Caligula (1978)

Genres - Epic, Historical Film  |   Sub-Genres - Historical Epic, Sexploitation, Biopic [feature]  |   Run Time - 150 min.  |   Countries - Italy , United States   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Donald Guarisco

Caligula could very well be the most difficult big-budget film ever made; "difficult" in the sense that despite possessing grand production values and a-list lead actors, it works hard to alienate the audience by burying them in a stream of unsympathetic characters, grotesque violence, and explicit sex. This would be a tough agenda to follow even if Caligula was a tight, confident piece of work. Unfortunately, it is not. The film was reedited several times by different editors before release (portions were also reshot or expanded) and the result is a jumbled mess where scenes appear out of logical order (note the continuity problems), other moments are clumsily redubbed to fit the new chronology and the pace lags throughout. Thus, Caligula is unlikely to hold the attention of a mainstream audience. However, devotees of the bizarre might find Caligula worth checking out, simply because of its sheer outrageousness. No film has ever tried to combine historical drama with such extreme content and the end result is perversely fascinating in segments. More importantly, Malcolm McDowell gives a gutsy, all-stops-out performance in the title role, creating a character that is riveting despite his thoroughly unsympathetic nature and holding the production together through sheer force-of-will. Caligula is guaranteed to alienate a large segment of the viewing public but a select few will be fascinated by its lavishly perverse style and the bombast of McDowell's performance.