The Madness of Dr. Caligari

Layout 1


My previous reviews of this book’s editor, Joseph S. Pulver, Sr. – HERE


Ramsey Campbell —– THE WORDS BETWEEN

Damien Angelica Walters — Take a Walk in the Night, My Love

Rhys Hughes ——— Confessions of a Medicated Lurker

Robert Levy —— CONVERSION

Maura McHugh — A Rebellious House

David Nickle —– The Long Dream

Janice Lee ——— Eyes Looking

Richard Gavin — Breathing Black Angles

S.P. Miskowski — Somnambule

Nathan Carson — The Projection Booth

Jeffrey Thomas — The Mayor of Ephemera

Nadia Bulkin —— Et Spiritus Sancti

Orrin Grey ——- Blackstone: A Hollywood Gothic




Paul Tremblay — Further Questions for the Somnambulist

Michael Cisco — The Righteousness of Conical Men

Molly Tanzer —– That Nature Which Peers Out in Sleep

Daniel Mills —– A SLEEPING LIFE

John Langan —- To See, To Be Seen

Gemma Files —– CALIGARISM


When I start real-time reviewing these stories (hopefully before Christmas), my comments will appear in the thought stream below….

29 thoughts on “The Madness of Dr. Caligari

  1. THE WORDS BETWEEN by Ramsey Campbell

    “Someone will find someone,” he said.

    This is the perfect expressionist nightmare of a text with words morphing, from the viewpoint of Rees Ross, ostensibly an early-retired man now studying films including CALIGARI under Dr Craig, his relationship with the younger students – and with himself, eventually a balanced synergy between sleeper and waker, laptopper and ablutionist – but which is which, whose the motive force, which the flyer? A brilliant introduction to a fiction book stirred by this film. A classic Campbell, too, that reminded me slickly of Grin of the Dark, if my own ageing memory serves me.

  2. TAKE A WALK IN THE NIGHT MY LOVE by Damien Angelica Walters

    “All shall be well.”

    A haunting tale we’re told of sleepwalking and a married couple, he a plastic surgeon, she now 50 years old, 15 years between them, been married 25 years, once visited Barbados – he unable to do enough for her, to grant her every wish, she now feeling like an actress in “an elaborate movie set.”
    Seems as if meant to echo a famous novel, but for me echoes more these lines from Little Gidding by TS Eliot –

    “History may be servitude,
    History may be freedom. See, now they vanish,
    The faces and places, with the self which, as it could, loved them,
    To become renewed, transfigured, in another pattern.
    Sin is Behovely, but
    All shall be well, and
    All manner of thing shall be well.”


    Holstenwall is depicted here as a place full of straight angles and mad people, the narrator the maddest of them all, I sense. I am afraid this book’s theme has made this author reach levels of madness that will send the reader mad, too. The maddest conceits this author has ever created and I have read most of his work, so I am in a good position to judge. But of course, I must now be mad, having read it. I trust it will wear off before I read the next story.

  4. CONVERSION by Robert Levy

    “Settle down. I’m a doctor, remember?”

    Abusive sessions of conversion or aversion therapy. Sexpressionism as fable. An immodest proposal to create a monster as its moral. So gratuitously blatant there were signs of some sessions already vanishing into gaps even as I read them. Not even madness is an excuse. Unless madness can create its own gaps, its own tabula rasa?

  5. A REBELLIOUS HOUSE by Maura McHugh

    “They mistake your lack of engagement with absence, or idiocy.”

    From aversionary therapy to catatonic…
    A woman, a bad or good Penny, is ‘you’ in this remarkably effective work, of madness or catatonia being treated by the head doctor with his helpers as a sort of choreography or oracle-searching or, eventually, theatrical therapy that is passed to the reader him- or herself by a recondite inferred repetition of your being IN a rebellious house as well as BEING that house. Some stunning descriptions of the place and the people you provide the reader. Not calibrated, not even collaborated, but caligarized.
    A conspiracy of treatment, where you try to fight back, one involving methodical placement of toys or sleepwalking, a dance of statues with your fellow patients, a treatment in earlier cahoots with your husband, a treatment with the risk of ECT should it fail. But man is eventually your bait or guinea pig…for your oracle? I wonder whether, as a man myself, I should give my own interpretation of your words…
    “With ambition comes risk.”
    A tightrope my gestalts ever tread,

