Caligula (1979)

caligula-movie-poster1Penthouse Films-Analysis Film Releasing/Historical Epic Drama RT: 156 minutes No MPAA Rating (the equivalent of an X........graphic bloody violence, lots of full frontal nudity and explicit hardcore sex, absolute human degradation) Directors: Tinto Brass, Giancarlo Lui and Bob Guccione (additional scenes) Screenplay: Gore Vidal Starring: Malcolm McDowell, Helen Mirren, Peter O'Toole, John Gielgud, Teresa Ann Savoy, Guido Mannari, Giancarlo Badessi, John Steiner, Bruno Brive, Adriana Asti, Leopoldo Trieste, Paolo Bonacelli.

Rating: NO STARS!!!!!!!

Film is a subjective medium and everybody has his/her own idea regarding the worst movie ever made. In my opinion, the 1979 travesty Caligula holds that distinction. Never before have I witnessed something this vile and disgusting. Not only does it explore the lowest depths of human degregation, it manages to sink even lower than that and make for the most unpleasant 156 minutes you will ever experience. Ostensibly, it's the biopic of the Roman Emperor Caligula Caesar, who ruled from 37-41 AD, a very disturbed and paranoid man who engaged in many perverted activities. As the movie opens, Caligula (McDowell, A Clockwork Orange) is seen frolicking with a young woman, later revealed to be his younger sister Drusilla (Savoy), they are involved in an incestuous relationship.

He is summoned to the Island of Capri, where his great uncle, the emperor Tiberius (O'Toole, My Favorite Year) lives in seclusion with his close friend Nerva (Gielgud, Arthur). Caligula discovers that Tiberius has gone completely insane due to syphilis and other venereal diseases and enjoys watching degrading sexual shows. Tiberius lets his great-nephew know that his younger stepbrother Gemellus (Brive) will inherit the throne once he dies, then tries to poison Caligula with a goblet of wine. After Nerva commits suicide, Tiberius has some sort of stroke and, while he's on his deathbed, Caligula steals the imperial signet ring from the ruler's finger. The head of the Praetorian Guards, Macro (Mannari) helps Caligula murder Tiberius and the depraved young man ascends to the throne, naming his sister as his equal. Although he wants to marry her, it's forbidden by law (and by nature) so he must find a bride who will bear him a son, an heir to the throne of Rome. He marries Caesonia (Mirren, The Queen), but only as she's giving birth to his child, who turns out to be a daughter. During his short rule, Caligula had many people executed for anything he perceived as "treason". In fact, Caligula did a lot of terrible things while he sat on the throne. He became more paranoid and delusional, even leading an attack on Britian (really a nearby island) and having his soldiers cut down all of the papyrus reeds. In short, this is one disturbed and depraved individual.

caligula poster_03Caligula started out as a legitimate historical biopic about the Roman emperor, but the production team was unable to get adequate financing, that's when Bob Guccione, the founder/publisher of Penthose magazine stepped in and changed the direction of the movie. He insisted that the modestly-budgeted movie become a large-scale epic, along the lines of Ben-Hur (1959) and Cleopatra (1963). He also directed and inserted many scenes of hardcore pornography, something that would make director Tinto Brass have his name removed from the credits. It was also completely different from Gore Vidal's original script. Without the explicit sex scenes, it would have merely been a boring and dull movie. With this material, the movie redefines the idea of a "bad movie". This movie covers any and all sexual practices, no matter how sickening and/or depraved. It's all here.......... incest, rape, bestiality, necrophilia, fisting, pedophilia and many others. There are scenes of urination, ejaculation, masturbation, fellatio, cunnilingus and homosexuality. Then there's the violence, all of which is sickening. In one scene, a drunken soldier has his urinary tract tied off and wine is poured down his throat, after which Tiberius disembowels him, wine and guts spill all over the floor. Men are buried up to their necks in the Roman Colosseum and decapitated by some mechanical device that slices off the head and sweeps it into the machine. Caligula rapes both the bride and groom on their wedding night. There are scenes depicting castration, infanticide, fratricide and rape. The filmmakers hold nothing back, everything is right there in full view. It would be advisable to keep a barf bag nearby, you're going to need it. Caligula makes Salo, 120 Days of Sodom (1975. Pier Paolo Pasolini) look like a Disney movie. I usually don't object to sex and/or violence in a movie, I don't consider myself a prude at all, but this movie really does go too far. What makes it even worse is that there's no joy in this movie. Even though there are many scenes depicting Roman orgies, nobody appears to be enjoying themselves. I thought orgies were supposed to be fun, right? The whole movie is a miserable experience, it leaves you feeling like you're going to need a few showers to wash off the filth.

