There have been several films that have sought to borrow the title. There was The Cabinet of Caligari (1962), which was not a remake so much as an Old Dark House psycho-thriller with some occasionally Caligarian dream scenes. There was this film, which could not really be called a remake either technically it is more of a sequel in that Madeleine Reynal states at one point that she is granddaughter of the original Dr Caligari while Stephen Sayadian throws out any stylistic connection to the original. Only one filmmaker has been adventurous enough to conduct an actual remake with The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (2005) from David Lee Fisher, which bizarrely sought to conduct a modern scene-for-scene sound remake.
Stephen Sayadian is a name with a certain cult underground reputation. Sayadian began his career as a graphic artist and became Creative Director for Larry Flynt Publications. Elsewhere, Sayadian had worked as a production designer and designed film posters. Under the pseudonym Rinse Dream, Sayadian directed Nightdreams (1981) and its two sequels, both pornographic films that venture into surrealist territory. Sayadians most famous film was Cafe Flesh (1982), also made under the Rinse Dream pseudonym, which is set in a future where most of humanity have been rendered sterile and go to cafes where they watch the remaining fertile couples having sex. This became one of the few pornographic films to gain crossover appeal and became a cult midnight hit, being shown in both hardcore and cut versions. Sayadian has made several other films but Dr. Caligari was his only non-pornographic work.
Stephen Sayadian does not concern himself with trying to replicate the 1919 film in any way. We have a surrealist film but it is less in the Expressionist style than it is something more akin to Eraserhead (1977) reconceived as a Day Glo disco. What we have feels like a post-Sexual Revolution Dr Caligari wherein Caligari has been recast as a Cronenbergian mad psychiatrist a la Oliver Reed in The Brood (1979) the idea of a disease of the libido sounds a notion that would be perfectly at home in one of Cronenbergs films. The film is set in an asylum about the nearest point it comes anywhere near the 1919 film. It opens with a panorama across a world that seems like an industrial wasteland broken up with pools of green goo before we encounter Laura Albert in her room at the asylum that seems to have no walls, just consists of a door that isnt attached to a wall and tv set and chair on a distorted pink checkerboard pattern in the middle of the industrial zone. There is a profusion of strange images a figure with a doll face crawling out of the soap suds of a bath to come after her with a razor and then have sex with her; her masturbating in the middle of the plain; developing sores after seeing them on a show on the tv; her attempts to find sexual fulfilment with an androgynous scarecrow only to find its pants are filled with straw. Particularly surreal is the image of the door opening and revealing a giant stitched-together skein like a stomach that is oozing with pus that produces a giant tongue from a mouth in the middle of the stomach, which Laura Albert revels beneath, allowing it to lick her all over.
Certainly, it is a Dr Caligari that Robert Wiene would have difficulty recognising. His brooding Expressionism has become cartoon surrealism, absurd neon candy apple decor like something out of Life on the Edge/Meet the Hollowheads (1989) or maybe the German Dorian Grey as Reflected in the Yellow Press (1984), which likewise homaged German Expressionist cinema. It is a film filled with amateur actors who often seems to strike self-conscious postures straining for effect, even at times address the camera direct. Lines are frequently pretentious: Why turn my father into a hopped-up Ethel Merman? or Success it tastes musky on my lips. Once Dr Caligari conducts her experiments, Fox Harris and John Durbin get to camp their parts up outrageously to the extent that you think you might be watching a drag show take on The Cabinet of Dr Caligari. It is a film that is 90 minutes of this maddening surrealist posturing with no plot. Unlike the original, you have no clue what is going on for most of the running time.
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