Book Review: The Madness of Dr. Caligari, edited by Joseph S. Pulver, Sr.

“A collection of some of the best writers in horror expressing their own takes on the story of the somnambules, hypnosis, and the darkness within our own minds.”

‘A Twisted World of Madness’ by Joseph S. Pulver, Sr. is an introduction to the insanity in store for the reader, or is it more of a warning? Horror wouldn’t be the same without the black and white classic film, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, with its dark and unusual landscapes. Many have found inspiration in the silent German film about an insane hypnotist that uses a sleepwalker to commit murder. From filmmakers to musicians, its influence stretches across generations like a distorted shadow .

‘The Words Between’ by Ramsey Campbell opens the collection with a tale of a man who works so hard writing an essay about the classic film, yet once his tutor reads his work out loud it becomes clear that the words he toiled to write indicate he is obsessed with the tale of Dr. Caligari…to the point of making it reality. In ‘Take a Walk in the Night, My Love’ by Damien Angelica Walters The reader steps into the life of a woman named Julia who seems to be developing a problem with sleepwalking. It’s uncontrollable and her life takes on a sense of paranoia as she begins to doubt her sanity and who she really is.

Holstenwall appears to be a village constructed of pure madness, all sharp lines and angles. Our narrator proclaims to be a doctor, though admits he is sick in the head. He feels imprisoned in Holstenwall, his escape is something quite shattering in ‘Confessions of a Medicated Lurker’ by Rhys Hughes. ‘Conversion’ by Robert Levy is about a predatory therapist who employs cruel and perverted measures in order to cure a young man of his effeminate tendencies but creates a monster in return.

‘A Rebellious House’ by Maura McHugh tells the story of a woman who retreats within herself to escape how depressing her life is and ends up being placed in the care of a doctor who uses a theatrical brand of therapy. The audience has no idea what she holds within her own mind. ‘The Long Dream’ by David Nickle introduces us to Conrad, an odd young man, the doctors try to break him of the delusions in his mind, images of unreal lands, dwelling on the moon and speaking the language of imps yet he escapes. Years later he is on trial for murder and begs them for help once more from his waking nightmares.

A man recounts all of his regrets in life as a form of therapy to integrate himself with society, but is it worth the agony of recollecting them in ‘Eyes Looking’ by Janice Lee. ‘Breathing Black Angels’ by Richard Gavin is about a secret order, trained by Dr. Caligari. They stalk the oppressive world, liberating the worthy and slaying the true monsters.

After taking a job babysitting, a girl is told an odd story about her employer trying to assist a woman who uses the help of a hypnotists to quit smoking to please her abusive husband in ‘Somnambule’ by S.P. Miskowski.  When she no longer can afford treatment, she uses a perfume that reminds her of her time in therapy and it covers the scent of cigarettes, after a tragic episode the babysitter never sees her client or the child again but later discovers the story of their dark end. ‘The Projection Booth’ by Nathan Carson tells the story of projectionist who gives an old man a ride after viewing an updated version of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. The old man isn’t impressed with the film as it seems far too close to the original.

A town of citizens lost within the realms of their own dreams. Dr. Phemorus warned it was not natural to not eat, work or struggle for survival. The consequences are those that the doctor cannot abide in ‘The Mayor of Ephemera’ by Jeffery Thomas. ‘Et Spiritus Sancti’ by Nadia Bulkin is a fairytale-like telling of a young woman, soon to be queen, and her struggle in a war with Dr. Caligari. There is a traitor in her court, one she seeks intensely. Her answers lie within a secret room within her own castle.

‘Blackstone: A Hollywood Gothic’ by Orrin Grey takes the reader on the set of a 1946 zombie horror where mysterious murders occur, much like those on screen. The crew knows something is odd with a doctor who hangs around on set, and the actor he cares for. ‘The Ballet of Dr. Caligari’ by Reggie Oliver is set in 1983 and tells the story of a young, ambitious composer who is asked to write the score for a legendary choreographer’s final ballet. It happens to be fashioned after the cabinet of Dr. Caligari. A maddening and wonderful read. ‘Bellmer’s Bride or, The Game of the Doll’ by Cody Goodfellow, is about a Nazi general enamored over a girl, ArorA, to the point of being useless. His assistant investigates, worrying that his general is losing his mind and he is his assistants only ticket out of war torn hell. He uncovers a Doctor who uses hypnosis, radio transmissions and the allure of ArorA to gain control of the Reich.

In a sleep research facility Conrad seeks treatment for his struggle with insomnia, stemming from the agony of losing his fiancé in ‘The Insomniac Who Slept Forever’ by Michael Griffin. But at what price can he find relief from the nightmares and guilt of feeling responsible? How long will he undergo such radical treatment and how long will it follow him afterwards? In ‘Further Questions for the Somnambulist’ by Paul Tremblay, we get a glimpse into the mind of the somnambulist gifted with seeing the future. A man, a woman, and a child all ask of him their most troubling and terrifying questions, and receive their answer.

‘The Righteousness of Conical Men’ by Michael Cisco, is a gritty story about a city controlled by “editors” of life, a hypnotist’s death is investigated after learning he was rewriting people’s characters. Our investigator learns the hypnotist’s hands, eyes and larynx was taken from his corpse, someone wanted to remake the hypnotist. The purpose for doing so becomes painfully clear. ‘The Nature Which Peers Out in Sleep’ by Molly Tanzer is about a man who is completely obsessed with The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, so much so that it keeps him from getting close to anyone for fear that they will think he’s completely insane, until he meets Dimitria.

A sleepwalker is used to assist in terrible deeds, can anyone awaken him? Can he remember all that he was involved in and what will happen if he does in ‘A Sleeping Life’ by Daniel Mills. ‘To See, To Be Seen’ by John Langan is a story about a group of movers working to empty abandoned houses. They come across the cabinet used in the infamous film, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. After one worker admits to having some psychic ability, he is asked to step into the cabinet. What he sees is one of the creepiest moments in this anthology.

We close with, ‘Caligarism’ by Gemma Files. Claire’s episodes are rubbing off on her new roommate, the lack of sleep and neediness, her fixation on dreams within dreams. Claire’s obsession on the cabinet of Dr. Caligari and the paranoia of not knowing what is truly real makes for a mind-bending story.

This anthology is a collection of some of the best writers in horror expressing their own takes on the story of the somnambules, hypnosis, and the darkness within our own minds … who else to bring the reader into the twisted realm of waking nightmares? Allow them to become your hypnotist and you their sleepwalker and see for yourself, but as Mr. Pulver mentions, the restraints are only for your comfort … and safety.

                                                                                                                                                 MICHELLE GARZA 

Publisher: Fedogan & Bremer
Paperback: (378pp)
Release Date: 31 October 2016

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