“‘Caligula’ is sickening, utterly worthless, shameful trash.” – Roger Ebert
If you have heard of this movie, you know a couple of things:
1. It has hardcore sex in it.
2. It is marginally based on historical figures from Ancient Rome.
3. It is one of the worst reviewed films in history.
So why did I see it? I was curious. Surely a movie that was written by Gore Vidal (he sued to have his credit rewritten as: Adapted from an Original Screenplay by Gore Vidal. One of the best film credits ever.), and starring two actors and one actress that I generally like (Malcolm McDowell, Peter O’Toole, and Helen Mirren all have prominent roles in this film) shouldn’t be completely bad. I have even really liked movies that feature unsimulated and long sex scenes before. Plus I had just finished I, Claudius, a book that tells this same story and really enjoyed it. I should have listened to the one star rating on my Netflix queue, the brutal review written by Roger Ebert and probably everyone else that has ever seen this movie. Why didn’t I listen? Why do I have to be such a film outlaw? (It is a blessing and a curse)
There is no redeeming quality to this film at all. Absolutely none. The sex scenes that are in the film aren’t even that hot which is funny because the movie was produced by Penthouse, one of the more prominent nudie magazines at the time. The director seemed to tell the actors to be as wooden as possible with intermittent bursts of unwarranted emotion. So these emotions become completely unbelievable and just perpetuate the notion that the actors did not want to be there. Even the great Peter O’Toole, who is known for his ability to really sell a part, is overshadowed by the weird pock marks on his face. (I’m guessing they are wanting to make sure there was no doubt in your mind that Tiberius had an sexually transmitted disease. Because a film that is trying to sell you hot sex really should be showing you the physical consequences of it at the same time.)
Every action and visual is cynical. This results in absolutely grotesque sequences. There is one scene where Caligula and his court is at the Coliseum watching a large wall with blades at the bottom of it progress across the arena’s floor. People are buried in the sand floor with their heads peeping out. As the wall progresses across the floor, the heads get lopped off and blood goes everywhere. It is absolutely disgusting. Even if that was historically accurate (which I highly doubt it was), couldn’t they just allude to it and sink the money into giving Helen Mirren a more realistic baby bump than showing us this long scene that consisted of nothing more than senseless carnage? Speaking of baby bump there is also another scene where Helen Mirren is pregnant and does a sensual dance for Caligula. If I were to take anything from this movie and stick it up on youtube, it would be this scene. It is completely insane. She is wearing a baby bump that is a completely different color than her skin, her hair is molded into a massive crown like shape and she moves around like she is having a seizure, but is supposed to be some sort of Egyptian style dance. Plus the music she is dancing to is obviously not the music that was put over the scene in post production. It is laughable in the worst way possible.
This film isn’t even in the it’s so bad it’s good category. It is just too long and boring for that. There are whole scenes in the movie that left me flabbergasted that they were included at all. These scenes had action and dialogue that ultimately did not contribute to the plot at all. These scenes usually had camera movements that made no sense, dialogue exchanges where you couldn’t tell who was talking and why and completely out of focus shots. This film feels like it was put together by an eleven year old boy with some serious mental issues.
Learn from this film outlaw’s mistake. Don’t see the movie. Even if this review piqued your interest. Even if you are an adventurous film watcher. You will regret every moment of this film, I promise you. When I am on my deathbed, I am going to regret I wasted almost two hours of my precious life on this piece of garbage. I don’t want that to happen to you as well.