Devil Does the Doctor 

Devil Music Ensemble performs during silent Dr. Caligari

Think the corn maze is the creepiest Halloween activity you've seen? Fans of autumn spooks are in for a treat this October because a new trick coming to town is sure to make the maze look a little too corny.

At The Flicks on October 17, you'll be able to see the silent German horror film, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. That should be sufficiently frightening, but leave it to The Flicks to exhibit something supremely creative and spooky for our All Hallow's enjoyment.

At the showing of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, the Devil Music Ensemble will perform an original score while the movie plays on the screen above. Live performers, weird old movie, odd sense of foreboding ... it's like the Rocky Horror Picture Show but without gold panties and no need to dodge flying toast.

The film, directed by Robert Wiene in 1919, is perhaps the most cherished film in German Expressionism, which embraces a more artistic position than the same-era films of Hollywood. Dr. Caligari stands out in the horror genre, too, among principal films such as Vampyr and Nosferatu.

The film takes place in the wake of WWI, during a time of tormented German consciousness and national chaos. Dr. Caligari arrives in the small German town of Holstenwall as a fair sideshow with his cabinet. In the cabinet? Caligari's somnambulist named Cesare, who has the ability to predict the future when Caligari wakes him from sleeping in a box (a.k.a., cabinet).

Three friends, Alan, Francis and Jane, visit Caligari and Cesare. Alan asks Cesare, "How long will I live?" and Cesare's prediction is that Alan will die that night. Murders ensue and suspicion falls on Caligari and his mysterious crony. But who is the real murderer? Is Caligari really who he says he is? Can they make a film without a lovey-dovey inclusion to the plot? To the last question, I can answer no. There is a romance, of course. In answer to the first two questions, I can't give away the spooky secrets.

It's an intriguing story that most film students have studied as a work of art for its grotesque and beautiful visuals. And the use of expressionism (the opposite of realism) to tell a story using art rather than rendering reality means there's a political dimension as well. Bonus! (Think power and puppets in that time of war.)

Imagine the hairs on your neck sticking straight out as the haunting sounds of the Devil Music Ensemble accompany the black and white mystery above.

The DME has taken hold of a genre not really worn out. No, not boy band pop. The trio from Boston has established itself as one of the primary American groups composing and performing scores for silent films.

DME's contemporary jazzy rock is produced by Brendon Wood on guitars, lap steel and synthesizer; Jonah Rapino on electric violin, vibraphone and synthesizer; and Tim Nylander on drums and percussion. Three guys, lots of instruments.

The DME's market is yet to be exhausted but is quickly garnering raves from vintage film buffs as well as music fans. The band has spent the last six years together in various forms--originally a rock band and still occasionally gigging in Boston as a country outfit--which is just a testament to the expanse of their skills.

With Dr. Caligari, the trip can create a folksy dreamlike ambiance to a film so shadowy and dated. It's the art of mixing old and new that makes any experience layered and satisfying, when it works. And the mounting reviews of DME's Dr. Caligari show are rushing in with passion and opulence, what with them having complemented silent films in museums, theaters and performing arts centers. This Halloween tour takes them all over the United States.

So skip it and go for the corn maze if you're too scared to experience something unusual.

The Devil Music Ensemble will perform to The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari at The Flicks, 646 Fulton Street, October 17 at 7 p.m.

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