Dr. Caligari (1989) ****1/2

A non-pornographic film from Stephen Sayadian, the man behind the fan favorite Cafe Flesh (1982), Dr. Caligari casts a formidable bid for the most colorfully flamboyant and lurid movie ever made. Recalling the premise of Sayadian’s script for the episodic adult feature Nightdreams (1981), Dr. Caligari concerns the titular harridan’s perverted experiments in sexuality at her insane asylum. Her latest guinea pigs include Mrs. Van Houten (Laura Albert), who suffers from psychotic “nympholepsy”, and redneck serial killer and cannibal Mr. Pratt (John Durbin in a thoroughly grotesque and charismatic performance). Meanwhile, subordinate Dr. Avol (Fox Harris of immortal Repo Man infamy) discovers that Dr. Caligari has finally gone too far and resolves to bring her reign of erotic terror to an end.

Shoulder pads were invented for Madeleine Reynal, evilly graceful and domineering in the role of the mad scientist, while Fox Harris gets the most outrageous showcase of his career for his special brand of over-the-top camp craziness, and sultry, unforgettable Laura Albert furnishes eye confection of the most delectable order as the hallucinating nymphomaniac patient. Dr. Caligari‘s true star, however, is writer-director-designer-cinematographer Stephen Sayadian, whose sight gags, wacky color schemes, sick sense of menacing humor, and flair for the tastefully tacky permeate and elevate this 80s oddity, updating the original’s expressionism for the decade of eye-popping neon. Shot almost entirely in chiaroscuro, Dr. Caligari occasionally evinces the feel of a real horror movie and packs some genuinely disturbing content with its hat-tips to incest, sadomasochism, and Cronenbergian body angst. The only thing Sayadian’s opus is missing – other than emotional depth, obviously – is the narrative momentum that might have prevented the film from overstaying its welcome slightly even at 80 minutes.

4.5 out of 5 stars. Be sure to check Dr. Caligari out in its entirety on YouTube.

 

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