Dr. Caligari (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari)
While a mention of mad scientists generally culls up visions of tall-haired wackos cackling between plasma globes, the bespectacled Dr. Caligari never has to utter a word in order to cement himself into the odd-angled imaginations of cinephiles everywhere. Robert Wiene’s silent 1920 film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari takes German Expressionism to great heights and depths, with the titular scientist and his somnambulist prophet Cesare standing just as unsettling as the imaginative set design the film utilizes.
In the German village of Holstenwall, Caligari has set up quite the racket, living as the director of an asylum while murdering villagers without drawing any attention to himself. I mean, who would look at Werner Krauss’s ghoulish face beneath that top hat and ever suspect something criminal? (Only The Penguin, probably.) Of course, things aren’t always what they seem when it comes to Caligari, and the film is one of the first in the medium to take advantage of the twist ending. Thankfully nothing as punchline-friendly as an M. Night Shyamalan flick, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is a haunting reminder that any one of us can often be just as maddeningly dangerous as those who seem to pose the biggest threat.