  6. THE LONG DREAM by David Nickle

    Penny’s husband in the previous story was Conrad.
    Nickle’s, if not Penny’s, Conrad is now younger in this madly captivating adumbration of him where he is seen as subject to a dubious past and resultant delusions, such as Oedipal relations with his mother, a land he believed existed called Tarethia as well as the Moon where detailed adventures and beliefs attach, also aloft in the gondola of a balloon, subject, too, to Vienna as a centre for psychiatric treatment, of course, a time when the Great War is something else needing post-traumatic treatment. But when Conrad is later accused of a dreadful crime in another town, psychiatrists are called to examine him so as to declare him unfit for trial through his madness, and the reader finds himself one of these psychiatrists, and we damn Conrad sane.
    I know I was there; I did not need to read to the end of this work, even if its length allowed me to do so. I have often thought, since starting these gestalt real-time reviews in 2008, that the only way to truly dreamcatch a work would be to be in it. And thus it is.

  7. EYES LOOKING by Janice Lee

    “and he couldn’t bear to look and he couldn’t bear to look away.”

    This is a powerful piece, making this book increasingly seem like a Fedogan and Bremer, not a Fether and Tarr, mad asylum wherein I am being treated by its arch doctor, rather than a mere reader of it. (F&B first got their hands on me, down to my very boots, in one of their slipcased books, in 1994…)
    This story is an amazing minimalist theme and variations on a man’s regrets feeding on regrets, something it makes me empathise with, perhaps justly, regrets running away with themselves, described and re-experienced, eyes looking…

    “and the head of the baby had been so very large”

  8. BREATHING BLACK ANGLES by Richard Gavin

    “But then we came together. It was then that our talents began to make sense. They were pieces of larger whole. We are shards of a broken mirror, Melanie once whispered to us in the sleep hall one midnight, and now we’re putting the mirror back together. Soon we’ll be able to see.”

    …like the gestalt I hope I am beginning to build here.
    This work allows us to see Caligari’s asylum as a sanctuary, for those women who, against the Nazi-like Manifest, are trained to free other women from their yoke. It is as if evil is fighting evil, a somnambulist terror force, with these women tutored into using for their ease of passage the straight and sharp angles of buildings as well as social media and slivers of the night, the dark geometry and surreptitiousness of fell purpose. This seems to be a fight against both those who wish to liberate and those who wish to capture or captivate – an oblique message for our Trumpish times, an imaginarium of energy that is paradoxically both bolstered and fought against by justice warriors and nefarians alike? This book’s madness for madness sake is threatening or promising to become almost refreshing…!
    And thus to obviate the once scandalous ease of times when “one man couldn’t resist swooping in to give Desdemona one last rough, unbidden groping.”

  9. SOMNAMBULE by S.P. Miskowski

    “You can never know how quiet rooms are until you’ve seen them full of kids laughing and fighting and playing, and then empty.”

    Earlier today, I was talking generally on FB about ‘nailing’ stories for this real-time review site. I think some people thought it an odd expression to use. This story has levels of narrator and listener, some listeners becoming narrators about someone else narrating to them; in fact I am now so obsessed with this recurrent rhythm, I am not sure how many layers there actually were, probably less than I remember. Indeed the exact nature of the linking might be inadvertently misrepresented above, too. It has sort of nailed me with this onward compelling drive of its nested narrations but also with a desperate feeling that I haven’t yet seen the point come out the other side of me. This story itself, to my mind, thus needs a full nailing in the context of this book’s eponymous madness, with a plot involving women giving childcare services, and other women accepting that childcare, often a regular childcare routine, at other times it is more emergency childcare than anything else, together with a recurring cigarette habit, a perfume as part of hypnosis therapy, sleepwalking like I may be sleepwalking as I write this, marital cruelty from a husband, brotherly relationship to a sister, a boy child who’s caught up in such interlocking issues, a perfume bottle that’s endlessly threaded like a baton from narrator to narrator, from the story’s end back to its beginning, just as I sense this whole book will become a ouroboric gestalt of nested narrations, with each reader (sleepwalking or not) serving as the means of the book’s cohesive stigmata.

  10. THE PROJECTION BOOTH by Nathan Carson

    “Lost kernels—floorbound innocuous caltrops that delayed their destiny of devourment, at least by human mouths; rats and roaches were all too happy to pick up the slack in the haunted art-house Cinemausoleum.”

