Dr. Caligari [1989]

A milestone of the silent film era and one of the first "art films" to gain international acclaim, this eerie German classic from 1919 remains the most prominent example of German expressionism in the emerging art of the cinema. Stylistically, the look of the film's painted sets--distorted perspectives, sharp angles, twisted architecture--was designed to reflect (or express) the splintered psychology of its title character, a sinister figure who uses a lanky somnambulist (Conrad Veidt) as a circus attraction. But when Caligari and his sleepwalker are suspected of murder, their novelty act is surrounded by more supernatural implications. With its mad-doctor scenario, striking visuals, and a haunting, zombie-like character at its center, Caligari was one of the first horror films to reach an international audience, sending shock waves through artistic circles and serving as a strong influence on the classic horror films of the 1920s, '30s, and beyond. It's a museum piece today, of interest more for its historical importance, but Caligari still casts a considerable spell. --Jeff Shannon

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