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Reviews & Ratings for
Caligula More at IMDbPro »Caligola (original title)

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342 out of 457 people found the following review useful:

A misunderstood classic.

Author: ( from San Diego, Ca
8 March 2000

CALIGULA is a terribly misunderstood film. I believe too many people think of it as a cheap porno, and bash it due to that. "All porn is bad," right?

CALIGULA was a daring film experiment incorporating big-name, established talent, and the raw energy of under ground film techniques. What results is nothing short of a fascinating product.

All of the acting is very good. Malcolm McDowell plays psychotic villains so well, one can't help but think he's like that in real life. His portrayal of Gaius Caligula just drips with maniacal megalomania. The little-known Teresa Ann Savoy is convincing as Drusilla, Caligula's sister. And Peter O'Toole's Tiberius Caesar, whose diseased face is rotting away, is truly an oddity to behold...put he pulls it off well. The acting in general is all very good.

The use of music is also to be noted. There are original, evocative pieces written for the film by Paul Clemente, no doubt a talented composer.

While some of the photography is stilted in this film, for the most part it's gorgeous. A lot of people say the colors are "dark" and "washed out", but I think that lends to the grittiness of the film.

Danilo Donati's sets are big and well designed, it kind of shocks you to see someone getting a blow job in them. They look like they belong in a run-of-the-mill Hollywood produced film. Aren't all pornos supposed to be filmed in the director's back yard?

And that right there is the point of the film. To shock you; you can't believe you're seeing what you're seeing. Beyond the violence and the sex is a well written, acted, and photographed film.

I have spoken!

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221 out of 292 people found the following review useful:

THE CLASH OF AN ARTIST AND A PERVERT: The Results Could Only Mean A Huge Disaster.

Author: emlodik ( from Denver, Colorado
17 August 2004

What started out as a massive, haunting and disturbing look at the corruption of bureaucracy ended up as a mere flesh flick, consisting mainly of outtakes and only two types of opinions from the viewers; "this movie is crap" and the infamous "I love the sex in that movie! It gives an erection every time I see it." All of these travesties, and more, are a major insult to the many talents involved in this production of "Caligula."

From what one can tell, it would have been an excellent film. Malcolm McDowell gives a performance of a lifetime, portraying an Emperor whose dedication to exposing the senate for what they are, a corrupt bunch of spineless bastards, ultimately leads to his descend into madness. Helen Mirren gives an interesting performance as Caligula's seductive wife, Caesonia and Teresa Ann Savoy is great as the cute and sweet Drusilla, the only voice of reason in the time of madness. The supporting cast is also top notch. Sire John Gielgud gives an awesome portrayal a stoic Roman aristocrat Nerva and Peter O'Toole is a true jaw dropper as Tiberius, the old emperor, a completely mad sex addict, plagued with syphilitic lesions. The rest of the supporting cast are unknown Italian actors, except for the B-movie god John Steiner, who plays the two faced Longinus, Caligula's treasurer.

The much talked about sex in the film was never meant to be in any way arousing. If one looks closely, he can see that most of the nudity and sex is handled in a very clinical, unappealing fashion. Tinto Brass did an awesome job showing how the Ancient Rome was so used to perversity, that a few people romping in a corner was just not a big deal in those days. Same can be said about the gore and violence in the film.

From the small hints remaining in the film, "Caligula" was well on its way to become a moody piece of paranoia, corruption and deep character study. There are some truly chilling and atmospheric moments. For example, when Caligula puts on the royal ring, you can actually see him losing soul, thanks to Malcolm McDowell's awesome facial expressions. Also, there is a haunting scene of Caligula asking the dying Nerva, who lies in a bath tub filled with blood, about the afterlife. And the humorous scenes of Caligula "judging" a land dispute between two whiny senators and one where a Senator says he would give up his life to cure Caligula's to fever, only to realize that Caligula has excepted his proposition.

But sadly, none of the points I made can be seen to a naked eye. When Tinto Brass got fired, the film's producer, Bob Guccione (yes, *that* Bob Guccione), tried to splice the film together himself, although he had no idea what he was doing. What ended up was a pathetic mishmash of truncated and misplaced scenes, out takes, rehearsal footage and some dull extra sex inserts with the Penthouse Pets, shot by Bob himself after the filming has wrapped, designed simply to promote the magazine. All the important subplots and story lines were deleted, making the film lose most of its plot and meaning, the pace is ruined due to endless pauses and there are maddening zooms that are obviously just raw footage of camera operators adjusting the lens. The movie is simply unwatchable because it is mostly cut together from the blurry, shaky outtakes. In other words, Bob Guccione stole a masterpiece and turned it into his own little wet dream.

