A young man (Friedrich Fehér) recounts the tale of the mysterious circus performer Dr Caligari (Werner Krauss ), his future-seeing somnambulist (Conrad Veidt), and the traumatic series of murders that followed in their wake.
This murder mystery may be light on the murder mystery element, but more than makes up for it with sheer atmospheric weirdness. Tiny sets are made to look many times their actual size with expansive backgrounds, clever perspective and ample extras, all adding to the disconcerctig sense that what we’re seeing isn’t really so.
This gives the film a distinctly dream (or nightmare) quality – the consistently askance buildings adding a Dr Seassian wonkularity to the visuals. The somnambulist, one of the original movie monsters, emerges from his vampiric (or vampyric) coffin and is genuinely creepy thanks to gothy makeup and a great performance from Veidt.
The dark shadows, particularly in the film’s murder scene, presage the famed Nosferatu sequence and the angular blackness feels like an Edvard Munch print come to life. The result is iconic, striking, mysterious and creepy: arguably one of the first real horror films and arguably one of the best.