Monday, October 23, 2023

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari


The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari Poster

(1920) Directed by: Robert Wiene; Written by Carl Mayer and Hans Janowitz; Starring: Werner Krauss, Conrad Veidt, Friedrich Fehér, Lil Dagover and Hans Heinrich von Twardowski; Available on Blu ray and DVD 

Rating: ****½ 

“Ladies and gentlemen, Cesare the somnambulist will answer all your questions. Cesare knows every secret. Cesare knows the past and sees the future. Judge for yourselves. Don’t hold back, ask away!”      –Dr. Caligari (Werner Krauss)

Dr. Caligari and Cesare

Modern horror films owe a debt of gratitude to The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, which has been encoded in the DNA of virtually every genre title that followed. Likewise, it’s a safe bet that Tim Burton’s movies wouldn’t have been the same without the influence of this landmark film and its distinctive visuals. I can’t substantiate how it must have also influenced the goth look, but we’ll just chalk it off to the collective unconscious (and dedicated fans of silent horror). Some of the most enduring films stem from Germany’s Weimar Era, a vibrant period for cinema, typified by a new generation of filmmakers who pushed the envelope visually and thematically. Director Robert Wiene’s* The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari ** made a big splash when it debuted in February 1920, with its mind-bending story and dream world made real.    

* Fun Fact #1: Although some dispute the veracity of this claim, many assert that Fritz Lang was originally chosen to direct the film, but was otherwise occupied with the production of The Spiders (1919/1920). 

** Fun Fact #2: In the early ‘30s, while in self-imposed exile from Germany, Wiene planned to direct a sound remake of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, starring Jean Cocteau as Cesare. Due to illness and the inability to secure funding for the project, the remake never became a reality.

Alan, Jane, and Franzis

In the opening scene, set in an asylum for the mentally ill, Franzis (Friedrich Fehér) relates to a fellow patient how he came to be in his current predicament. Cut to the sleepy village of Holstenwall, where mesmerist Dr. Caligari petitions the town clerk (who sits in a cartoonishly tall chair) to display his novel attraction at the annual fair. The star of Caligari’s show is Cesare (Conrad Veidt), a somnambulist, who resides in a coffin-like wooden box (forget about the ethics of transporting a person like a piece of luggage). Supposedly gifted with clairvoyance, Cesare awakens only on his master’s command. Franzis convinces his lifelong friend (and rival for the affections of the comely Jane Olsen) Alan to indulge in frivolity and accompany him to the fair, where they stumble upon Caligari’s exhibit. A fun day out turns into a nightmare when Alan asks Cesare how long he’ll live, prompting the reply, “To the break of dawn.” Unfortunately for Alan, the prophecy proves to be true, as he’s later discovered, murdered in his bed. Under the direction of the diabolical Caligari, Cesare is commanded to obey his every whim, which includes eliminating anyone who displeases him. The town falls into a panic as the residents wonder who the next victim will be. Devastated by his friend’s violent death, and fearing for Jane’s (Lil Dagover) life, Franzis tasks himself with tracking down Caligari and bringing the mad doctor to justice. His search leads him to an insane asylum, where Caligari resides as the institution’s director. This discovery sends Franzis into a tailspin, as he (and the audience) questions his grip on reality.

Cesare Carrying Jane

The film’s aesthetic choices (courtesy of production designers Walter Reimann, Walter Röhrig and Hermann Warm), often cited as a prime example of German expressionism, depict a world comprised of impossible landscapes, skewed angles (what would the ‘60s Batman TV show be without this movie?), and ominous shadows. In a conscious effort to stray from realism, there isn’t a rectangular door or right angle in sight. Conrad Veit, as Cesare, with his tall, lanky frame, gaunt appearance, and skin-tight dark clothing, almost seems an extension of the architecture. He’s little more than an automaton, programmed to follow Caligari’s twisted whims.

