Films always seem that bit more interesting when you can link them back to real life events. I am sure that a film being based on true events is one of the attractions within horror; it is that bit more scary when you know that the scenes unfolding actually happened. Perhaps this is because a fear of the same happening to you is created, or perhaps it is because you have a sudden realisation that the world is more f*cked up than you choose to accept. Either way, it is a definite ‘pro’ in regards to the techniques employed in horror film.
With that in mind, it was not until recently, that I chose to do a bit of research in to the background of Robert Weine’s classic expressionism piece. Along my journey, I found out that Weine was never supposed to direct The Cabinet of Dr Caligari. Erich Pommer who purchased the original screenplay by Hanz Janowitz and Carl Mayer, originally wanted Fritz Lang to direct the production but this was not possible due to Lang’s busy schedule. Pommer crucially hired Hermann Warm to design the production, the expressionist art director made the film the greatest depiction of German expressionism ever made.
This was interesting enough to draw me in to a deeper discovery. I researched further and found out that The Cabinet of Dr Caligari was in fact based on true events and the inspiration for the film was interesting to say the least.
Late one night, Janowitz was travelling home through a seedy area of Hamburg where a fair had made a stop. He suddenly heard laughter and his attention was drawn to a woman who was disappearing in to some bushes along a path. Janowitz, trying not to draw any attention to himself, stuck around for a short while; it is then that he saw a man emerge from the same bush alone. The man walked away and that was the end of that. Well, at least until the next morning. The following morning, the newspapers were plastered with a story that told of a woman murdered in the very same area that Janowitz had been the night before. The events stayed with Janowitz for a long time and you could say that the images haunted him. Eventually, he shared the events with fellow writer, Carl Meyer; the two set about writing a screenplay based on the events that night.
So we had our somnambulist, but what about our hypnotist?
At some point throughout the writing process, Meyer shared a piece of his past that would fill in the gaps. The event from Meyer’s past involved an unsettling experience with a strange psychiatrist who wore spectacles. Sound familiar?
The two writers spliced together their past experiences and through Hermann Warm and Robert Weine’s direction, the story became what it is today. Watching the film sent chills down my spine anyway. It is a solid mix of artistic Beauty and a creepy story and seemingly a mix that was destined to disturb me to the core.
Knowing that it is loosely based on actual people and that the creepy fair actually existed disturb me further and make me appreciate this film even more.