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Dr. Caligari (Mondo Macabro) UHD Review

    Ian Jane

  • Dr. Caligari (Mondo Macabro) UHD Review

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    Released by: Mondo Macabro
    Released on: October 24th, 2023.
    Director: Stephen Sayadian
    Cast: Madeleine Reynal, Fox Harris, Laura Albert, Jennifer Balgobin, John Durbin, Gene Zerna, David Parry, Barry Phillips
    Year: 1989
    Purchase From Amazon

    Dr. Caligari – Movie Review:

    Directed by Stephen 'Rinse Dream' Sayadian, who co-wrote with Jerry Stahl (the pair had previously collaborated on Sayadian's adult film classics Nightdreams and Café Flesh) and released in 1989, Dr. Caligari, the movie is very much a visual follow up to his adult films, Café Flesh in particular, albeit done without any hardcore sex at all.

    The story stars Madeleine Reynal as the titular doctor, the granddaughter of the character from the original 1920 black and white classic directed by Robert Wiene that this movie inspired. In fact, stills from that picture are used in the opening credits sequence. At any rate, Dr. Caligari runs an asylum of sorts, where they promote “better living through chemistry,” and is treating a patient named Mrs. Van Houten (Laura Albert), a sexually aggressive housewife married to a prude named Les Van Houten (Gene Zerna). Part of this treatment involves her mingling with a wall comprised of different human body parts, which seems to arouse her. But then, everything seems to arouse Mrs. Van Houten.

    While this is going on, Caligari's assistant, Dr. Avil (Fox Harris) becomes brainwashed much to the dismay of his daughter Ramona (Jennifer Balgobin) and her husband Dr. Lodger (David Parry) who want nothing more than to take over the practice and facility for themselves. Before it's all over and done with, Caligari will try and extract Mrs. Van Houten’s brain fluid and inject it into the brain of a cannibal named Gus (John Durbin) and we'll meet other patients in Caligari's care before see the doctor switch identities with her star patient.

    Set to a wonderfully strange jazzy score by composer Michael Froom and set almost entirely in black rooms, this exercise in truly wild creativity, snappy dialogue and less than subtle sexual allegory is as garish as they come and we’re all the better for it. Comprised of a cast clad pretty much entirely in yellow or pink costuming and taking place on a series of sets built on soundstages showcasing Sayadian’s penchant for abstract design and the absurd, it borrows ideas and themes from Weine’s movie but is very much its own animal.

    Deliberately stagey and very theatrical in both execution and appearance, the movie is quick in its pacing and features a very dedicated cast comprised of actors clearly in synch with Sayadian’s vision for the project. The frequently insane dialogue is delivered with conviction and everything is played completely straight, which makes watching this picture all the more intriguing.

    Dr. Caligari – UHD Review:

    The HEVC encoded 2160p transfer, scanned and restored in 4k from the 35mm negative framed at 1.85.1 widescreen or 1.33.1 fullframe, looks fantastic despite the absence of HDR. Detail is really, really strong and the film’s intentionally garish color scheme really pops and skin tones look perfect. The Blu-ray looked great, this UHD looks better, especially in the darker interior scenes where shadow detail and depth advance handily over the 1080p edition. There are no problems with any noticeable compression artifacts and the image is free of noise reduction or edge enhancement, always looking like a proper film transfer.

    Audio chores are handled by an English language 24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Mono track with optional subtitles provided in English only. Audio quality is also very good, with the dialogue always properly balanced and easy to follow. The score has some pretty solid depth to it and there are no issues to note with any hiss, distortion or sibilance.

    Extras, which are carried over from the Blu-ray release from earlier this year, start off with an audio commentary with co-writer/director Stephen Sayadian – who also points out that he also did a lot of the production design work on the movie. He talks a lot about who did what on the movie, co-writing with Jerry Stahl, the film’s modest (though not poverty row) budget, using images from the 1919 black and white production, being able to use dolly crane shots in the movie, details on the different cast and crew that worked on the picture, the sound effects and sound design that went into the movie, how specific shots were framed and why, the frequent use of moving platforms, creating exterior shots inside the soundstage area the movie was shot in, getting the Steadicam operator from Blue Velvet for the movie, the admitted influence of Videodrome on one key scene, shooting the movie and rehearsing for it like a live theater production, the effects work featured in the movie, using storyboards for edits and jump cutting, different influences that worked their way into the movie and plenty more.

    The disc also includes an interview with Sayadian titled Beyond The Door that runs thirty minutes. He talks about his connections with adult film distributor Excalibur Films and how they commissioned him to do a script for him and how that came to be Dr. Caligari. He talks about working with some of the people he worked with on Cafe Flesh, shooting on 35mm, knowing he wouldn't be able to match the original Caligari film, shooting everyone no a soundstage, how he brought different people on board for the movie, casting the film, why he chose to direct, the movie's score and how the movie was received upon its initial release.

    Meet The Doctor is an interview with Madeleine Reynal running eighteen minutes. She talks about where her career was at the time the movie was made, living in Los Angeles and trying to get a break as an actress, applying with her sister for the two lead roles, what Sayadian was like to work with, the rehearsal process, how the movie really was Sayadian's vision, the makeup process she had to undergo, what it was like on set and how it was like 'being in the Twilight Zone,' memories of shooting specific scenes, her thoughts on first seeing the movie's poster art with her image front and center and how she feels the movie was both visionary and ahead of its time.

    An interview with Laura Albert titled The Scandalous Mrs. Van Houten running twenty minutes lets her talk about her initial thoughts on the dialogue in the script, the importance of getting it down for the audition, getting into character, who great Sayadian was to work with and how calm he was during the making of the movie, how well everyone got along on set, the preparation that was involved in making the movie, the wardrobe choices and how important they were to the look of the film, filming specific scenes including the ones with the tongues and how she wouldn't change a thing about the way that the movie turned out.

    Up next is an interview with co-writer Jerry Stahl titled Bongo His Glug-Glugs that runs ten minutes. He talks about how the press reacted to the movie, taking a date to see the picture in the theater and how that turned out, the conception of the project and how it tied into Nightdreams, what his relationship with Sayadian is like, how he enjoyed seeing audiences react to the movie, where some of the ideas came from and the influence of TV culture, the social commentary in the film and the look of the movie.

    The extras finish up with an original theatrical trailer, an isolated music and effects track, menus and chapter selection options.

    Dr. Caligari - The Final Word:

    Dr. Caligari is wonderfully insane, a perfect mix of style and substance viewed through an abstract and at times almost surreal lens with a wicked sense of humor. Mondo Macabro have done a great job with the UHD edition, presenting the movie in a really impressive 2160p presentation and carrying over all of the interesting extra features from the earlier Blu-ray edition.

    Click on the images below, or right click and open in a new window, for full sized Dr. Caligari Blu-ray screen caps (there's no Blu-ray included with this release but as we don't have a UHD drive yet, this'll have to do)!

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