    That’s an extract from the story narrator’s own writing. I have now learnt from google what ‘caltrops’ are but now I wonder if David I. Masson’s famous ‘caltraps’ word was a typo!
    This story about a story is a brilliantly written literary trip about this trippy narrator working as a cinema projectionist (most of it happening tomorrow, 1st December), his backstory, his grievance about his ex girl friend called Genuine (with whom he once ran a business inventing RPGs) and the vengeance he seems to want to wreak during a performance of Caligari 3000 (a porny depiction of a female version of our eponymous doctor), his later forced driving on a cartrip (or caltrap?) towards his own asylumnisation. And much else.

  11. THE MAYOR OF EPHEMERA by Jeffrey Thomas

    “Then, shortly after the sky had regained its feeble green light, he emerged from his tall skinny house, followed by a figure pedaling the red tricycle.”

    This FEELS like a newly discovered tale that I would not have been surprised to read in THE BIG BOOK OF SCIENCE FICTION, slightly old-fashioned but with imaginative qualities that mark it out as a classic that needs preserving. I mean that as a giant compliment.
    It sort of pre-figures the ephemeral world wherein some of us live today and interact bodilessly. It also reminds me, for good or ill, of my state of mind as I reach old age:-
    “There will be no someday. No days, nor nights. Only dream. Beautiful, blissful dream, as dream never existed before. Sweet, endless, and utter.”
    Sleepwalking through late life towards some sort of half-life or death.
    Here, the protagonist wakes from this communal ephemera, and senses he may have been sleepwalking, wakes into this astonishing believable genius loci of cyborgiaan or robotic ‘custodians’ that do the odd jobs around the sleepers-dreamers, some custodians in entropy, because there are no custodians to care for custodians, with birds nesting inside them.
    A maze like city, with narrowing alleys etc
    “Over time, with the seismic shifting of the world beneath and the vagaries of the weather beyond Ephemera’s surrounding wall, the streets had warped and grown more radically humped, the turns of the alleys sharper and more abrupt.”
    Our protagonist now seems to be the one-eyed in the land of the blind, as he de-brains some of the dreamers, including the Mayor, and sends them packing out of the city, leaving him as a sort of Caligarified usurper…
    I sense I have not done justice to the detailed creation of this world and its machinations. But strangely it both horrified and comforted me, in equal measures, a work that I probably will never forget.

  12. ET SPIRITUS SANCTI by Nadia Bulkin

    “Jane drew the curtains of the carriage and saw the hooded masses on bent knee, their faces gripped by grippe or consumption or lockjaw.”

    The story’s real songbird – strictly forbidden in this striven land and thus there is an attempt to replace it for Princess Jane with some wooden ones that remind me of the skull-nesting ones in the Jeffrey Thomas – is called Alan by the Princess, the same name as the characters in the Campbell and Miskowski: – riven land, not striven, sorry, or perhaps both? A civil war between Parliament and the Royal Court, machinations and tricks of death and non-death, secret rooms, a mysterious quisling, and involving General Caligari and Commander Cesare…and Jane’s fiancé Francis.
    The Distaff eventually faces the Spear with her own blade…
    But for me the real hero was Alan.
    (A muscular style perfect for such a tale of Machiavellian power struggles.)


    “….but the producer on ‘The Corpse Walks’ seemed weirdly calm about the whole thing. “The work will get done,” he would say in his sort of monotone voice. “The work is all that matters.” He had a habit of looking over your shoulder when he was talking to you, as though he was actually talking to someone standing just behind you.”

    The reader sitting behind me tells me this is a creepy and cheery story of a ‘cheapie monster movie’ written by the tandem-pseudonym of Blackstone, one of whom is the woman narrator behind him… better that than being an actress playing girls in grass skirts, she tells us, as well as telling us about the so-called actor playing the Corpse who is a lanky one and seems to have a prehensile ability to snatch one of this book’s birds from the air…. Anyone mad enough to notice that Garlic is a near eponymous anagram?

  14. THE BALLET OF DR. CALIGARI by Reggie Oliver

    “I could have constructed a pastiche of, say Alban Berg, or Webern with a hint of Kurt Weill, and I believed myself thoroughly capable of bringing it off.”