Everyone who dealt with this film disowned it after seeing the finished result and rightfully so.

So, next time you watch the film and notice how bad it is, don't blame the actors, Tinto Brass or Gore Vidal. Blame Bob Guccione and the botched editing.

For what it could have been, I give the film a 10/10. For what it ended up, it receives a 2/10.

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246 out of 347 people found the following review useful:

The Ben-Hur of Porn: Gratuitous Sex, Violence, & Weirdness

Author: gftbiloxi ( from Biloxi, Mississippi
23 April 2005

Some describe CALIGULIA as "the" most controversial film of its era. While this is debatable, it is certainly one of the most embarrassing: virtually every big name associated with the film made an effort to distance themselves from it. Author Gore Vidal actually sued (with mixed results) to have his name removed from the film, and when the stars saw the film their reactions varied from loudly voiced disgust to strategic silence. What they wanted, of course, was for it to go away.

For a while it looked like it might. CALIGULA was a major box-office and critical flop (producer Guccione had to rent theatres in order to get it screened at all), and although the film was released on VHS to the home market so many censorship issues were raised that it was re-edited, and the edited version was the only one widely available for more than a decade. But now CALIGULIA is on DVD, available in both edited "R" and original "Unrated" versions. And no doubt John Gielgud is glad he didn't live to see it happen.

The only way to describe CALIGULIA is to say it is something like DEEP THROAT meets David Lynch's DUNE by way of Fellini having an off day. Vidal's script fell into the hands of Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione, who used Vidal's reputation to bankroll the project and lure the big name stars--and then threw out most of Vidal's script and brought in soft-porn director Tinto Brass. Then, when Guccione felt Brass' work wasn't explicit enough, he and Giancarlo Lui photographed hardcore material on the sly.

Viewers watching the edited version may wonder what all the fuss is about, but those viewing the original cut will quickly realize that it leaves absolutely nothing to the imagination. There is a tremendous amount of nudity, and that remains in the edited version, but the original comes complete with XXX scenes: there is very explicit gay, lesbian, and straight sex, kinky sex, and a grand orgy complete with dancing Roman guards thrown in for good measure. The film is also incredibly violent and bloody, with rape, torture, and mutilation the order of the day. In one particularly disturbing scene, a man is slowly stabbed to death, a woman urinates on his corpse, and his genitals are cut off and thrown to the dogs.

In a documentary that accompanies the DVD release, Guccione states he wanted the film to reflect the reality of pagan Rome. If so, he missed the mark. We know very little about Caligula--and what little we know is questionable at best. That aside, orgies and casual sex were not a commonplace of Roman society, where adultery was an offense punishable by death. And certainly ancient Rome NEVER looked like the strange, slightly Oriental, oddly space-age sets and costumes offered by the designers.

On the plus side, those sets and costumes are often fantastically beautiful, and although the cinematography is commonplace it at least does them justice; the score is also very, very good. The most successful member of the cast is Helen Mirren, who manages to engage our interests and sympathies as the Empress Caesonia; Gielgud and O'Toole also escape in reasonably good form. The same cannot be said for McDowell, but in justice to him he doesn't have much to work with.

The movie does possess a dark fascination, but ultimately it is an oddity, more interesting for its design and flat-out weirdness than for content. Some of the bodies on display (including McDowell's and Mirren's) are extremely beautiful, and some of the sex scenes work very well as pornography... but then again, some of them are so distasteful they might drive you to abstinence, and the bloody and grotesque nature of the film undercuts its eroticism. If you're up to it, it is worth seeing once, but once is likely to be enough.

Gary F. Taylor, aka GFT, Amazon Reviewer

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209 out of 320 people found the following review useful:

Taste is relative, but pornography is REALLY relative

Author: Feelie from South Carolina
29 September 1999

It is funny.

As pornography, this film leaves a lot to be desired. To call it such is naive and absurd, and you obviously haven't seen any REAL pornography.

As a film, it leaves a lot to be desired. It lacks a number of things (dialogue, plot movement, etc) that make even a mediocre movie mediocre.

