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The Unseen: 'Dr. Caligari'

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Some images NSFW:

Dr. Caligari had always been the stuff of legend for me. I had heard many discuss this odd little porn-ish film full of cranial craziness, but I had never been able to get my hands on a copy. I finally stumbled across this film at an aging video rental store in North Hollywood, California. Eddie Brandt’s Saturday Matinee may very well be one of the last great video rental stores in existence. Their shelves are always packed with endless obscure titles, and it’s rare that I journey to the shop and not leave with some strangely enthralling and possibly extinct monster of a horror gem. Dr. Caligari is one such find. 

Back in 1982, porn director Stephen Sayadian tried to bridge porn into the mainstream film industry with a sci-fi infused flick called Café Flesh. Café Flesh (which is equally difficult to locate) was far too avant-garde and pornographic for average filmgoer, but it developed a strong cult fan base, often playing on midnight circuits. Years later in 1989, Sayadian tried this tactic again, teaming up with writer Jerry Stahl (who at the time was known for writing ALF). The two minds melded to create Dr. Caligari, a strange almost-porn-but-not-quite art film that is wrapped in a horror tone. This film is bizarre… really fucking bizarre! But, it’s peculiarly awesome with a captivating visual style and pace. Truly the product of an exceptionally warped mind!

Dr. Caligari (a smoldering, chain smoking, vinyl-wearing sexpot) is the granddaughter of the famed Caligari from the 1920 German expressionistic silent film, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. She is continuing his previous work in psychology and the brain, often using ethically questionable and illegal practices with patients including a lot of needles to the brain. At least I think that’s the plot. But really, that doesn’t matter so much as the plot is secondary to the trippy avant-garde sets, costumes, dialogue, and psyche of this flick. As for what the film actually means, your guess is as good as mine. 

The movie sizzles off the screen in an oozing mess of disjointed monologues and neon furniture.  Language is difficult and often inadequate. Conversations are astoundingly paced, but seem to be about nothing and everything simultaneously. The film has often been compared to the works of both David Lynch and David Cronenberg, and not just for the excessive use of obviously sexual-looking props and occasional giant tongues. 

The film has very little to do with the 1920 German film source material. Though the original film definitely has surrealistic qualities, Dr. Caligari takes a leap forward and situates the entire film in a distorted mind, also injecting a stiff dose of feminism and a punk-mentality.  Not only does anarchy and fetishism reign, but colors and beauty blend with hideousness and perversity. And not unlike a drug trip, I’m now realizing how incredibly difficult it is to describe this film to someone who has not yet experienced it. 

Dr. Caligari never achieved the cult status of Sayadian’s Café Flesh (which was made into several porn sequels) and became rather obscure and forgotten shortly after the initial release. The film made it to VHS, Betamax, and even had a strong-lived run on laserdisc. DVD copies can now be purchased from porn merchants Excalibur Films for just $7.94!

But I will warn you that fans have reported that the DVD is poor quality. Bootleg copies often circulate at horror conventions. Plus, I highly recommend checking any old mom and pop video stores still in existence in the search for a copy. Sometimes we could all use a frenzied visit to Dr. Caligari, even if for no other reason than to better appreciate our own sanity.  

 
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