I ran this video, which I slapped together myself, about eleven months ago, but since today is the first day of October, and I’m not planning on going overboard with Halloween stuff in the blog this year, I thought I’d bring it back to life and share it again so we can start the month with just a bit of spookiness. With minor re-writing, here’s the story of how this video came to be…
Above, you see me basically scratching a 40-plus-year itch.
Forty-one or forty-two years ago, when I was a communications major at what was then West Virginia State College, I was taking a film appreciation class called “Horror and Fantasy in Film.” Because it was so long ago, I’m not certain who the professor was. My fuzzy memory says it must have been Bart Weiss, but my heart tells me it was my old friend, Danny Boyd.
The reason I think it was Bart was because I’m pretty sure that this was prior to the time Danny started teaching at State. However, the characteristics of this story sound more like something Danny would do.
One night early in the semester, we were to watch the silent horror classsic, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. It was being shown with a silent, 16mm print (that I have since learned was more than a tad butchered). Since there was no sound, the professor asked if anybody had any appropriate music handy (this was in the days before the internet, wifi and Spotify). I remembered that I had a recently-released album by The Stranglers on a home-made cassette in my car. A quick run to the parking lot for Wallace Hall and I retrieved the C-90 with the full album on it.
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is a very influential 1920 German silent horror film, directed by Robert Wiene and written by Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer. Considered the quintessential work of German Expressionist cinema, it tells the story of an insane hypnotist (Werner Krauss) who uses a somnambulist (Conrad Veidt) to commit murders. The film features a dark and twisted visual style, with sharp-pointed forms, oblique and curving lines, structures and landscapes that lean and twist in unusual angles, and shadows and streaks of light painted directly onto the sets. Some folks consider it a zombie movie, but it really isn’t. It is dripping with style and without this movie, we likely would not have had Nosferatu, Dracula, Frankenstein, Freaks, or any of the other major works of cinematic horror. You can see visual cues swiped from this film in everything from Forbidden Zone to Edward Scissorhands.
It’s an extremely influential film. Even 102 years after its release it served as the inspiration for the second half of 2022’s Halloween episode of SpongeBob Squarepants, which featured “Dr. Calimari” and lots of German Expressionism.
Back to our story: With a cassette player set to go, the film was started and, in my memories and other people who were there, it synced up perfectly. Even some of the songs with lyrics fit perfectly with the narrative.
The only problem was that, even in its butchered form, this print of the film ran nearly an hour, but The Strangler’s album, The Gospel According To The Men In Black, only ran about 42 minutes. At the very end of that side of the tape, with three minutes to fill, I’d dropped in a song from Joe Jackson’s Jumpin’ Jive album, which did not fit the mood of the movie at all. A mad dash to the cassette player and a quick rewind, and we had our unexpectedly appropriate music back.
Flash forward to 1990. Among my many friends made at the Charleston Playhouse was one John Estep (Sham Voodoo to his friends), who had been in both The Defectors and Clownhole, two legendary Charleston bands. We were hanging out one night, talking about horror movies, and Sham brought up Dr. Caligari. He started telling me about this weird film class he was in that showed it, and that they’d set it to music by The Stranglers. It was at that point that we realized that, even though we first met in 1989, we had been in the same class together at State eight or nine years earlier.
Flash forward again, this time to the Friday before Halloween last year: I’d just gotten home from my guest stint with Ann Magnuson on Josh Gaffin’s Afternoon Show on Status Quo, and I had some time to kill before dinner, so I grabbed a copy of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari off of Archive.org, and pulled up a folder of Stranglers music, and slapped ’em together in my trusty video editing program. This was rendered very quickly and is pretty low-res and blocky, but that sort of adds to the charm.
This is not a perfect recreation of the experience that night in 1981 or 82. The copy of the film I downloaded was painstakingly restored to its original length, and had color tints added to it to replicate the original film experience. That night so long ago that it lined up with The Stranglers’ album, it was with a stark black-and-white print, and big chunks of it were missing. So I supplemented this version with cuts from other Stranglers albums and repeated a few tracks. I also eliminated one song that didn’t work too well. I’d been planning to do this since probably 2007, when I learned to edit digital video.
While at first blush this may seem a little elaborate and obsessive, I only spent about half an hour on it, so don’t expect a freaking masterpiece. If you haven’t seen The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari yet, it’s probably not a good idea to make this the first version you watch. Think of this one as a bizarre fan edit that will only be truly appreciated by one or two living people.