Cesare Holds Knife While Jane Sleeps

Sigmund Freud opined that dreams were the “royal road to the unconscious.” The film is a waking nightmare, with its uniquely twisted version of reality. But within the artificial world of Caligari, we confront the darker impulses that lie within ourselves. Who, in our darkest moments, hasn’t had an intrusive thought about acting out something that would be otherwise unconscionable? If we had an agent to carry out our unsavory impulses, our hands, if not our conscience, would remain clean. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari also reflects our collective anxieties about losing our faculties to distinguish reality from fantasy. Who is the puppeteer and who’s the puppet master? Caligari pulls Cesare’s strings, but who manipulates Franzis? It’s revealed that the doctor isn’t the real Caligari, but an ardent student of his research. Amidst his own research he concludes, “You must become Caligari” (which also became the film’s advertising slogan) if he is to understand Caligari.

Cesare and Caligari

Much like the film’s overall visual aesthetic, the story is told in broad strokes, from the perspective of Franzis, an unreliable narrator. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari keeps us on edge from moment to moment, until we (like the characters in the film) can no longer trust our perceptions. Are we to take Franzis’ account at face value regarding the director of the asylum, or are his recollections merely the elaborate delusions of a disordered mind? Signs point to the latter, but the final shot of Caligari suggests otherwise. Either way, it’s a discombobulating experience, guiding us on the kind of uncanny journey that only horror can take us. Once watched, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is never forgotten – leaving an indelible mark after playing in the toybox of our minds.


Sources for this article: Beyond Caligari – The Films of Robert Wiene, by Uli Jung and Walter Schatzberg; The Haunted Screen, by Lotte H. Eisner; “Suggestion, Hypnosis, and Crime,” by Stefan Andriopoulos (from Weimar Cinema, edited by Noah Isenberg); Caligari: How Horror Came to the Cinema (2014 documentary)


Sunday, October 15, 2023

Introducing The Hammer-Amicus Blogathon IV


Hammer-Amicus Banner_Torture Garden

If the third time’s a charm, the fourth time can only get better, right? After a two-year hiatus, I, along with my excellent blogging partner in crime Gill from Realweegiemidget Reviews, proudly present the fourth edition of the Hammer-Amicus Blogathon! Through this series of blogathons, we hope to keep the spirit of these legendary film production companies alive, but this isn’t merely about nostalgia, it’s also a great time for fans of both labels, with the recent release of Hammer’s Dr. Jekyll (2023) and news of Amicus’ impending revival.


The Curse of Frankenstein - Peter Cushing

If you’ve participated in either of the past Hammer-Amicus Blogathons, welcome back. If this is your first time joining us, we’re glad to have you aboard. Either way, be sure to read our rules below, as a few items have changed. We would also like to emphasize this blogathon is not strictly for bloggers (No blog? No problem!). In addition to blog posts, participants may submit a link to their Instagram or Facebook post, podcast, YouTube video, or whatever. As long as it’s original content and covers some facet of Hammer or Amicus productions, you’re good to go.

The Land that Time Forgot

And now, time for my occasional public service message, reminding you that Hammer and Amicus productions are much more than horror. In their respective catalogs, you’ll find adventures, dramas, noir, sci-fi, comedies, psychological thrillers, and other genre permutations. With all those choices, there’s virtually a Hammer or Amicus movie for every mood and preference. We encourage you to peruse the titles found in the links below (we’re always happy to provide suggestions, too).

Hammer Films

You can find a complete list of Hammer films here.

Amicus Productions
…and a list of Amicus films here.

Scream of Fear

While the rules are essentially the same, notice that the contact information has changed. When it comes to social media, we’ve got ya covered. I’m on the platform previously known as Twitter, as well as Instagram. Gill, on the other hand, is available through Facebook, Mastodon, and Pintrest (Please Note: Gill has requested that participants NOT provide their choices on her social media platforms, but through her blog instead.).

Moon Zero Two


What: The Hammer-Amicus Blogathon IV 

Who: Hosted by Yours Truly (Barry P.) and Gill Jacob 

Where: Cinematic Catharsis and Realweegiemidget Reviews 

When: December 1-3, 2023 

How: Please read the rules below, and send me your post request (review, podcast, etc…) via email (, Twitter (@barry_cinematic), Instagram (barry_cinematic), or by commenting below. You may also contact Gill by commenting on her post, or through her blog’s Contact Me page . (Be sure to include a link to your blog, your blog’s title, and your preferred name).

