Movie Review : Clash at the Cabinet of Dr. Pretorius 1918 (2014)
Short films are a strange thing. They're great and everybody have their reasons to like them but they're almost universally perceived to be a stepping stone to feature length movies. Shoot a solid short film and MAYBE your feature length project will be financed. There are few experiences more wild and unpredictable than a viewing of short horror films at a festival. Movies that don't suffer financial imperatives are driven by one concern only -> making the best possible art and when dealing with horror films this means you're in for a freaky good time. I was fortunate enough to have lots of demand for short film reviews for horroctober and today I am going to tell you about Taistelu tohtori Pretoriuksen Kabinetista or Clash at the Cabinet of Dr. Pretorious 1918, written a directed by Juho Aittanen.
The story of Clash at the Cabinet of Dr. Pretorius 1918 is embedded in Finnish history so I might've missed important undertones but I believe it goes as follows: Dr. Pretorius (Anu Panula) is a mad scientist transforming innocent victims of the Finnish civil war into monsters for her research on the Leviathan strain, a virus which technically raises the dead. Only problem is that bodies need to be fresh and intact or they turn into violent and soullless creatures. Life is peachy for Dr. Pretorius and her assistant Matti (Harri Huttunen) who have a deal with the army to collect corpses of execution victims and whatever dead body they can find. This precarious balance lasts until the good doctor ends up hauling the wrong corpse home.
Clash at the Cabinet of Dr. Pretorius 1918 is an expressionist found footage movie with Lovecraftian undertones. Ambitious, I know. But does it work? Kind of. It was filmed on 8mm reel, which is the best thing it has going for itself. Director Juho Aittanen makes great use of the rough and peculiar aesthetic of this ancient technology. If you thought early century German expressionist movies were frightening, wait until you see Aittanen's contemporary horror sensibilities filmed through an 8mm lens. His "zombies" are the stuff of nightmares. They put their modern counterparts to shame, really. The movie works on an aesthetic and emotional level the same way old expressionist movies did and still do today. Clash at the Cabinet of Dr. Pretorius 1918 transcends its simple storyline using a simple and ancient idea which can be traced back to Mary Shelley: Science and technology can be used to create terrible, terrible things.
The constant juxtaposition of 8mm, expressionism and contemporary sensibilities eventually becomes a problem for Clash at the Cabinet of Dr. Pretorius 1918. The issue is both technical an stylistic. The sheer quality of the sound clashes with the found footage/expressionist endeavor. The images of Clash at the Cabinet of Dr. Pretorius 1918 are timeless and terrifying but the dubbing sounds like it was made in a high priced studio and make it looks like film students recorded over an old movie. So, that was clumsy. I believe it would've worked considerably better as a silent film. I had other issues with narrative choices, which seemed much too modern for desired approach (army officer dramatically rescuing his brother from the doctor's embrace). The torn nature of Clash at the Cabinet of Dr. Pretorius 1918 reminded me of my copy of F.W Murnau's Nosferatu which inexplicably plays with Type O Negative's album October Rust for soundtrack. Love Peter Steele as much as the next guy, but there isn't anything weirder in the world than watching the immortal Max Schreck do his thing to My Girlfriend's Girlfriend.
The great thing about Clash at the Cabinet of Dr. Pretorius 1918 is that you can watch it online here and make your own damn opinion about it. While it title is unfortunately similar to classic expressionist film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari let me reassure you, it isn't a pastiche of any kind. It has very little to do with the 1920 terror classic. Anyway, Clash at the Cabinet of Dr. Pretorius 1918 is Juho Aittanen's first movie and while it suffers from odd technical and narrative choices, it shows vision, originality and a knack for aesthetics of terror. Early century German Expressionism terrified several generations of movie enthusiasts but contemporary horror filmmaking draws little inspiration from it. Clash at the Cabinet of Dr. Pretorius 1918 is an interesting and at times genuinely terrifying experiment with the genre. It sure is worth the twenty minutes of your time it requires. Give it a shot. It's free and it'll unearth some deeply-rooted terrors.