    Pastiche, or, rather, constructive cubist mutation of such composers’ works blended as one. Wishful thinking is more than half the battle towards creation, I find.
    This is a story-archetype of a story, a REAL crafted traditional story story rather than a jagged vision or off-the-wall dream such as in the work of the painters mentioned here like Matisse or Braque. The story’s text duly uses all the Caligari names from the film including a feminisation of the sleepwalker Cesare for a ballet, and there is also a svelte woman whose creepy love-making feels a bit like having sex with a shadow, plus a 75 year old composer who commissions the young narrator to compose the music to fulfil a long-held, but imputedly recurrent tragic, ambition of creating a Caligari ballet (in symbiosis with Giselle, perhaps). Although this is a story story, it’s a madness, too. Just like this review of it, a genuine review in that it gives my truly felt reaction, but also a mad pastiche of one. And the narrator glimpses at the end a cubist town like that in the Caligari film as slipped in by some other power up the pecking-order of narration, just like we are shown an asylum ‘on the borders of Essex and Suffolk’ by a puckish story-teller, or by someone who “was a stranger to the graces of true informality” like the old man called Dan.
    Not sure if all of this worked, I am afraid. Tell me what you think.

  15. BELLMER’S PRIDE or, THE GAME OF THE DOLL by Cody Goodfellow

    “Kneeling over the doll, he tore away the champagne-tinted silk blouse. Its belly was hollow, a tiny theater,…”

    The Doll c.1936 by Hans Bellmer 1902-1975I am afraid I lost the plot here, my fault, not the story’s, no doubt. A seemingly well-written – almost TOO well-written for my sensitive taste – mayhem at the end of the Third Reich in Germany, involving all manner of gory and psycho-sexual / bodily horror, and Bellmer’s doll, and girls whose names are palindromes… oh yes, Caligari’s mentioned, too.

    “The cannibals wrapped the severed limbs in the canvases of a Van Gogh, a Cezanne and a Picasso and bore them off into the skeleton city.”


    “Nothing moves. The shadows are painted on the walls.”

    From our experience, we don’t think we can ever be disappointed by a Michael Griffin work. This is a tale that perhaps fulfils even beyond our expectations, a tale of a man who has suffered from severe insomnia and is treated by the mechanistic therapy of Doctor Zyz, the vivid description of which leads us into a convoluted session of empathised regressions regarding a girl friend called Hanna (mixed and remixed with images of food preparation, music…) and a small girl who was murdered, with the Doctor himself appearing in such regressions, but none of it is as it really seems.
    If you enjoy work by this author you will also enjoy work by Ralph Robert Moore, and vice versa, and you can’t fail to enjoy either of them – if ‘enjoy’ is the right word! Perhaps the better word for experiencing their special literary abilities is ‘endurise’?

    “Physicality trembles with wanting, as on the cliff’s edge before a dive, or the verge of penetrating a new lover for the first. Desire so great finally will become irresistible.”


    “We will ask our questions and we will have our answers no matter the answers.”

    Something defiantly experi-mental about this presentation of three vertical parallel lines of questions – suitably stepped for overlapping questioners and us readers – the columns being headed ‘a woman’, ‘a man’ and ‘a child’. Perhaps the ultimate existential incantation. As well as a child’s fearful side of things in the sexual plague of yearning madness it has caused in our society? Potentially terrifying. Sleepwalking into a spreadsheet.


    “I wasn’t connected to the world. And the mystery didn’t exactly reconnect me. What it did, was that it made my disconnection into something, a mystery. I wasn’t just disconnected without portfolio now, I was formally, officially disconnected from the great realism of the black algae it all grew from.”

    An example of high quality Cisco, this is Noir Spring, the Case of Councillor Hensig, and I am given the job to investigate it, but who am I? One of many different Doctor Wilsons, with “cool sunglasses”, a reporter after scoops or a sleuth after clues? Just one more Therapy made incarnate, in a city of cones?
    You know, I actually rode this mad story with a relaxed ease and enjoyment. It’s a rodeo of words and events, but part of me was still me as the other part frolicked in it. One of my family said recently that they are worried about signs of my propensity towards some sort of senile dementia, just a sign that it’s beginning. I have indeed begun to feel ‘disconnected without portfolio’, often a pleasant laid-back feeling where death is no longer feared, and, so, as my real-time reviewing begins to tail off, as it’s bound to do sooner or later, you will know why. This story was written for someone just like me arguably on the edge of entering what I have long called ‘cone zero’, that ageing hiatus between sanity and madness, and for that I am grateful.

    “The motionless night air was close, and heat reradiating from the glass cones was trapped beneath the low ceiling of clouds that billowed as people scraped them. Something was frantic about people in the street here, they darted from place to place, their gestures were abrupt, but then they would hold a posture for a moment before letting it go, and it was only during those pauses that they had faces, in just the same way that they only had names in the intervals between therapies.”

