may be best to let this one pass you by.

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