Caligula (1979)

caligula movie poster 1979
4.0 Overall Score
Story: 4/10
Acting: 4/10
Visuals: 8/10

Over-the-top visuals

The story, the acting, the visuals are all too over the top

Movie Info

Movie Name:  Caligula

Studio:  Penthouse Films

Genre(s):  Drama/Adult

Release Date(s):  August 14, 1979 (Italy)/February 1, 1980 (US)

MPAA Rating:  Not Rated

caligula ring peter otoole malcolm mcdowell

In the brightest day, in the blackest night, nobody will escape my pornographic sight!!!

Caligula (Malcolm McDowell) has desires of power.  The heir to Tiberius (Peter O’Toole), Caligula is set to take control of the Roman Empire and have countless followers to attend to his every whim.  With his lover and sister Drusilla (Teresa Ann Savoy) at his side and his trophy wife Caesonia (Helen Mirren), Caligula believes he can have power and everything he wants…be it the most depraved sex acts to violence toward his followers.  Caligula is going to discover that absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Directed by Tinto Brass, Caligula is an Italian made historical drama focusing on erotic scenes.  The movie was released to controversy due to the sex scenes and the screenwriter Gore Vidal disowned the movie when his script was altered.  The film was released unrated and despite poor reviews has become a cult classic over the years.

Caligula was one of those films that you heard rumors about long before you ever saw it.  Much like Malcolm McDowell’s A Clockwork Orange, Caligula was a film that you felt like you weren’t supposed to see.  Unlike A Clockwork Orange, a lot of Caligula is not redeemed by plot or story.

caligula helen mirren dance

Dance, Helen Mirren! Dance!!!

Caligula’s story is a basic telling of Caligula’s life but highly embellished.  Characters were condensed and storylines were expanded for the “drama” nature of the film.  There is a lot of question of how much of the Caligula’s sex-lore was really even real and how much was made up throughout history.

Malcolm McDowell does seem to channel some of his Clockwork Orange’s Alex into Caligula.  The character is brash and loud and maybe the only redeeming factor of the movie.  The rest of the cast just seems like fodder for a script that doesn’t help them (like both Teresa Ann Savoy as the almost Lady Macbeth Drusilla or the priestess Helen Mirren).  I like Peter O’Toole’s Tiberius but he isn’t around long (and O’Toole claimed he didn’t know about the scenes later in the movie).

caligula assassination malcolm mcdowell

I’m killing you before the movie goes on for another hour!!!

Most of what is shocking from Caligula is the excess.  The sex is hardcore and you get full on oral sex on screen…for a long time (with a “happy ending”).  You feel kind of dirty watching the film.  The movie features some great sets and is so over-the-top in all aspects.  The visuals will still shock you today.

Vidal saw the project as more of a historical epic, but it was presented as more of a political satire of a man coming to power.  I don’t know if Vidal’s version would have worked either since a lot of Vidal’s visions were untranslatable to film (look at Myra Breckinridge).  What you get while watching Caligula is the dirty feeling that you’re watching a porno that goes on far too long and many of the film’s stars even rejected the movie after its release.  Caligula is worth seeing for the sheer amazement that the movie was made at all, but as a cult movie, it manages to make sex and depravity boring.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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