What disturbs one most in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919) is not simply the grotesque beauty of the expressionist sets, but how the characters traverse their acute angles while trying to retain the last vestiges of sanity. Cesare’s somnambulant teeter over the bridge is the stuff of nightmares 87 years on, and has inspired visual-effects artist David Lee Fisher to direct an ill-advised remake. Its interest lies in the production notes: Fisher re-photographed all of the sets from a print of the original film and mapped them onto a green screen, in front of which his actors performed newly written dialogue. Although technically impressive, the remake is dramatically inert, as the set becomes a motionless backdrop to theatrical line readings instead of a pulsing manifestation of diseased minds. It’s Caligari embalmed. The plot is followed to the letter, and as Cesare, Doug Jones ( Hellboy) displays a wounded sensitivity that honors Conrad Veidt’s celebrated turn. But there’s nothing here to keep you from renting Robert Wiene’s timeless masterpiece instead.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 17, 2006