    On the other hand, it may be a false alarm.


    “He sets aside the remote, and closes the cabinet doors—but not before noting, happily, that in the total blackness of his room the screen’s light makes everything perfect: black and white and sharp, just as it should be. No pointless color intrudes; no curves trespass here.”

    This, like ‘The Ballet of Dr. Caligari’, is a traditional story about potential madness, not a madness about madness as some of the other stories successfully are in this book, but, this time, it is a traditional story that works on all levels. It is the first story, so far in this book, that delves the detail of the Caligari film to its bottom bone, as well as its essential boner. Sharp-edged fetiche as well as rôle-play in the world of trespassing curves (in more ways than one!), involving a video hire shopkeeper as costumed somnambulist with IKEA cabinet and, later, one of his customers. But the intriguing loin-stirring question, possibly answered at the end, concerns which of spear and distaff out-rôles the other.

  20. A SLEEPING LIFE by Daniel Mills

    “You see?” he says. “You hear how the little lad screams? All will soon be well.”
    “And all manner of things be well.”

    …and so we return in this book to that couplet quoted from Eliot earlier in this review, as the narrator is born and narrates as a baby onward, a bit like Tristram Shandy or even like the narrator, still a foetus, in McEwan’s recent Nutshell, waking up like in Evenson’s Warren, without yet an evensong, or even Evenson’s Collapse of Horses, horses that seem to be part of things as life’s machinations occur around the narrator, as he sleepwalks through life, the sense I get, partly waking, perhaps, involved in frauds and crime, first suckling his mother, later dealing with his father, or a religious Father, in an orphanage…
    Like the narrator, I sleepwalked through his narration, too, only picking up bits and pieces, but knowing it was powerful and spiritual, and still going on, even now, without me.

  21. TO SEE, TO BE SEEN by John Langan

    “And in the seats, watching his progress through the houses… what? What audience regarded his performance? He didn’t know.”

    This struck me at first as a traditional story like the Tanzer and Oliver, a sane tale about madness. But I had to change my mind. This is perhaps the book’s optimum tale, not a mad one about madness, nor a sane one about sanity, nor a mad one about sanity, nor indeed a sane one about madness, like the other stories so far in this book. This is an effective vision, neither sane or mad, about the toxic mortgage depression of 2008, the bankers’ crisis, using men used to empty the houses when the debtors left, one of them soaking up the vibes left in the shell of house, and in one the cabinet once used in the Caligari film for Cesare, the geometries of Borges, re-enactment or rôle-playing again, and something else transcending all this, something that happens at the end utterly and gratuitously visionary and deep-in-your-stigmatised-gullet meaningful (without being meaningful at all.)
    Just as an aside, I also loved the toxic mortgaged houses themselves from that era seen as a sharp-angled, narrow-alleyed stage-set for a sub-prime Holstenwall.

  22. CALIGARISM by Gemma Files

    “Expressionism, she watches her fingers write. [ A] reaction against the atom-splitting of Impressionism” (Kasimir Edschmid). World reproduced as perceived; emotions expressed through extreme visuals; aesthetic value exchanged for emotional power. The best impulse is always whatever elicits any response, even disgust.”

    This is the book’s convincing coda of the eponymous madness made manifest. I sense my own madness grows alongside it, and the only way to judge madness, I submit, is with more madness, and I felt my madness, even at the stage of the Cisco story full-fledged even if, in real life, I only then felt myself on the edge of ageing dementia. But with these Caligarism Files, I know it was then nothing but a preliminary madness that persuaded me that ‘edge’ was the appropriate word to use, only partially calibrated (or Caligarified, as I think I earlier put it in the now forgotten back reaches of this review that feels as if it were perpetrated beyond some veil of irretrievable time.)
    Meanwhile, this highly sophisticated coda strikingly portrays not only the paradoxes of non-reality and reality via the concept of the unreliable narrator (by means of (ostensibly) two female roommates and a female doctor), but also the actual intrinsic history, cinematic effect, production qualities and disturbing nature of the famous Caligari film itself. I think I now know this film better than simply the act of seeing it might once have conveyed.
    I have thus been genuinely disturbed by this coda as the final filter of this book, and the eventual gestalt itself of the whole book still continues with that effect. Borges and Bosch, notwithstanding.



Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s