From Beyond the Grave - Donald & Angela Pleasence


1.     You may review ANY Hammer or Amicus film or TV show. Hammer and Amicus-related book reviews are fine.

2.     We will not allow duplicate film titles, UNLESS you are covering a series of films or a retrospective of an actor/filmmaker’s work.

3.     A maximum of TWO entries will be permitted. (You may choose one post from Hammer and one from Amicus …or both can be Hammer or Amicus. The choice is yours!)

4.     When responding with your choice, be sure to add your Twitter/Instagram/Mastodon handle or a link to your Facebook page so we can promote your post.

5.     Please choose one of the banners below to display on your blog.

6.     A full list of blogs, podcasters and review choices will be posted on a separate page and updated regularly.

7.     Only original, never-before-published posts will be accepted.

8.     Send a link to your post/podcast/video to Gill and me during one of the days of the blogathon.

9.     Note: we will publish all the links on both blogs, with daily updates on December 1st, 2nd and 3rd. If you plan to participate, but you’re running late, please let us know as soon as possible, so we can post a last-minute update.

10.  Please also note: Gill and I have already claimed the following the titles below, so they are off the table, unless they’re included in a larger retrospective (see Rule 2 above). 

Barry at Cinematic Catharsis – Hammer: The Reptile (1966) 

Gill at Realweegiemidget Reviews –Hammer: Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970)


Pick a banner and fire up your laptops. We can’t wait to see your posts!


Hammer-Amicus Blogathon_Captain Kronos

Hammer-Amicus Blogathon_From Beyond the Grave

Hammer-Amicus Blogathon_Torture Garden

Hammer-Amicus Blogathon_Twins of Evil

Monday, October 9, 2023

The Sentinel


The Sentinel Poster

(1977) Directed by Michael Winner; Written by Michael Winner and Jeffrey Konvitz; Based on the novel by Jeffrey Konvitz; Starring: Christina Raines, Chris Sarandon, Burgess Meredith, Ava Gardner, Martin Balsam, Arthur Kennedy, Sylvia Miles, John Carradine, José Ferrer, Eli Wallach, Christopher Walken, Beverly D'Angelo and Jeff Goldblum; Available on Blu-ray and DVD

Rating: ***½  

Party Guests

“The angel Uriel was stationed at the entrance to Eden to guard it from the devil. Since that time a long line of guardians... sentinels, have guarded the world against evil. Right now, it's Father Halliran upstairs. But tonight, you become the next sentinel. All the people you saw here, the old man, the lesbians... all of them are reincarnations. Devils. The only way they can stop the new sentinel is to make you commit suicide. That's what they were trying to do.” – Michael Lerman (Chris Sarandon)

Upstairs Horror

We’ve all visited someplace we’re convinced is the portal to hell. For me, it’s any discount Mecca flocked by hundreds of bargain-seekers, such as Costco or Walmart. But in the case of Michael Winner’s The Sentinel (based on the novel by Jeffrey Konvitz),* an unassuming Brooklyn, New York brownstone is the literal entrance to the nether realm. As our protagonist, Alison Parker (Christina Raines)** eventually discovers, her apartment building is ground zero for an eternal tug-o-war between good and evil (and you thought your next-door neighbors’ lives were filled with drama). Instead of filming on Hollywood sets, Winner*** chose real-life locations to depict his uncanny horror film. 

* Fun Fact #1: Konvitz cited Dante’s Inferno and Paradise Lost as two literary works that influenced his novel. 

** Fun Fact #2: According to Konvitz, the studio originally considered Diana Ross for the role. 

*** Fun Fact #3: Other directors considered for the film were Don Siegel (who also wrote a previous draft of the script), Gil Cates, and Fred Zinnemann.

