Rating -

Drama/Pornography (Italy); 1980; Rated R (115 Minutes); Originally Certified X (150 Minutes)

Malcolm McDowell: Caligula
Teresa Ann Savoy: Drusilla
Helen Mirren: Caesonia
Peter O'Toole: Tiberius
John Steiner: Longinus
Guido Mannari: Maco

Produced by Bob Guccione, Franco Rossellini and Jack H. Silverman; Directed by Tinto Brass; Screenwritten by Bob Guccione, Giancarlo Lui and Gore Vidal

Review Uploaded

Written by DAVID KEYES

If there's one thing worse than moviegoers' ignoring fantastic movies, it's filmmakers' resurrecting horrible ones. Most of the time, we can dismiss a cinematic travesty, because we're positive that filmmakers will learn from their mistakes, and will not hold on to false hopes. This does not mean, however, that filmmakers can be completely forgiven for exposing us to such junk, especially when they have the nerve to take those bad movies and send them back into theatrical release, subjecting us to a terrible experience one more time. "Caligula," a supposed accurate chronicle of dark sexual Roman times, is such a movie, which tells the audience something that should come as no surprise: if those who make a disastrous motion picture dare to reissue it, they obviously need some real psychological help.

But let us not label "Caligula" a bad movie. A bad movie can be jaw-droppingly awful and still have redeeming qualities. Movies like this, however, lack even the simplest merits. It is nasty, repulsive, degrading, stupid, and of all things, invulnerable to any type of criticism. It was Roger Ebert who perceived this point in 1980, when in his review, he announced that our harsh criticisms will only generate curiosity in readers, who would need to see the film for themselves to see if it is actually bad as we make it out to be. And as such, this reissue will only bring in curious viewers from a whole new generation, who will be looking for their own proof that there is, indeed, a movie worse than "Howard The Duck." If the audience of the 1990s' is weaker in the stomach, as some have claimed, then it shall not come as a surprise that a particular sort of movie induces vomit.

Bob Guccione (the co-writer/producer, and owner of the nefarious "Penthouse" magazine) never meant to tell a story here, but instead chose to explore a subject to heights that probably never existed. His script is like something that result in a dare, in which a friend challenges him to do the most perverse thing that humanity has ever seen--create a product of clear violence, immoral sexual tastes, necrophilia, incest, and disgusting methods of persecution. Big names, like John Gielgud and Peter O'Toole, watch and participate in these events without any screen presence. They stare at the pornographic situations like zombies, indulged in them but detached emotionally and mentally. The camera could have pardoned at least some of the minor inadequacies, but does not even offer decent shots of the promising large sets and costumes. The cinematographers are so busy on the pornography that potentially interesting details are not emphasized.

Must we find it surprising, then, that the movie got an "X" in its first release? It may seem a bit severe, but I guarantee you, not severe enough. In a later revised addition, though, 40 minutes were cut to attain an "R" rating, not at the discretion of the creators, but at the orders of the studio, who knew it would be impossible to release the film in its original format on video. Even at an "R," sadly, it is virtually impossible to find a particle of craftsmanship, here. The movie is far off the deep end when trying to revisit a century of sexual sickness. Even the soundtrack, with its versatile background noises, is disheartening.

Certain "bad" movies are boring; others, obnoxious or stupid. "Caligula" is plainly sick and grotesque, existing only to shock or nauseate an audience with hideous images, stale performances, lifeless photography, and painfully vile actions (in one of the older versions, for example, there's a scene in which a man is castrated and his genitalia are thrown to the dogs). Its supporters have called the picture "an accurate portrayal of some horrendous times," which I find hard to believe, considering the depraved situations on display. And still, their defense never changes, adding that "what you see is precisely what happened."

For a second, let's say that all of the situations in the movie really did happen. If those individuals knew that their lives would be exploited in a motion picture called "Caligula," would they still have done all those things?

1999, David Keyes, Please e-mail the author here if the above review contains any spelling or grammar mistakes.
All published materials contained herein are owned by their respective authors and cannot be reprinted, either in their entirety or in selection, without the expressed written consent of the writers.