Caligula (1979)

Director: Tinto Brass

Starring: Malcolm McDowell, Peter O’Toole and Helen Mirren

WARNING: This review may contain spoilers.

“The graphic and shocking, yet tragic story of Rome’s most infamous Caesar, Gaius Germanicus Caligula.”

Caligula has been labelled as the “graphic” and “shocking” story of Caligula, and that’s not far off what this movie really is. Caligula was the most infamous leader of Rome yet unfortunately, “Tragic” only came into play for a short period of time.

Considered one of the most infamous cult films ever made, Caligula takes its place on a known ‘Most Disturbing Movies’ list as well as a place on the ‘Worst Movies Ever Made’ list which gives an understanding as to why it’s still banned in several different countries to this day. According to some online sources, there are many versions of this movie, but it’s commonly known by two different versions: the 90 minute R-Rated version and the 160 minute Unrated version. There were several altercations during the creation of Caligula, essentially due to Bob Guccione’s later insertion of the ‘hardcore’ sexual scenery. Guccione’s addition to the movie was not well received by the cast or the crew, meaning that Brass and screenplay writer Gore Vidal did not want much to do with the final two hour piece that was released. The movie was doomed from the start. Caligula has had both good and bad reviews, both for understandable reasons.

Caligula was enjoyable as a historical piece, but sadly, I felt that the scenes added in by Guccione took the spotlight away from the main story in order to advertise his own pornographic ideas. The movie included some great points about the Roman Empire and acts of treason, and should I have watched the 90 minute version, I feel as if that would have been more entertaining as a whole. The movie has parts that are flamboyant and had a little bit of a musical vibe that did make some parts amusing and enjoyable but sadly, aside from this I didn’t find much else to enjoy. I know that Caligula isn’t really a horror movie, it is on a ‘most disturbing movies’ list which gives it a spot on the blog. The horrifying moments in this movie come from the atrocities that Caligula had committed and although some sexual scenes felt unnecessary, I can see how they would enhance the idea of Caligula’s sexual deviance. The sad thing is for me, that I wanted to enjoy Caligula, but I did not.

Within the course of Caligula, the dialogue was incredible and I fully enjoyed the script. I thought that the plot and the dialogue fully powered the movie due to its portrayal of the Roman Empire. Sadly, due to the constant sexual scenes, the plot fell a little flat, because you weren’t able to solidly follow it. I feel as if the downfall of this movie was due to the fact that throughout the movie, the only conspiracy of treason against Caligula was within the last few minutes. I didn’t find that believable at best.

The acting was delivered excellently, especially from Malcolm McDowell, who really gave a superb performance. The actors were excellently chosen and the chemistry between each of them added to the depth of the film, which did give me a reason to enjoy the movie. The character progression with some characters, such as Caligula, but others did fall a little flatter such as Longinus. I was indefinitely impressed with the death scene of Drusilla, as I feel it did bring back a lot of emotion and passion for those few moments. After that, things really fizzled out for me.

I felt as if the costume and the set designers stole the show within Caligula. I was thoroughly impressed by the beauty of the costumes throughout, and I did eventually prefer looking at the elaborate sets and costumes to the story that was unfolding before me. The concepts and the sexual input became overdone which left me in awe at how impressive the other little details were.

The colours and the tone of the movie fit with the story penned by Vidal, the cinematography created a new world which opened up what could have been incredible for the Caligula movie. Scene transitions within Caligula were almost liquified and flowed between sections perfectly. I personally also enjoyed the music that was used throughout the movie, and felt that it conveyed the story in its own musical way.

I felt as if Caligula had plenty of ups and downs but ultimately ended at a loss for me. The cons outweighed the pros here and I admit that I didn’t enjoy it. I’ll give Caligula two skulls out of five (☠☠.) If you have seen Caligula and have your own opinion, drop me a comment, I’d love to hear what you thought.

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