As far as a complete effort, it is fantastic. The attempt to even try something like this is outrageous and to have pulled it off (pardon the pun) as much as Guccioni and the gang did is amazing.

It seems as if the fact that some actual money was poured into this epic makes it bad, while something like 'Pink Flamingos' by John Waters is thought of as 'great' when it is just as likely to make a person squirm with its bad taste (again, pardon the pun and God rest Divine).

I really like this movie. It is like NOTHING that has ever been made nor will there ever be anything made like it. It is all at once historical (at least as much as say, Saving Private Ryan); it is thought provoking, it is strangely erotic, it is disturbing, and lastly, it is a movie that (love it or hate it) you will NOT forget if you do decide to see it.

I say see it.

Rating = 10

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137 out of 205 people found the following review useful:

Beyond the controversy lies a good film

Author: Mike Clarke from London, England
6 February 2000

This film, as with all, has good points and bad points.

In general, I feel that the good ones far outweigh the bad.

The film simply gives the story of the rise and death of Emperor Caligula in a very straight-forward manner. Indeed, it can be seen as shocking, but I think that this is a side-effect of it's desire to be realistic, rather than a deliberate act on the part of the film-makers.

The cinematography and camera work is awful. The huge sets seem at times almost claustrophobic which is an absolute crime considering the magnificence of them. There is also too much emphasis on Caligula himself, to the detriment of revealing some important traits in other characters, making them seem somewhat shallow at times.

The sex scenes are very well placed within the context of the film. I thought that only two scenes stood out as being unnecessarily overt, but for the most part, the explicitness is on the fringe of the focus of each scene, while also playing a major part in the atmosphere.

Never once did I feel that any dialogue was out of place, nor did the acting strike me as being bad.

By far the biggest problem with this film is the fact that the sexual content is widely advertised and therefore anticipated before viewing. This may cause people to focus dominantly on those scenes without really looking at the film as a whole. For me, it enhanced the film. Not in a particularly titillating way, but in the fact that there was no compromise during scenes of sexual acts. Roman orgies are regarded to have been extremely opulent and promiscuous - I found it refreshing to see one as it may have actually been rather than lots of fully-clothed laughing fat men pouring red wine over their faces and eating grapes while draped with female automatons.

In summary, Caligula definitely has it's place in film history due to it's controversy, but if you look beyond that controversy, you should find a rather good film which neatly tells the story of how power can turn someone into a madman.

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85 out of 117 people found the following review useful:

"A viper for the Roman people and a Phaethon for the world"

Author: Galina from Virginia, USA
13 May 2006

Maybe it helps to be familiar with the history, Art, and literature of the Ancient Rome because "Caligula" is surprisingly truthful adaptation of the chapter about Caligula in "The Lives Of The Twelve Caesars by C. Suetonius Tranquillus, the Roman Historian. If you read the chapter dedicated to Nero, you'll be even more shocked because Nero was always fascinated by his uncle Caligula (he was a son of Caligula's sister Agrippina who later became a wife of Claudius who adopted Nero and made him the heir for the title and the power of Roman Emperor). Anyway, Nero made Caligula his role model and managed to surpass his uncle's' notorious fame.

The movie is notoriously famous for the plentiful scenes of real sex, including incest, necrophilia, rape, and orgies. The movie also includes quite nasty and gruesome scenes of torture, executions, murders, and humiliations but all of the events have been documented in the historical documents that still exist.

I don't think of the movie as a masterpiece or even a good movie for all of its 2.5 hours. It actually reminds the life of real Caligula. In his childhood and youth, he was adored by Roman people and especially by the army and he was a promising young man. When he grew up as a heir to the cruel and suspicious Tiberius, he had to hide his feelings and go through many humiliations in order to survive. Shrewd Tiberius said about his adopted grandson that "never humankind knew the better slave and the worse ruler than Caligula" and that he was rearing "a viper for the Roman people and a Phaethon for the world."

When the young man finally received an access to the absolute power it had absolutely corrupted him. It is also known that soon after becoming head of Roman Empire, Caligula suffered an illness and as the result of it, he became incredibly nasty, cruel, and suspicious man who had indulged in the worst acts of debauchery, cruelty, and sadism. The movie follows this pattern. I still think that it is an interesting movie with very good actors. Not every day you can see porn with Helen Mirren, Peter O'Toole, Sir John Gielgud, and of course, Mr. Clockwork Orange himself, Malcolm McDowell.

