1979 pornographic history lesson
Rating: 8/20 (Buster: 3/20)
Plot: Caligula rises to power as his penis rises to erection.
Geez Louise! As gratuitous as the sex and nudity is in this movie, it wasn't until a giant orgy scene where dwarf Salvatore Furnari is pinned down and orally pleasured by a Penthouse model that I said, "Wait a second. A lot of the sex in this is unnecessary." Body parts a-go-go in this one, and if that's why you pop this into your dvd player, you'll likely be satisfied. If you're looking for a good movie about a historical character, there's actually kind of one hidden in this mess of dicks and nipples. You have to squint to see it, but there are some goods in this. I saw them because I was squinting.
We'll start with the always-interesting Malcolm McDowell. I'm not even sure I'd say he's any good here, especially the first half of the movie, but as his character becomes more and more deranged, McDowell seems more and more comfortable. He's got the eyes to pull off a character, and you have to credit McDowell, really a guy who could have taken his career in whatever direction he wanted, for his bravery. It takes balls to even step into a set for this movie, and McDowell had the balls and most likely flashed them at one point.
I think McDowell had it put in each of his contracts in the 70s that he had to have a pissing scene.
Also always interesting is Peter O'Toole who spends most of his screen time looking like a guy who's questioning his decision to be in Caligula. Even the syphilis make-up effects are trying to leave his face and flee the motion picture. His performance is bizarre here, but like everything else O'Toole touched, he created something memorable. And managing to do that while surrounded by some sort of Hieronymus Boschian orgy nightmare really is something. There's a cheap-looking, congested three-story set complete with an elevator, and that's where we first meet O'Toole's character. And during that scene, there's always something to see, the screen just packed with all this perverse details. I wasn't sure whether I was supposed to be impressed or sickened.
I had the same reaction during a big orgy scene later in the movie. It's odd to pull out one scene and call it an "orgy scene" because the whole movie is like one giant 150 minute orgy scene. This particular scene seemed endless and was packed with gratuitous detail. Was it pornographic? Absolutely. Penises throbbed, ejaculate splooshed, holes were present, penetration was front and center. Was there something almost sort of artistic about the whole thing? Well, it's probably debatable.
Helen Mirren, sometimes wearing a leash, is in this. John Gielgud is in there, too. It's odd seeing these big-name actors and actresses in something so blatantly pornographic. O'Toole had to have known what was going down unless his syphilis-stricken face made it tough for him to see clearly. McDowell knew that a lot of him would be on the screen and doesn't seem to care. But the more overtly pornographic material seems to be filmed apart from all of them and spliced in which makes the whole thing seem very very cheap.
Nearly as shocking as all the graphic sex is all the graphic violence. When people die in this movie, director Tinto Brass (I'm assuming he handled the actual movie stuff with Bob Guccione taking care of the sex stuff) really wants to make it clear that they're dead. Like, really really dead. So heads roll (almost comically with this giant decapitation device), virgins bleed, and fisting is barely off-screen.
Wait a second! Caligula has sex with a horse, doesn't he? Did I dream that up later on or did it actually happen?
I could go on and on. I wish I would have Movie-A-Go-Go'd this one. It's a train-wreck of a movie, except with train wrecks, you can't avert your eyes and here, you have to look away. Unless you like seeing penises being fed to dogs. Then, you're just a sicko.
I feel like a sicko for spending this much time on Caligula. I'm glad I saw it, something that probably separates me from almost everybody else on earth.