Metro Weekly

Killer Sleep: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari gets a singular score

Tom Teasley crafts a unique score for the silent masterpiece The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

The world’s “first true horror film” has been given a digital makeover. “We did some zooming and a few other things like that to heighten the suspense,” says composer Tom Teasley. “Also to bring out the angularity of the sets a little bit more.”

Teasley worked with Jim Robeson on his film edit of Robert Weine’s 1920 masterpiece, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, and this weekend, Constellation Theatre screens the silent film, while Teasley performs, live, an original score he penned for it.

The story of a tyrannical hypnotist who deploys a hapless sleepwalker to commit murders, Caligari is regarded as one of the preeminent examples of German Expressionist cinema. According to Wikipedia, film historians have noted that Caligari “reflects a subconscious need in German society for a tyrant, and it is an example of Germany’s obedience to authority and unwillingness to rebel against deranged authority.” And though it predated the Nazis by more than a decade, the movie foreshadows the rise of Adolf Hitler.

The only live performer during the screenings, Teasley attempts to “give voice…to the action.” He often finds himself communicating with the screen.

“What is so fascinating are the sets — very angular and cubist, almost Picasso-esque,” he says, noting the funhouse mirror of the film’s imagery, with everything slightly off and askew. “I find myself playing to the sets a lot.”

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari featuring Tom Teasley runs Thursday, Aug. 10, and Friday, Aug. 11, at 8 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 12, at 3 and 8 p.m., and Sunday, Aug. 13, at 3 p.m., at the Source Theatre, 1835 14th St. NW. Tickets are $25 to $55. Call 202-204-7741 or visit

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Doug Rule covers the arts, theater, music, food, nightlife and culture as contributing editor for Metro Weekly.