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88 out of 124 people found the following review useful:

must see

Author: ( from Australia
21 May 2004

Excuse the title of this review however the bottom line is, it has to be seen to be believed. The purely supreme cast is more than likely the only thing keeping the film from being well and truly buried in a basement. Historical revelations indicate that the content of this film probably does in fact (to a degree) reflect the lunacy rampant at the time and yes that means....meaningless executions, wild paranoia, incest and of course the gratuitous sex which could probably leave some soft porn movies looking very average (provided you get the right version). No its not a true classic but it dabbles with taboo, and dares go where other films draw the line. Its one i'll watch again and one you'd have to see merely to say you saw it. 6/10 scorpio

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118 out of 199 people found the following review useful:

What's with the poor rating?

Author: bhat962 from Cincinnati, Ohio
14 November 2001

This is actually a pretty good film. Perhaps the intense nudity and graphic-ness was not likeable but the movie was very closely tied to the facts and history of Caligula himself. You don't see many movies that actually stick with the facts instead of making it 'Hollywood.' I reccommend this to people who "know" about Caligula in advance so that they know what their seeing instead of going into the film not having a clue what its about. I don't think they could've made the movie any better that relates to Caligula- he was a psychopath and it showed in this movie.

Tons of great scenes, and it showed what the "real" Rome was like. Brutal and harsh and misgiving.

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92 out of 172 people found the following review useful:

A masterpiece of costume and actuality

Author: novaeon from SE, USA
19 November 1999

I watched this movie the first time the night-before last.. and watched it again last night and again tonight.

This movie is far from pornography... only a few scenes are hardcore, and only a couple of these are even barely erotic. It does not exactly function as an historical epic, either.

The film quality and lighting would make it appear to date from the 1960s.

The script is mediocre. More drama could be added, however we do have to bear in mind that the Romans followed the school of Stoicism.

The acting (including Malcolm McDowell's) is nothing outstanding, with the exception of Peter O'Toole's Tiberius Caesar. He displays tragedy and lunacy, evoking reactions of disgust, sympathy, pity, and compassion. I found myself much more intrigued by his character and wishing the movie was about his decline from wisdom to near-madness, rather than Caligula. It also caused me to desire to learn more and research the actual life of Tiberius.

The film neither condemns, nor condones. That is probably how it should be.

Where this film succeeds monumentally is the costuming and unabridged realism. This is the first film I've seen to have a character wearing a toga like the one Caligula's sister (a design many Roman women actually wore) wears in the opening scene. The depiction of slaves and the acts of love and brutality are well-done. It is not erotic, it is not horrifying. With the hardcore scenes excised (the version i saw was the complete version), I believe this movie should be shown in every high school World History class. For centuries, Western culture has censored and toned-down representations of its Pagan past. The filmmakers must be applauded for attempting to make an honest epic.

I've become very hard to please when it comes to movies. The last movie I actually liked to a strong degree was Amadeus, which I saw two years ago. Despite its flaws, with its sheer amount of action and atmosphere, I believe this movie deserves a 10.

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15 out of 19 people found the following review useful:

8½ Inches

Author: Ali_Catterall from London, England
3 November 2009

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

In the 1970s, with the softcore likes of Emmanuelle and The Story Of O in cinemas, it seemed logical, even vaguely admirable from an artistic perspective, that 'Penthouse' emperor Bob Guccione should take a stab at Caligula, a 'porn-epic'. As he loftily told reporters, "X-rated films... are a force that has to be dealt with (and made) part of the establishment." Italian sexploitation king Tinto Brass was hired to direct a screenplay by Gore Vidal. RSC heavyweights Peter O'Toole, John Gielgud and Helen Mirren were cast as those murderous Romans, along with droog-of-the-moment Malcolm McDowell in the title role. This would be a truly groundbreaking picture, a (heavy) breathing Aubrey Beardsley illustration, combining high-art, high-drama and Penthouse Pets placing their ankles behind their ears.

