Saturday, January 8, 2022

DR. CALIGARI (1989) Movie Review

Dr. Caligari (1989) d. Stephen Sayadian (USA) (80 min)

The only non-hardcore offering from the Artist Commonly Known as Rinse Dream is a knowingly cheeky and theatrical presentation, production-designed to the teeth and performed with great artifice and gusto by its go-for-the-throat ensemble. The “concept” sees the famed Dr. Caligari’s (of the 1920 Robert Wiene classic) granddaughter (Madeleine Reynall) having set up shop as a groundbreaking psychiatrist working with a nymphomaniacal patient (Laura Albert) at the behest of her befuddled husband (Gene Zerna). Meanwhile, the other doctors at the clinic, who question Caligari’s taboo-busting methods, seek to have her booted from the staff.

This simple outline, however, belies the nightmarish, surrealistic vision that Sayadian manifests on what was presumably a relatively small budget, with special acknowledgments given to Ken Diaz’s resourceful prosthetics crew. From a giant tongue that lovingly laves one female patient to the six-foot mammaries protruding from another, hardly a scene goes by without some flashy visual that would elicit a stiffie, er, stiff thumbs up from Screaming Mad George, John Carl Buechler, and/or Rob Bottin.

The screenplay by the director and Jerry Stahl is filled with flowery arch one-liners that fly trippingly off the lips of the wackadoo characters; while none of it makes a lot of sense, it’s highly quotable material that will have you reaching for the rewind button more than once.

Unsurprisingly, nudity and sexual themes abound even as the titillation meter barely registers; it’s hard to get aroused when the babe you were just ogling suddenly starts sporting suppurating sores from her stems.

As energetic and dynamic as Sayadian’s creation is, the sense of “Look How Weird and Wild We Are” gets a little exhausting within the relatively short 80-minute run time, but it’s impossible not to applaud the effort as a whole. For those whose tastes run to the outlandish, a table-straining banquet awaits.

Trivia: Composer Mitchell Froom, who also scored Sayadian’s Cafe Flesh and Nightdreams, is better known as the producer for such pop acts as Crowded House, Los Lobos, Indigo Girls, Pearl Jam, Bonnie Raitt, and Suzanne Vega, to whom he was married for a time. (He’s currently hitched to Vonda Shepard.)


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