DR. CALIGARI (1989) – The Dungeon Review!
You only need to look at the cover of Dr. Caligari to know it came out of the 1980s. Just look at that cover! All angular and neony! Remember neon’s fleeting but massive popularity? The 80s were freaking crazy. Dr. Caligari was directed by Steven Sayadian who also co-wrote Night Dreams which I will be reviewing next. It will be my first and very likely only hard-core porn film I will review on this blog. It is bat-shit crazy enough to warrant a review. While I can not even fill my hands with the porn titles I’ve seen I know weird and surreal when I see it. I can’t imagine there are too many porn films quite like Night Dreams out there. Back to Dr. Caligari; Steven Sayadian’s New Wave nod to Robert Wiene’s silent masterpiece The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari; a hallucinogenic sci-fi horror comedy with a serial killer, a nympho housewife and a mad doctor. Once again I have David Arrate to thank for turning me on to this bodacious bit of brilliance.
The version of Dr. Caligari I watched was courtesy of Excalibur Films. I mentioned this only because they had an amusing intro. A test pattern lingers on the screen and eventually three bars slide upward to reveal a naked woman on a couch. When she realizes she has been spotted she moves over to the other side of the couch. Than those three bars slide up revealing her once more. She than shuffles to the middle and the middle bars rise giving her no more places to hide. I don’t know, it is all vintagy looking and I thought it was kinda fun.
Mrs. Van Houten has lost control of her senses and is diagnosed by Dr. Caligari as having disease of the libido. Just one of several patients under the questionable care of Dr. Caligari. Dr. Caligari is the great grand-daughter of Dr. Caligari who also served as director of an asylum (see Robert Wiene’s 1920 film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari). His female descendant Dr. Caligari is conducting controversial experiments on mental patients that include electroshock among other more heinous pursuits. Dr. Caligari is preparing her biggest and most important project yet. Will Dr. Lodger and Ramona put a stop to her monstrous plans before it is too late?
Dr. Caligari is highly stylized. The sets are astounding! The angular and neon design featured on the poster is carried over to all the sets. Strange shaped doors, bright bold colors, painted backgrounds and peculiar props all help accent the surreal world of Dr. Caligari. Particular detail is paid to the wardrobe. The colors are uniform for every scene. If the central character in the scene is wearing pink, everyone else is wearing pink. If Dr. Caligari is wearing yellow, her co-workers and even the patients are wearing yellow. The color coordination added a great deal to the overall trippy and surreal feel of the film. Also adding to Dr. Caligari’s delicious decadence are the exaggerated robotic like movements of its actors and actresses who often stare and speak directly in to the camera. It goes without saying there is an assortment of unique and unusual images on display. A man who appears to be a member of Devo leaps out of Mrs. Van Houten’s bubble bath with a straight razor; a blob behind a door vomits up candy and grows a giant tongue to Mrs. Van Houten’s delight; a female patient who shows up randomly to say nothing more than “Chinchilla! Chinchilla!” The switching of three personalities in the film’s finale is nothing short of spectacular! Dr. Caligari is listed as comedy, horror and sci-fi and it delivers on all fronts. Dr. Caligari is heavy on the comedy with a light peppering of gore (including a real nice looking icky leg sore and a nasty birthday cake) and science (lots of injections! “She blinded me with science And failed me in geometry”).
Every last character is quirky and eccentric and the over-the-top delivery and exaggerated movements was a whole lot of yeah! Dr. Caligari is as catty as catty gets; in her array of well-fitted suits she has some great quotable lines. “I know what it’s like when a girl needs her prescription filled” and “Burnt flesh always reminds me of something.” Madeleine Reynal plays the bitchy doctor quite nicely thank you very much. Fox Harris is great as Dr. Avol; he doesn’t have much to do early, but wait until you get a load of him in the film’s finale! David Parry and Jennifer Balgobin are hilarious as the chain-smoking married couple; Balgobin plays Ramona Lodger and Parry plays her doctor husband. Nymphomaniac housewife Mrs. Van Houten is cute as a bug’s ear and really goes all out in the name of satisfaction! Pretty much all the sex and nudity in the film is courtesy of her character. Laura Albert appears to be a stunt woman by trade! Albert is the cat’s ass in the role of Mrs. Van Houten! Fun fact; Mrs. Van Houten is also the name of the central character in Night Dreams played by Dorothy LeMay. John Durbin as Gus Pratt, Gene Zerna as Les Van Houten and Barry Phillips as Cesare are all memorable. On the other hand, there isn’t much that isn’t memorable about Dr. Caligari.
Dr. Caligari is a one of a kind offering from the 80s that is quite unlike anything I have ever seen; this is definitely a film I will re-watch!. Dr. Caligari is funny, trippy and utterly unique! Dr. Caligari gets my highest of recommendations; a perfect score!
Dungeon Rating: 5/5
Directed By; Stephen Sayadian
Starring: Madeleine Reynal, Fox Harris, Laura Albert, Jennifer Balgobin, John Durbin, Gene Zerna, David Parry, Barry Phillips, Magie Song, Jennifer Miro, Stephen Quadros, Catherine Case