You'll notice that several acclaimed actors are involved in Caligula, it's my theory that they didn't know what the final product was going to be while they were shooting this abomination. At least, Gielgud and O'Toole were gone by the 40-minute mark thus sparing them any further indignity. It's my understanding that McDowell will not discuss Caligula in any interviews, it's a taboo subject. Can't say that I blame him. Even so, he overacts shamelessly, but he is supposed to be playing a madman, a megalomaniac and he certainly comes off that way. That leaves Helen Mirren, this is one of her early movies and she makes a valiant effort to get through it with some measure of dignity. Gielgud, O'Toole and Mirren would go on to receive Academy Awards later in their careers, this is a good thing, it means that they've been cleared of any wrongdoing in their involvement with this crappy movie. I can think of many words to describe Caligula..........sickening, nauseating, vile, abysmal, depraved, gross, execrable, ugly, detestable, perverted, humiliating..........the list is really endless. What's most disturbing is that this movie made some money, it's domestic gross was about $23.4 million, I just wonder how much of the audience was comprised of dirty old men in raincoats? If memory serves, this movie's reputation was the main attraction, people felt the urge to see for themselves what others were whispering about in hushed tones. This is the kind of movie where you give the box office cashier the exact ticket price so nobody sees you going into the theater. Over the years, Caligula has attained some sort of cult status, I don't understand this. This movie is bad even on an artistic level. The music is horribly overdone, it just reeks of bad melodrama. While I'm sure the sets and costumes were authentic, the movie is seriously underlit, most of the scenes are pretty dark and gloomy. In fact, a whole gloomy pallor hangs over the movie, anybody who has studied history knows that Caligula and his family meet an ugly and violent end. We also know that his successor is Claudius (Badessi), depicted here as a borderline retarded idiot. I guess he couldn't be any worse than his predecessor, he'd obviously be easier to control.

I'm not sure than any review could surmise how bad Caligula really is, I hate to say it but you might just need to see it for yourself. PLEASE don't interpret that statement as a recommendation, it most surely is not. In fact, I urge my readers to avoid this movie like the plague. However, I also understand that any publicity is good publicity and many people are going to go ahead and watch this piece of crap anyway. As for what I said earlier about Caligula's cult status, I'm wondering what that's saying about human nature. Have we really sunk that low that we consider this entertainment? I can handle the likes of the Saw movies or any of the 80s slasher flicks released without an MPAA rating (Maniac, Nightmare, Pieces) because the graphic violence in those movies is nothing more than a carnival geek show. They don't really take themselves too seriously. On the other hand, Caligula is as serious as a funeral, the violence is sick and disgusting. At the end of the movie, somebody grabs Caligula's infant daughter and smashes her head open on some marble stairs. That's just depraved, that kind of thing should be off-limits, but we're talking about a movie that appears to have no concept about the ideas of limits and good taste. It would be unfair to lay the full blame on Bob Guccione, I'm sure that somebody else came up with the idea of including the graphic, disturbing violence. I think that there's enough blame to go around for this movie's content and the quality of the finished product. I remember reading Roger Ebert's review of this movie, he said that he walked out after only two hours. As he stood in the theater lobby, he heard a woman make a comment that perfectly describes Caligula. She said "This is the worst piece of s**t I have ever seen." Whoever this woman is, she put it very succinctly, Caligula is the absolute epitome and greatest example of cinematic excrement in existence. Case closed.

 

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