Review by Gordon Dymowski
Recently, the 20th anniversary restored edition of Caligula was on
a limited release to theaters before its release on DVD on November 23.
This film is Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione's cinematic
portrayal of the decadent life and times of Rome's most infamous
emperor, Caligula (played by Malcolm McDowell). Back in 1979, this film
was notorious for its graphic violence, even more graphic sex, and
high caliber acting talent (along with McDowell, the film features Peter
O'Toole, John Gielguld, and Helen Mirren). Initially unrated, this film
was -and is - being promoted as a film not intended for the squeamish.
It's also a film not intended for those with triple-digit IQs, as this
two-and-a-half-hour movie is duller than watching paint dry. I was glad
only paid four dollars at a bargain matinee...and the film wasn't even
worth that much.
"Adapted" from a screenplay by Gore Vidal (which probably means that they
plagiarized bits), you would think that with Guccione's penchant for
elegant sleaze this movie might be reaching for extremely high standards
(Guccione makes Larry Flynt look like Mr. Rogers). However, the pacing of
this movie is incredibly tedious, the direction is very less than
assured, and the acting leaves much to be desired. (When the actor
portraying Caligula's son, Gemellus, first appears, Mike Nelson from
MST3K popped in my head and said, "Hey look it's Lou Reed from the cover
of his Transformer album." That's the only gratuitous pop culture
reference I'm going to make.) Although probably shocking in 1979, a
generation weaned on Friday the 13th and Freddy Kreuger movies
will find the violence in this film amateurish and unnecessary. (I don't
mean that it will offend; I mean that it is offensively executed, all
This film also does contain some graphic sex scenes, which are
definitely not under-17-years-of-age material (We're talking close to
hardcore porn, kids). However, these are the least erotic scenes ever
committed to film. You're better off renting a traditional X-rated tape
if you want to be aroused. When the sex scenes in a porno
movie are dull, hoo boy, you are in trouble. This movie isn't worth the
Satellite of Love's time and effort (OK, two gratutious pop culture
references - my bad).
If you look up this film at the Internet
Movie Database or Amazon.com,
you'll read reviews that call this "porn for thought" and state that it
is a serious masterpiece about the abuses of power. Yeah, right, and if
we broke the fingers of all the Shrub staffers, they'd write the
collective works of Dashiell Hammett. This movie isn't even a camp kitsch
classic, either - it's just stone cold bad.
So, if you're a Roman history buff (like me) and/or curious about
Caligula's life, I can make some better alternative suggestions. First,
recommend that you read The Twelve Caesars by
Suetonius - a first person account of the goings-on of all the Caesars,
and the most accurate account of the decadence of Rome. In addition, a
better portray can be found in I, Claudius, the
BBC-produced miniseries based on the
novel by Robert Graves.
The miniseries is probably the finest (albeit unsanitized) version of the
history of the Caesars, and stars Derek Jacobi, John Hurt, and Patrick
Stewart with a bitchin' perm (I ain't making that up, folks).
As always, please feel free to e-mail me at Gordon_D@theshrubbery.com if you want to argue. I've suffered
for my muse, but that's no reason why you should.
If you like soft porn and lots of
blood, buy Caligula at Amazon.com! (DVD only)
(Out of five)