Alison and Michael

On the surface, Alison Parker seems to have it all: a lucrative career as a model, good friends, and an affectionate (and well-to-do) attorney boyfriend, Michael Lerman (Chris Sarandon).* As we soon see, all is not rosy in Alison’s life. Besides grappling with unresolved teenage trauma (including a suicide attempt) and ambivalence about her father’s death, she begins to experience sudden lapses, resulting in fainting spells. She gently rebukes Lerman’s offer of marriage, citing a need to live on her own and assert her independence. Thus begins her quest to find affordable housing in New York, employing the services of Miss Logan (Ava Gardner), a plucky real estate agent. She finds an apartment in a none-the-worse-for-wear Brooklyn Heights brownstone,** populated by a bunch of eccentric tenants. But strange things are afoot in her new digs, starting with her enthusiastic neighbor Charles (Burgess Meredith, in one of the film’s best performances), who wastes no time ingratiating himself to her, introducing his cat and canary, and leaving a portrait of himself in her apartment. And something seems more than a little off about Alison’s downstairs neighbors Gerde (Sylvia Miles) and Sandra (Beverly D’Angelo, in her first feature film), who seem to enjoy toying with her. On the top floor resides a blind shut-in priest (John Carradine), who sits at the window for hours on end, staring blankly at presumably nothing. Things get (to borrow a phrase from Lewis Carroll) curiouser and curiouser, when she learns, much to her dismay, that aside from the priest, she’s the building’s only tenant. Who are these people, and are they merely figments of an overactive imagination? The answer will change Alison’s life forever. 

* Fun Fact #4: According to separate commentaries by Winner and Konvitz, they originally wanted Martin Sheen to play Michael Lerman, but the studio nixed their choice because he was considered a television actor, and not cinematic material. 

** Fun Fact #5: While $500 (which she talks down to $400) wasn’t unrealistic for a roomy apartment in Brooklyn Heights during the ‘70s, consider that the average monthly rental price now hovers around $4160. How times have changed. 

Charles with Cat

The Sentinel boasts an impressive cast of veteran and novice actors. Aside from Gardner, Meredith and Carradine, look for Arthur Kennedy as a monsignor, José Ferrer as his Vatican-based superior, Martin Balsam as a professor, Eli Wallach as an tenacious police detective, Jerry Orbach as a gruff commercial director, and William Hickey as a wily lockpicker.* Besides the voluminous list of well-known performers, the film featured an equally formidable roster of up-and-coming actors, including Beverly D’Angelo (in her first feature film appearance), Jeff Goldblum as a fashion photographer, Christopher Walken as an assistant police detective, and Tom Berenger and Nana Visitor as prospective tenants. 

* Fun Fact #6: If Sarandon and Hickey sound oddly familiar together, no, your ears aren’t deceiving you. Both lent their voices, years later, in The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) as Jack Skellington and Dr. Finkelstein, respectively.

Alison with Photographer

The production was not without its share of behind-the scenes conflicts, many between Winner and Konvitz. While Konvitz wasn’t impressed with Winner’s script, Winner contended that the studio wasn’t happy with Konvitz’s adaptation. Konvitz wrote a 15-page memorandum to Universal executives, cataloguing the problems he had with the film, but his suggestions* went unheeded by studio and director (In his commentary, Konvitz described Winner as “difficult” and an “egomaniac.”). Christina Raines, by her account, found working with Winner to be a miserable experience. In his commentary, Winner also claimed to have had a one-night stand with one of the models in the film, and had propositioned at least one other actress. 

* Fun Fact #7: Konvitz wanted all unknowns in the roles, but Universal (in a move that Konvitz equated with their approach to the Airport movies) insisted on an all-star supporting cast). 

Monsignor Franchino and Father Halliran

Many elements of the film hold up (especially the scene where Alison confronts her dead father), but one that doesn’t pass muster is the unfortunate exploitation of people with real deformities* as the denizens of hell (some of whom worked the sideshow circuit), reminiscent of the final scene in Tod Browning’s Freaks (1932). To add insult to injury, none of the disabled performers were credited, but among them were Bob Melvin (“The Man with Two Faces”) and Esther Blackmon (“The Alligator Girl”). On a different note, the lesbian couple played by Miles and D’Angelo are depicted in a less than flattering light. (Minor Spoiler Ahead). In its defense, the film’s intention wasn’t that they were condemned to hell because of their orientation, but because they were murderers. It would be easy, however, for viewers to get the wrong impression. 

* Not-So-Fun-Fact: Mirroring the behind-the-scenes events of more than four decades ago in Freaks, Winner recalled the film crew refusing to have lunch with the disabled actors.

