Caligula Review
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Originally released in 1979, this controversial film is now available in a new, three-disc Imperial Edition—and it’s clear that an enormous amount of work and imagination went into its making. The collection includes an alternate pre-release version of the film plus interviews with several of the players who made it all happen.

This one-of-a-kind classic is the type of movie that you watch with trepidation, peeping through open fingers, with your hands covering your face. It’s a dark, surreal, and magnificently disturbing saga of an evil, insane Roman emperor who, in many ways, reminds me a lot of George Bush. Guaranteed to offend even the most open-minded audience, this story absolutely overflows with vulgarity.

It begins innocently enough, though, with our hero, played by Malcolm McDowell, and his lover/sister, clad in togas and frolicking in the wilderness amongst sheep. Both incest and bestiality were common back in the days of Pagan Rome, and this is clearly evidenced by an abundance of fascinating genetic mutations that afflicted the population.

Young Caligula is destined to become heir to the throne once his crazy old grandfather, Tiberius (Peter O’Toole), succumbs to syphilis. To help expedite his grandfather’s demise, Caligula enlists one of his lovers to suffocate Tiberius on his deathbed.

Once Caligula is in power, it’s important that he get married so that he can sire an heir to the throne. He’s absolutely furious that law forbids him to marry his sister, Drusilla (Teresa Ann Savoy). Nonetheless, Drusilla insists on helping him find a wife, so she invites him to a lesbian orgy at her house. Caligula dresses in drag and attends the orgy. He picks Livia (Mirella D’Angelo) first, but Drusilla tells him that she is already engaged. (Later in the story, Caligula will crash the wedding celebration in the worst way.) Much to Drusilla’s dismay, her brother’s second choice is Caesonia, (played by Helen Mirren) who Drusilla says is shamelessly promiscuous. (And, considering what was normal for them back then, she had to be pretty bad.)

One dark and stormy night shortly after his wedding, Caligula’s already fragile psyche cracks like an eggshell. He dreams that his young cousin is plotting to kill him, and he runs outside screaming and dancing until Drusilla and Caesonia usher him inside for a threesome.

Shortly thereafter, Caesonia becomes pregnant with what they hope will be Caligula’s son. Unfortunately, Caesonia bears him a daughter. Much to his credit (and my surprise), Caligula refrains from killing the child.

The story continues on to follow Caligula’s reign of terror to a bitter, grisly end.

The film is in English, and although I was grateful to be free of subtitles, I think it would have been more appropriate if the actors had used New Jersey English (like in The Sopranos) instead of the U.K. accents. This is my only criticism.

Every single type of debauchery imaginable is included in this story. And though this film is definitely not for the squeamish, it does offer an extremely fascinating cultural perspective.

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