A Double Review: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and The Devil Rides Out

I’m going to start this review off with the elder of the two films (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari) then tackle the younger one (The Devil Rides Out).

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920, Robert Wiene) is both a good film and a rather boring movie. It is good in that it is a classic of its genre, one of the first great films, and set the standard for what comes later. But, the movie is also extremely boring until the final scenes.

I am a very restless viewer (and reader). If my attention is not grabbed, I will mentally disengage and focus on other things. And I suffered this during the movie. In part, I think the silent nature of the film bothered me.

But the biggest problem is, perhaps, the predictability of the plot. It is fairly obvious fairly early that Dr. Caligari is up to no good, and his somnambulist curio/ slave is the murderer. However, the twist ending makes up for a lot of the predictability of the plot.

Maybe its because I’ve seen it all before (genre wise) or perhaps what is needed to produce fear/ suspense today is different than it is in the past. Needless to say, the plot is not that interesting.

The acting is perhaps a little exaggerated, but that may be due to the theatrical quality of early film. Watching Caligari gave me the impression of watching an opera without song, and much shorter.

The true power of Caligari, however, is the visuals, the sets. The sets are just amazing. Though obviously theatrical and unrealistic, the sets used draws my attention to what goes on and keeps it, despite my boredom. The sets work well to produce an atmosphere of dread that is little present elsewhere.

And of course, Cesare, the somnambulist played by Conrad Veidt, is a striking image that pulls the visuals together. The unnaturalness of his makeup just hints at the seeming otherworldly nature of the film.

All in all, I rather like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

Moving on to The Devil Rides Out (or The Devil’s Bride) (1968 Terrence Fisher), I have wanted to watch this film in its entirety since I first saw bits of it a few months ago when it aired on TCM. I kicked myself in the rear for missing half of it then, and I have sought to watch it ever since.

Christopher Lee plays the Duc de Richleau, an occult scholar and friend to a young man named Simon Aron. De Richleau and Rex van Ryn (another friend) have sworn to watch over Simon as a courtesy to the younger man’s deceased father. Unfortunately, Aron is enticed into a satanic coven led by Mocata (Charles Gray). While trying to rescue Aron, a young woman named Tanith is also rescued from the coven.

I love this movie. I love the highlighting of the technology of the twenties, I love the usage (believable usage) of the occult, I love Christopher Lee as a hero. This movie is awesome!

That said, there are a few flaws, mainly plot issues that drive me crazy thinking about it. But back to the good stuff.

The acting is good. The principles are excellent in their roles, although Patrick Mower (as Simon) is somewhat unsure of himself and Nike Arrighi (Tanith) seems a little too naive at times. But beyond that, pretty good acting.

Like Caligari, I love the sets. Simon Aron’s house is a marvelous design. It is just gorgeous. I also enjoy the other interiors utilized. And the amusing and shocking scene at the sabbat is beautiful as well.

My problem with the film, though, lies with issues of plot and story. During the sabbat when Tanith and Simon are to be baptized into the Devil’s service, both Tanith and Simon seem to be both uncomfortable and disgusted with the orgy going on (Simon even seems disgusted with the sacrifice of the goat!). Now, I have to ask myself, why are the two of them even there if they are disgusted by the proceedings? I get that they both have to be redeemable (and they are, both quickly decide to abandon Mocata and seek redemption). But why join in the first place? Surely they both have experienced the orgies and other things before their dark baptism. Indeed, the first glimpse of the coven seems to be more of a ceremonial magic organization, but the glimpse of the sabbat is one of a stereotypical demonic witches’ coven.

And don’t get me started on the too fast romance between Rex and Tanith. I know they met before, but still.

Beyond these quibbles, the plot itself is rather good, having been adapted by Richard Matheson from the novel by Dennis Wheatley.

The Devil Rides Out is suspenseful, a supernatural thriller. I don’t know if I would call it horror though. There are scary moments and the fear is more psychological and spiritual rather than physical. To be honest, I prefer these nuanced horror films rather than the disgusting torture porn of contemporary slasher films (what little of those I’ve seen).

Anyway, if you’re looking for two classic horror films, you can do much worse than The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and The Devil Rides Out.

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Posted on March 28, 2011, in Movies and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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