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Caligula (1979)

So I had a hard time coming up with appropriate tags for this movie as I don’t want to lure in horny people expecting me to discuss porn or something, even though that’s pretty much what Caligula is….really expensive looking porn.  Caligula is the last of three movies a friend and I decided to watch, mainly because of how “controversial” it is.  In the current entertainment climate where an NC-17 film is getting a lot of attention, Caligula is an interesting experiment in how the NC-17 can just let you showcase porn.  The problem is this movie isn’t sexy or particularly interesting to watch…it’s just laughable and stupid…aided by the fact that I didn’t even get to watch the controversial version!

Caligula (Malcolm McDowall) is a Roman emperor hell-bent on bringing debauchery and excess to the Roman Empire.  In love with his sister Drusilla (Teresa Ann Savoy) and married to “the most promiscuous woman in Rome” Caesonia (Helen Mirren), there’s nothing Caligula doesn’t do or get away with.

That is seriously the ENTIRE plot of this movie….just a 105 minutes (I’ll get to the different versions in a sec) of people writhing around and talking about how insane Caligula is.  I wouldn’t mind that if there was something exciting, titillating, or hell action packed in this movie.  I mean just because it’s meant to be adult and slutty doesn’t mean it can’t have a story or something right…it’s not meant to be porn right?!  Yes I know that this movie was financed by Penthouse Magazine but I thought you wanted this to be art in some form or else how the hell did you get all these classy actors?  Caligula may be the most notorious of the Roman Emperors (next to Nero) but essentially this movie tells you that he just sat on his ass and had sex with anything…not anything with a pulse or anything with boobs literally anything including animals (although I didn’t get to see this in the version I watched).  For a story about Rome and the time it’s pretty boring then.  I mean even Alexander had war scenes and fight sequences amidst all the bromance.

I think a lot of my lack of enjoyment…is there any enjoyment in the other versions…is due to the fact that Netflix is deceptive in their advertising of this movie on Netflix Watch Instantly.  The movie is listed as Unrated on the television when you go to watch this on Instantly, but if you go to it on their website it’s listed as the R-rated version.  If you want the 156 minute Unrated version you have to get it on mail-away which really defeats the purpose in my eyes.  I mean you can see Showgirls Unrated on Instantly, but not Caligula!  Now, I didn’t know there were two different versions until the end when my friend and I both said “Well that wasn’t that bad.”  Apparently the R-rated version is an abomination and after watching videos discussing what I missed, the R-rated version not only removes all the controversy but also IMPORTANT STORY!

Now I wasn’t all that interested in seeing Malcolm McDowall have a threesome, screw a horse, or fist a guy but I at least wanted a coherent narrative.  The R-rated version removes all of the above and also any story bits that would make you understand the plot…and these aren’t even scenes with anything bad in them!  Case in point, is when Caligula goes out amongst the people after the loss of a loved one.  You see him watch a play making fun of him before he’s rounded up and sent to prison.  In the R-rated version you assume this takes place maybe over a night.  No, apparently in the Unrated cut Caligula is missing for several months!  The scene explaining his absence doesn’t have any nudity or sex, it’s just talking!  What’s so controversial about that…afraid the audience might understand what’s going on for five minutes?

I can’t really give this a legitimate grade because I don’t even think the R-rated version counts as a film.  It’s confusing, it’s not sexy, and it’s just plain boring.  At least the debauchery of the Unrated version might have made me laugh at how ridiculous everything is.  I’ve seen NC-17 movies (I’ll defend Showgirls until my dying day) so seriously Netflix, give me what I pay for!

Grade: D but really it doesn’t matter since this isn’t how you should watch the movie

Kristen Lopez View All

A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.

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