Year of Release1979
DirectorTinto Brass
StarringMalcolm McDowell, Peter O’Toole, Helen Mirren

Caligula is a hard one to review. As a film it is very well shot. The dialogue and acting is amazing and no expense has been spared with the production of this film. It is captivating for almost the entirety of the 2 and a half hour duration of this cinematic epic. The star power in this is awesome. Helen Mirren, Peter O’Toole and Malcom McDowell all do an excellent job.

I can’t help but wonder how Caligula went at the box office. Whilst an excellent depiction of the rise and eventual demise of the roman emperor Caligula (excellently played by Malcom McDowell) I doubt very seriously many theatre houses would have shown this film. The violence is of an extreme nature including genital mutilation and some pretty grim killings. In addition to this the sex scenes are on the same level as porn. When I say porn, I mean people actually having sex on film. I personally wouldn’t categorize this as porn (as the movie does have a very well set out plot and story line and the sex scenes aren’t the main focus of the film) but it does blur the lines between porn and drama. If you’re watching it with a friend make sure its an open minded friend because it is very sexually confronting.

The Plot of Caligula

The plot focus’ in on the emperor Caligula as he rises to power under his uncle the emperor Tiberius. Tiberius is old and ridden with disease (syphilis) and has basically lost the plot. Tiberius eventually dies and Caligula takes the throne. It chronicles his descent into all manner of indulgences and eventual insanity. The emperor Caligula rapidly finds himself becoming an even bigger monster than his uncle. What follows is a litany of incest, violence, betrayal and sex. Caligula is an in depth depiction of Caligula’s God complex gone horribly wrong.

The film does have some underlying moral themes about what happens to a degenerate society and the corruption power can bring. The more I think about it the film wouldn’t have had the same impact without the extreme sex and violence so graphically portrayed.

Background of Caligula

Caligula was produced by Penthouse magazine. From what I understand Penthouse magazine (an adult / porno mag for those too young to remember) had had its fingers in the pies of many films of the time but never directed one. Caligula was the first to be directed by the magazine. Penthouse paid Gore Vidal as a writer to come up with the script. Then Tinto Brass to direct it. Vidal did not like Brass’ vision of the film at all. After the film was more or less finished the Penthouse team then filmed the sex scenes and inserted it into the film without the knowledge of either the writer or director. Neither Vidal or Brass appreciated Penthouses input into the film or creative process either. I guess Penthouse owning the production ultimately gave them the right to do what they wanted with the film.

If nothing else they would have access to plenty of willing stars/starlets prepared to engage in the required nudity and sex on film along side some more well known actors of the time like O’Toole and Mirren (who get to keep their clothes on). Often I wonder how this film affected the careers of the main stars after its release . I Might be something to do some research on this later on I think.

The verdict on Caligula

In my opinion the film is a master piece. Expertly written, directed and produced. In a way the separate minds behind this came together rather well. Despite the fact all of them hated each others input into the film. If you can get past the high levels of violence and sex you have an enthralling watch and one epic piece of cinema!

The best way to judge this for yourself is to check it out. Not an easy film to find but probably on amazon or ebay for those who are keen! If you can find it, it is definitely worth it.

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The Cast of Caligula

Malcolm McDowell (A Clockwork Orange / Rob Zombies Halloween) Puts in a great performance as the emperor Caligula

Helen Mirren as Caesonia (Caligula’s wife)

Peter O Toole as Emporer Tiberius (Caligula’s uncle)