top of page

Released in 4K, the groundbreaking “Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” defies its age


The somnambulist Cesare (Conrad Veidt) is wakened to do the sinister bidding of Dr. Caligari. Veidt’s unforgettable entrance surely inspired Boris Karloff when he starred in “Frankenstein” and “The Mummy” more than a decade later.

(Click an image to scroll the larger versions)


4K Ultra HD, 1920, not rated, German intertitles with English subtitles Best extra: The short feature, “On the Restoration”

HATS OFF to Eureka! Entertainment. The UK distributor has outfitted “Caligari,” an undisputed milestone in movie history, with all kinds of must-watch extras. There’s a new commentary, feature and video essay, a carry-over commentary, a 52-minute documentary about the film’s cultural and historical impact and a limited edition, 100-page book that includes archival articles, essays and reviews plus photos. But start with “On the Restoration,” a new feature that details all the long hours and painstaking effort that went into resurrecting this influential, German Expressionism silent classic. Anything less and it would not belong in your library. The immediate challenges were repairing the negative – gaps in the perforation made the film skip and jump – and reinserting missing frames; in some cases, upwards of 40 were missing. Composites were used in the first reel, but stick with it. Aside from the occasional nick or pop, which go with the territory, the rest of this 103-year-old masterpiece is stunning Here’s how another reviewer put it: “Detail is astonishing, there is skin texture: pores, hairlines and the like; the wild and carefree make-up of Caligari that makes him look comically demonic is amazing, clothing weaves as well as the dreamlike painted backdrops are sharper and more defined than ever before. The sets are small but intricately detailed, and it is all on show.”

(1) “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” premiered February 26, 1920, in Berlin. (2&3) Franzis (Friedrich Feher, left) tells an old man (Hans Lanser-Rudolf) about the trauma that he and his fiancée, Jane Olsen (Lil Dagover), suffered at the hands of Caligari. (4) Werner Krauss stars as the mad doctor.

Likewise, the bold, i.e., not garish, yellow, pink and blue tinting and stylized German intertitles are flawless.

Check out the side-by-side comparisons at the end of the feature and see for yourself. One of the people involved in the restoration described the pervasive cracks and dirt that often spoil silent movies as a veil. “As a result, you always feel this distance as to what is happening in the film,” she says. Directed by Robert Wiene (“The Hands of Orlac”), “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” lifts that veil, and then some. It opens in a garden of sorts where a young man named Franzis (Friedrich Fehér) tells another man – clearly not for the first time – about the psychological trauma he and his fiancée Jane (Lil Dagover) have recently suffered. It began at a carnival, where Franzis and his friend Alan (Hans Hein v. Twardowski) watched as the mysterious Dr. Caligari (Werner Krauss) awakened the somnambulist Cesare (Conrad Veidt) and urged the audience to ask him any question. Alan asks how long he will live and is told that he will die before dawn. He’s found stabbed in his bed the next morning, and when other murders follow – Jane survives an attack – Franzis suspects that Caligari is the mastermind. When Franzis follows him to an asylum, he’s shocked to learn that Caligari is the director. It would be unfair to spill the beans about the ending, and your friends at High Def Watch are nothing if not fair, but “twist” only begins to describe it.

(1-4) Having secured a permit to appear at a carnival, Caligari prepares to introduce his audience, including Franz and his doomed friend Alan (Hans Heinz v. Twardowski, left in second frame shot), to Cesare.

VIDEO/AUDIO The restoration was completed in 2014 for the Blu-ray; this release is in its native 4K resolution and HDR was not applied. If you’ve read this far, you know what was achieved. Look no further than the geometrically surreal sets, painted with designs representing shadows and light on the walls and floors. “Caligari” (1.33: 1 aspect ratio) established the template for the Expressionism movement that blossomed in Weimar-era Germany, but if there’s any doubt that it still influences filmmakers, dial up Tim Burton’s “Beetlejuice” or “Edward Scissorhands.” One more note: Subtitles are easy to read. There are three audio tracks – LPCM 2.0 stereo and DTS-HD 5.1 surround with the 2014 score and LPCM 2.0 stereo with the 2019 score. All are clear, broad, and deep. EXTRAS The new commentary with British writers Kevin Lyons and Jonathan Rigby is one of the best you’ll come across. Sitting in as the old friends engage in some lively, congenial give-and-take is as enlightening as it is infectious. “Caligari,” they say, stands at the head of two cinematic traditions – the horror film and art film – and established many of filmdom’s motifs and conventions, among them the unreliable narrator, the woman in white and a monster who is compelled to do bad things. They go on to point out that the claustrophobic sets work to its advantage, that Boris Karloff must have taken note when the camera zooms in on Cesare as he is awakened and that everyone involved had a different take on who was responsible for the movie’s revolutionary look. Made two years after World War I ended, it also captured Germany’s reeling national psyche. As for the “vile” Caligari, screenwriters Carl Mayer and Hans Janowitz, who were decidedly anti-authority, saw in him “everything that had gone wrong with the German state.”

(1) Told by Cesare that he will be dead before dawn, Alan is murdered in his bed by the somnambulist. (2&3) Franzis goes to the police with his suspicions about Caligari then to the doctor’s quarters to look for evidence. (4-7) In one of the most memorable sequences in a milestone movie, Cesare assaults Jane in her bedroom then escapes into the night.

In the feature “The Asylum in Film,” author/critic Kim Newman, a regular when the topic is horror movies, says that Edgar Allan Poe’s 1845 story “The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether,” in which the inmates take over as doctors and the doctors become the patients, was a big influence on “Caligari.” In turn, the asylum it depicts became a touchstone for those in movies (“The Snake Pit,” “Shock Corridor”), TV and comic books, and that the mad doctor lives on in every character from “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” Nurse Ratched to Dr. Hannibal Lecter. But don’t stop there. As mentioned, every extra here is more than worth your time. Last order of business. The Eureka! website is You’ll find “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” under “Masters of Cinema.” Craig Shapiro


bottom of page