German Expressionism and The Legacy of Dr. Caligari

By Ariel Fisher

When people talk about German Expressionism and The Legacy of Dr. Caligari, folks tend to think of the genre as smoky bars, jazz, and dangerous dames, but it’s actually far more complex. With its roots firmly planted in German Expressionism and Horror, Film Noir can be traced back to a microbudget studio film from Weimar Germany that would completely change the face of cinema – The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

German Expressionism and The Legacy of Dr. Caligari

Featuring Werner Krauss as the titular Caligari, the film follows the not-so-good doctor and his future-telling somnambulist sideshow act, Cesare, as they perform in a small German village. But just as soon as they came to town, the murders started, and no one can tell if it’s Cesare or Caligari that’s to blame.

If you are enjoying this article, we have more great Literary content on The Ritual Blog here.

The Birth of German Expressionism

Image from Diabolique, 1955. German Expressionism and The Legacy of Dr. Caligari

Referred to by Pauline Kael as “one of the most famous films of all time”, the 1920 silent film is widely considered one of the first feature-length horror films ever made. It also marked the beginning of German Expressionism, a genre born out of an oppressive studio system following the end of the first World War. Its trademarks were expressionistic sets, makeup, and costume design all used as a rejection of Western tropes while depicting a wildly distorted reality for emotional effect.

German Expressionism and The Legacy of Dr. Caligari, In one fell swoop, Caligari gave birth to two of the most dramatic and stylistically unique film genres in history. The hyper-stylized sets meant to evoke a sense of madness were partially created out of necessity due to budgetary constraints, with most structures painted on angularly-cut flats. This innovative and industrious technique would become standard practice for both Horror and Noir, where angular lighting and harsh shadows could be used to hide a lack of finances.

More Noir, Thanks to Dr. Caligari

Image from the Cat People, 1942. German Expressionism and The Legacy of Dr. Caligari

A great many Noir films actively engaged with horror thanks to the influence of Caligari. Titles like Ida Lupino’s The Hitch-Hiker (1953), Cat People (1942), The Lodger (1944), Diabolique (1955), and Night Of The Hunter (1955) straddled both genres, creating visually stunning horror masterpieces. Many of the original Universal Monster films took directly from the visual style of Caligari, such as Dracula (1931), Frankenstein (1931), The Mummy (1932), and The Bride of Frankenstein (1935). But its influences didn’t stop there. Well into the 1960s and beyond, films like Night of the Living Dead (1968), The Exorcist (1973), Jacob’s Ladder (1990), and The Babadook (2014) would pull from Caligari’s legacy for their visual and thematic tropes.

Nearly 100 years after its release, Robert Wiene’s German Expressionist film about the horrors of the mind remains one of the most significant achievements in film history, with Film Noir and Horror to show for it.

Happy #Noirvember!

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On Writing Horror Willy Martinez

  • On Writing Horror amassed from an obsession to learn where the power of fear resides. An anthology of works studying the way in which writers evoke fear and how it may affect us. On Writing Fear is an index of terror, drawing from Aristotle, Longinus, Edmund Burke, Che Guevarra, Wordsworth, Foucault, H.P. Lovecraft, Todorov, and many more.

    Available for download below for Free as Epub PDF, and Mobi. All we ask is for an honest review!

    Chapters include digital illustrations created by the author.

     

    A must have collection of research on the power of Horror- a tormented treatment of the human passions!

    Table of Contents for On Writing Horror

    Ch 1. Fear and War: Crafting the War on Terror Using Fear Appeals Ch 2. The Art of the Coup D'etat Ch 3. The Feminine Supernatural versus the Male Supernatural Writers Ch 4. Projecting Ghost Children to Find Identity Ch 5. The Supernatural Power of the Sublime in Wordsworth's Poetry Ch 6. Disorienting Characters with Haunted Spaces and Auditory Hallucinations Ch 7. Modern Ghosts Ch 8. The Fantastic in Fear Ch 9. The Fun Side of Fear: Faustus' Tricky Imp of Satan Ch 10. Glorifying Satan

    Some of the art included:

    [caption id="attachment_4846" align="alignnone" width="188"]Art for On Writing Horror Art for On Writing Horror[/caption] [caption id="attachment_4847" align="alignnone" width="200"]Art for On Writing Horror Art for On Writing Horror[/caption] [caption id="attachment_4848" align="alignnone" width="194"]Art for On Writing Horror Art for On Writing Horror[/caption]

     

    Intro

    On Writing Fear amassed from an obsession to learn where the power of
    horror resides. When I returned to study for my masters in English, the
    University was in tumult. The union of professors was on strike against
    the University. And of course, the students were pawns in the battle. As a
    student, I realized I was powerless in this situation, yet both the professors
    and University felt the need to deploy a rhetoric of fear. On the one hand, the
    school was threatening to lower our grades if we did not attend a class
    that was being covered by fill-in teachers and administrators, and on the
    other, we knew our teachers would be back so we didn’t want to show that
    we attended classes, and did not support them in their strike.

    Continuing
    their abuse of power, the University sent letters and emails to both
    students and their parents explaining that the students were still expected
    to attend class. The University then controlled its social media space and
    print by removing comments that were made regarding the strike – they
    wanted to continue as if nothing was going on. They were in control of the
    narrative and we were left to rumors. The school paper was not allowed to
    print any stories on the matter and the University was threatening to hold
    us accountable.

    We have other books specializing in Horror and sci-fi here. Thank you for your interest in “On Writing Horror.”

On Writing Horror Willy Martinez

  • On Writing Horror amassed from an obsession to learn where the power of fear resides. An anthology of works studying the way in which writers evoke fear and how it may affect us. On Writing Fear is an index of terror, drawing from Aristotle, Longinus, Edmund Burke, Che Guevarra, Wordsworth, Foucault, H.P. Lovecraft, Todorov, and many more.

    Available for download below for Free as Epub PDF, and Mobi. All we ask is for an honest review!

    Chapters include digital illustrations created by the author.

     

    A must have collection of research on the power of Horror- a tormented treatment of the human passions!

    Table of Contents for On Writing Horror

    Ch 1. Fear and War: Crafting the War on Terror Using Fear Appeals Ch 2. The Art of the Coup D'etat Ch 3. The Feminine Supernatural versus the Male Supernatural Writers Ch 4. Projecting Ghost Children to Find Identity Ch 5. The Supernatural Power of the Sublime in Wordsworth's Poetry Ch 6. Disorienting Characters with Haunted Spaces and Auditory Hallucinations Ch 7. Modern Ghosts Ch 8. The Fantastic in Fear Ch 9. The Fun Side of Fear: Faustus' Tricky Imp of Satan Ch 10. Glorifying Satan

    Some of the art included:

    [caption id="attachment_4846" align="alignnone" width="188"]Art for On Writing Horror Art for On Writing Horror[/caption] [caption id="attachment_4847" align="alignnone" width="200"]Art for On Writing Horror Art for On Writing Horror[/caption] [caption id="attachment_4848" align="alignnone" width="194"]Art for On Writing Horror Art for On Writing Horror[/caption]

     

    Intro

    On Writing Fear amassed from an obsession to learn where the power of
    horror resides. When I returned to study for my masters in English, the
    University was in tumult. The union of professors was on strike against
    the University. And of course, the students were pawns in the battle. As a
    student, I realized I was powerless in this situation, yet both the professors
    and University felt the need to deploy a rhetoric of fear. On the one hand, the
    school was threatening to lower our grades if we did not attend a class
    that was being covered by fill-in teachers and administrators, and on the
    other, we knew our teachers would be back so we didn’t want to show that
    we attended classes, and did not support them in their strike.

    Continuing
    their abuse of power, the University sent letters and emails to both
    students and their parents explaining that the students were still expected
    to attend class. The University then controlled its social media space and
    print by removing comments that were made regarding the strike – they
    wanted to continue as if nothing was going on. They were in control of the
    narrative and we were left to rumors. The school paper was not allowed to
    print any stories on the matter and the University was threatening to hold
    us accountable.

    We have other books specializing in Horror and sci-fi here. Thank you for your interest in “On Writing Horror.”

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