It all went terribly wrong. With a trio of emperor-sized egos in bed, the Vidal-Brass-Guccione threesome collapsed under the weight of those old artistic differences. "I want to screw theeez Penthouse!" the anarchic Tinto informed McDowell, who envisaged Caligula as less an insane tyrant than an anarchic revolutionary, hastening the Senate's downfall from the top. Vidal was barred from the set; lawsuits pinged between Italy and the States; and the 'Penthouse' boss, tired of being dry-humped by Brass, finished the film off himself, inserting extra hardcore, willy-nilly, into the edit. "I just tried to survive it" McDowell explained later.

The result is utterly unique. One's enjoyment (the word used advisedly) may also depend on which version you're exposed to. The theatrical cut is a badly-dubbed, silly old mess, a third-rate Ken Russell. The uncut version, on the other hand, is a fascinating mess, made strange and mad through sheer licentiousness.

McDowell, who's on screen for pretty much the whole picture, is, well, very McDowell: whether coquettishly swiveling in his boots like a doe-eyed Biggus Dickus, quipping like Lurkio in Up Pompeii ("I thought you didn't like virgins," he's chided. "I've never known any," comes the reply) or simply shrieking like a bat.

Among other outrages, he has sex with his sister (dead or alive); marries "the most promiscuous woman in Rome" (Mirren); sleeps with his horse; turns the senators wives into prostitutes for an imperial brothel ("A logical way to balance the state budget"); and rapes a virgin bride on her wedding day. And then fists the groom. The fistee is later charged with being "an honest man and therefore a bad Roman, and therefore a traitor". His penis is cut off and fed to the hounds while cackling hags hoist up their togas and urinate on his corpse.

You can sort of see what they were trying to do. But it doesn't work. Caligula hiccups from one sorry sequence to the next, seemingly without connective tissue; the whole enlivened, if that's the right word, by repetitive and bewilderingly gratuitous money shots. If you want a picture of the future two hours and 36 minutes, imagine a scrotal sac slapping on a human face forever.

Wherever you look, men and women, often in jarringly different film stock, are performing every permutation of straight or gay sex, or vigorously masturbating to issue like glassy-eyed clockwork monkeys. The effect is exactly like watching distinguished thespians politely attempting to ignore a stage invasion at the Old Vic by furiously copulating naturists, right in the middle of a pivotal soliloquy. As if embarrassed, O'Toole bails out early, as does Gielgud. At least for the latter it was a warm-up for Prospero's Books.

"I had to take my destiny with my own hands," cries Caligula, as everywhere, everyone is taking their own, and other people's, into their hands too. And yet the film - graphic and coy all at once - doesn't work as pornography either. Aside from the interminable zooms, hardcore is generally characterised by static shots, gentle pans and dissolves. Here, an elongated fellatio scene is continually intercut with an extremely camp sequence of soldiers mincing off to war.

Elsewhere, some sisters of Sappho have it off for what seems like an eternity, but the jump-cuts and addition of an ethereal chorus with strident orchestration should frustrate even the most determined onanist. During one early tableau, the film - already the cultural equivalent of PT Barnum's Fejee Mermaid - becomes a literal freakshow, featuring a lusty three-eyed woman and a four-handed man. It's about as erotic as a Francis Bacon retrospective.

Vidal's defence (pre-Guccione's meddling) was that regardless of whether the events portrayed in the movie were strictly accurate, they were representative of the kind of debauchery the ancient Romans indulged in. (After all, these were the self same people who'd reportedly dug up a frozen dinosaur from northern Europe and cooked and ate it for a feast.) Yet there's probably more historical veracity in Monty Python's Life Of Brian. Roman traitors were almost certainly not buried up to their necks and decapitated by a gigantic moving wall with swirling lawnmower blades, however impressive it looks.

Because visually, Caligula is undeniably fabulous: Derek Jarman meets Peter Greenaway and Federico Fellini - the alternative name for the film could well be '8½ Inches'. This may be a bad trip of a movie, dipped in the headache inducing 'deep reds' of Brass's fellow countryman Dario Argento, but here too are Danilo Donati's gorgeously grandiose sets; here are exquisite, hand-crafted larger-than-life sculptures modeled on real Roman artifacts; and everywhere, superbly strange details, rendered almost subliminal, such as a white rat pulling a tiny golden chariot.

Except we never get to see any of it properly. At one point, amid all the bump 'n' grind, a man on stilts clops into shot. As he slowly pegs it from one end of the sound stage to the other, you can't help wondering if he's muttering under his breath in Italian, "Yeah, yeah, whatever. What *I* do takes skill, you know?"

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