30th Jan2011

‘Caligula’ Blu-ray Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Malcolm McDowell, Teresa Ann Savoy, Helen Mirren, Peter O’Toole, John Geilgud | Written by Gore Vidal | Directed by Tinto Brass, Bob Guccione


Where to start with Caligula? The story of rise and fall of Rome’s most infamous Caesar, the film is as infamous as the life of the character it depicts. Produced by Penthouse’s Bob Guccione and starring some of Britain’s most well-respected thespians, Caligula is a strange beast, mixing period drama with dollops of sleaze and hardcore sex!

Over the years, the film has built up a reputation in the UK on the back of a massively cut 102 minute version of the film, however this disc from Arrow Video presents the film in it’s original 156 minute form, complete with hardcore inserts featuring all types of sex – oral, anal, gay, lesbian, straight, etc., wierd sexual fetishes and a ridiculously over the top orgy that punctuates the films denouement. But Guccione et al. don’t stop there, also added to the mix is rape, torture and mutilation – the likes of which wouldn’t look out of place in the sleaziest of 70s Italian cinema… This fully uncut version has more akin with Emmanuelle in America than the BBC’s I, Claudius.

How Guccione managed to get actors of the calibre of Peter O’Toole and John Gielgud to appear in such a production we’ll never know. You can somewhat understand Malcolm McDowell and Helen Mirren appearing in such a film given the brave acting choices the pair have made in their careers, but O’Toole and Gielgud?  However appear they do, adding a gravitas to proceedings which is then truly wiped out by the over the top boat orgy towards the end of the film!

With lavish sets, superb camerawork and a fantastic score, Caligula is arguably one of the most important, if overlooked by many, films of the late 70’s/early 80’s and is the cinematic meeting point of independent/grindhouse cinema and Hollywood – combining to create something that, whilst an interesting experiment, never quite works, sadly ending up too tame for the grindhouse fans and too extreme for Hollywood.

When all’s said and done, the “idea” of Caligula works a lot better than the finished film…


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