A Strange Discovery

Despite the behind-the-scenes friction and shaky ethics, The Sentinel remains a genuinely creepy experience, with its pervasive atmosphere of unease and slow build to an explosive climax. Not unlike Rosemary’s Baby, it utilizes the theme of friendly faces harboring a terrible secret, amidst the backdrop of a New York tenement house. Aside from a few unsettling Dick Smith makeup sequences, The Sentinel achieves its chills without elaborate special effects or an over-reliance on gore. There have been murmurs of a remake in recent years (which considering the aforementioned issues might be a way to right some wrongs), but any prospective filmmaker would be wise to adopt the same less-is-more approach. 


Sources for this article: Shout Factory Blu-ray commentary by Michael Winner; Shout Factory Blu-ray commentary by Jeffrey Konvitz;; 


Sunday, October 1, 2023

September Quick Picks and Pans


Zurdo Poster

Zurdo (2003) In this Mexican postapocalyptic fairy tale from director/co-writer Carlos Salces, Zurdo (aka: “Lefty”) (Álex Perea) is a young boy with a prodigious talent for playing marbles. As the undisputed marble champion in his town, he’s about to be challenged by the reigning wizard from the big city. Meanwhile, he and his mother are facing eviction from a wealthy landowner who has a stranglehold on the town, and a corrupt police officer who’s betting on his opponent. While the film is geared at families, its much darker in tone, compared to anything from the States. While the story and plot aren’t groundbreaking (guess who wins the final showdown), it’s a refreshing spin on the material and a journey worth taking. 

Rating: ***½. Available on DVD 

Gemini Poster

Gemini (1999) In early 20th century Japan, a young doctor (Masahiro Motoki) married to a woman with amnesia (Ryô) discovers that he has a malevolent doppelganger (also played by Motoki). He soon finds himself at the bottom of a well, while his counterpart has assumed his life This unsettling thriller writer/director Shin'ya Tsukamoto (Tetsuo: The Iron Man, Hiruko the Goblin) based on an Edogawa Rampo (known as the Japanese Edgar Allan Poe) doesn’t rely on jump scares or gore, only a pervasive sense of unease. 

Rating: ***½. Available on Blu-ray and DVD


The Apple Poster

The Apple (1980) Nothing can prepare you for this bonkers musical directed/co-written by Menahem Golan of Cannon Films fame. Set In the near future of 1994(!), small-town Canadian singing duo Bibi (Catherine Mary Stewart) and Alphie (George Gilmour) try to find fame in a totalitarian America run by shadowy Mephistophelian figure Mr. Boogalow (Vladek Sheybal). Bibi and Alphie challenge the status quo with their out-of-step peace and love message, catching the attention of Boogalow. The plot thickens when Bibi is seduced by fame, becoming an overnight pop star. Filled to the brim with ridiculous outfits, goofy songs, and a questionable plot (culminating in an ultimate showdown between good and evil), The Apple bombards the senses like few musicals can. Although you might wonder what someone added to the filmmakers’ drinking water, it's a surprisingly entertaining mess that defies easy description. Enjoy at your own risk. 

Rating: ***. Available on Blu-ray and DVD 

The Flying Serpent Poster

The Flying Serpent (1946) In this cheapie from producer Sigmund Neufeld, archaeologist Andrew Forbes (George Zucco) stumbles upon a vast horde of treasure while studying Aztec ruins in New Mexico. He decides to keep it for himself, and as added insurance, secures the services of the ancient feathered serpent Quetzalcoatl as guardian. Anyone who gets too close incurs the wrath of Quetzalcoatl (which resembles a rejected Muppet design made out of carpet remnants), which attacks anyone foolish enough to have one of its feathers in their possession (with Forbes’ help, mwah, hah, hah!). The mysterious deaths continue until a snooping radio show host finds a way to sniff out the killer. The Flying Serpent has a similar plot to 1940’s The Devil Bat (except it’s missing Bela Lugosi’s tongue-in-cheek delivery and a credible motive), but it’s not quite as ghoulishly charming. Still, at only 58 minutes, you won’t lose that much time from your life. 

Rating: **½. Available