As promised, here’s a quick rundown of Mondo Macabro’s “Limited Edition” Blu-ray release of Dr. Caligari. It comes in a cool, double-sided slipcover, has a booklet containing an essay titled Going on a Radiation Vacation by Heather Drain, and two discs, playable in all regions, one being “4k Ultra-HD”. The restored picture is stunning, revealing surprising new details. I feel like David Hemmings in Blow-Up, spotting the gunman, then corpse. Between its impeccable image quality and the timelessness of its costumes and hairdos, this “surrealist neo-noir reworking of the 1920 German expressionist classic” maintains a modern look. I’d believe any release year they slapped on it.
Extra features include commentary by writer/director/production designer/art director Stephen Sayadian, interviews with Sayadian, co-writer Jerry Stahl, antagonist Madeleine Reynal, and star Laura Albert (screen-recorded via VideoLink), a trailer, and optional English subtitles. The interviews combined are as long as the movie. Stahl’s is the shortest at 9:43. I would have listened to him talk for an hour. Although I’d already pieced together most of the movie’s production from previous interviews, these extras offer quite a few revelations. Overall, this release is a massive upgrade from my old DVD and was worth the price of admission. Below are twenty things I learned or didn’t notice before. For a summary of the plot, please refer to my long-winded review.
1) The opening shot was the final one filmed. We can now clearly see that Caligari’s asylum is several distinct buildings.
2) The slogan “better living thru chemistry” was taken from the DuPont chemical company.
3) Stahl seems to say in his interview that he wasn’t consciously referencing or commenting on anything with his dialogue. “When you grow up in America on TV, when your parents are basically the TV, you just absorb these things on a cellular level, and when you write, sometimes to your own surprise, they come back out… Caligari, in some way, in a very specific way now that I look at it, mirrored what was happening societally at the time when psycho-pharmaceutical solutions to mental and emotional problems began to dominate.”
4) Madeleine Reynal (the title character) was a blonde, Argentinian print model with little acting experience, chosen for her body language. I assumed she was doing a bad German accent, but that’s just the way she speaks.
5) The glue used to apply her fake eyebrows left her eyes red and irritated. Sayadian took one look and remarked “I love it!”
6) Laura Albert was chosen for the part of Mrs. Van Houten because she was the only actress who didn’t mention how weird the script was.
7) The woman who appears to Van Houten in her TV is also Laura Albert. Their interaction is an homage to Videdrome.
8) The dialogue coming from the TV is hard to make out because it’s distorted. The fine folks at Mondo Macabro have transcribed it for this release. It reads:
I know you’re watching me. I feel your eyes like wet fingers touching me in special places. I’m so moist I can’t stop. I’m feeling so… so open. Do you know what shame is? When you feel your sex like a live thing doing its own bad, little dance? Expose me, Mr. Gone Gone. Make me squirm like your eyeballs in their sockets. And do you really know I’m juicy bad? Wanna wanna watch? You wanna watch me shimmy? I’ve got a shimmy button really low down. Take me, daddy, please. I am a tongue bomb. I am life on Venus. I know how to make it sizzle. Pleasure will short your circuits. I could leave you an erotic husk. Am I your sex dream, or maybe a whole new me?
9) The baby mask worn by Van Houten’s intruder was modeled after a particular type of doll called a “Kewpie”.
10) The second Van Houten shown from the breasts down observing herself being raped was played by Michelle Bauer, making her third consecutive appearance for Stephen Sayadian.
11) The crutches supporting the breasts of the patient at 18 minutes are referencing Salvador Dali, who often put them in his paintings.
12) Fox Harris (Dr. Avol) was terminally ill during shooting. Though he didn’t share this, he urged Sayadian to pick up the pace.
13) Avol was named after Beverly Hills neurosurgeon Milton Avol, a convicted slumlord Sayadian read about in the L.A. Times, which gave Dr. Caligari a favorable review.
14) The term “Charlie chokes”, meaning artichokes, came from a patient Sayadian worked with at a mental hospital.
15) The entire movie was storyboarded by an artist named H.R. Gerard, “almost like a graphic novel”. Gerard also storyboarded Evilspeak (1981), starring Clint Howard.
16) The large-headed crying woman who appears in this, the music video for Wall of Voodoo’s “Do it Again”, and Untamed Cowgirls of the Wild West Part 2: Jammy Glands From the Rio Grande was meant to resemble Margaret Keane’s subjects.
17) The topless human lamp seen for a few seconds from 1:00:08 to 1:02:20 is porn actress Nina DePonca, credited as “Vera Butler”. Sayadian erroneously identifies her as “Nina Ponchilla”.
18) Cannibal Gus Pratt quotes two different presidents. “A thousand points of light” was a phrase used by George Bush Sr. “Where is the rest of me?” is screamed by Ronald Reagan in Kings Row (1942).
19) Pratt’s soliloquy toward the end was recycled from the unproduced script for Hormone Alley.
20) Hollywood legend Lawrence Tierney once asked for a sexy movie to watch while spending the night at horror director Jeff Burr’s home. Burr, perhaps jokingly, handed him a VHS copy of Dr. Caligari. The next morning, Tierney said something to the effect of “Nobody in the world could jerk off to that!” Sayadian heard this and took it as a compliment.