Underground Reading: Worlds of the Imperium by Keith Laumer
PK Interview: Sophia McDougall (Part 3)

Monsters & Mullets: Caligula (1979)

CaligulaPornokitsch is proud (by which we mean ashamed and fairly apologetic) to announce our V Days of Rome Monsters & Mullets feature: Caligula.  Join us on this epic, in no way safe for work, home, children, puppies or life journey - Pornokitsch's first, and hopefully only, foray into actual porn.

The '70s were such a weird time for cinema, right?  Cinemas were bursting with war movies and anti-war movies, heavily stylized masterpieces and equally as heavily naturalistic films, disaster films and raunchy comedies. The blockbuster was born, the studio musical died, and the influence of French New Wave trickled into Hollywood. A new generation of film school brats butted up against institutionalized ideas about cinema so dated that movie-goers could smell the embalming fluid leeching out of the screen. 

And then there was the porn.  The '70s were a such weird time for porn; the US Supreme Court was desperately trying to define the difference between porn and art, and with every decision that came down some self-satisfied self-appointed auteur ran out to produce a film that crossed it. Pornography has never been more mainstream than during that tumultuous decade; films like Behind the Green Door and Deep Throat were commercial, mixed-audience successes that ordinary people, men and women, (yes, even your parents), openly watched and discussed.  Such films, and their acceptance by culture at large, were welcomed by some as harbringers of a new society, a society more open to and tolerant of progressive ideas about race and gender and sexuality.  No longer was sex the sole province of trenchcoated men in dark and smelly theatres.  The world was becoming a better place, one sexually-explicit film at a time.

Into this world came Caligula, the 1979 arthouse fuck-flick that promised to shock and titillate like no other.  It starred major actors, it was written by a respected author, it was based (loosely) on historical events, and it was about... well, it was about a guy who shagged his sister and elected his horse senator.  If Caligula wasn't about Modern Life, nothing could be. Caligula was deep, man. Deep.  And dark.  And sweat-stained.  And uncomfortable.  And crusty, and I don't mean "old fashioned."

Naturally, I sat us down in front of the 156 minute, wholly unexpurgated, wholly uncut version. Jared may never forgive me.

Despite Caligula's nearly three-hour run-time, there's very little plot.  The film is mainly a few incredibly long set-pieces comprised of equal parts monologuing, fucking and killing (MFKing, pronounced "em-fucking.")  I'll try to recreate the viewing experience with this recap.

LiggyThe film opens... with a shot of baaing sheep.  Knowing that Caligula is all about the sex, Jared and I giggled.  Sheep!  Baaing!  Hilarious!  We wouldn't smile again for a week.  Anyway, Caligula opens with a shot of sheep, then cuts to two be-toga-ed (yet somehow also naked) people hanging out in a forest glade. The sheep are nowhere to be seen.  Why is the film's first shot of sheep?  Who cares?  In what would turn out to be symbolic of the entire film, it simply doesn't matter what else is happening because PEOPLE ARE FUCKING.  In this case, they're romping around all happy and carefree and naked before finally having sex against a tree.  Congratulations, viewing audience, you've just met Caligula and his sister Drusilla at their most innocent.  I am not being sarcastic; this is the sanest they'll ever be.  An endless title sequence follows, and then short scene affirming that, indeed, this is Caligula and his sister and THEY HAVE SEX WITH EACH OTHER.  Then we get our first MFKing.

CaligulaPeter O'Toole, looking like death warmed over, is the zombie emperor Tiberius - and Caligula's grandfather. NAKED PEOPLE SEX SEX SEX NAKED PEOPLE COCK NAKED PEOPLE VAGINA SEX SEX He's also really raunchy, even for a Roman, and lives in a cave (?) filled with naked people having sex.  And enormous penis statues.  COCK COCK COCK FUCKING SEX NAKED PEOPLE VAGINA MASTURBATION BLOWIE SEX  Romans are like swine, zombie Tiberius tells the bug-eyed Caligula, and the emperor is just a swineherd.*  Then he kills a couple of randoms in utterly unnecessarily violent fashion.  NAKED FUCKING PEOPLE SEX COCK SEX  Someday Caligula will become emperor and people will try to kill him, zombie Tiberius concludes.  ORGY FUCKING COCK SEX VAGINA SEX LESBIANS SEX MASTURBATION MACHINE RANDOM ELEVATOR SEX SEX SEX End scene.  Seriously, this scene lasts like two hours and establishes exactly nothing. Except that zombie Tiberius invented the elevator 2000 years ago.

CaligulaSEX SEX SEX SEX SEX. Caligula fucks his sister.  Some random guys have sex in the room next door to Caligula's bedroom.  Then Caligula is called back to Tiberius' bedside.  NAKED PEOPLE EVERYWHERE.  In another MFK scene, Caligula's devoted servant Macro strangles Tiberius and Caligula becomes emperor.  He throws a state funeral that turns into an orgy.  SEX SEX SEX  He wants to move to Egypt so he can marry his sister.  COCK SEX ORGY FUCKING VAGINA SEX SEX  Caligula and Drusilla start living it up as Emperor and Sister-of-Emperor, and have lots of sex in large rooms filled with other people having sex.  Caligula then begins to fear that Macro will kill him, so he has him killed.  Turns out, Caligula's supposed to marry Macro's (ex?) wife, so we next get a scene with Mrs. Macro taking a bath in semen - and if the audience has any doubt that it's ACTUAL JIZZ we get like eight hours' worth of bored-looking Italian guys wanking themselves all over Mrs. Macro.  Caligula wanders in, licks some gooze off Mrs. Macro, then has her carted away in her bathtub.  Then he and Drusilla have sex some more.

CaligulaBut now Caligula needs a wife, since he can't marry his sister and just banished his intended.  So, for our next MFK scene, Drusilla sneaks him into a ladies' bathhouse to check out the goods.  Caligula and Drusilla wander around leering while all the naked Roman ladies give each other tongue-baths.  CUNNILINGUS ORGY SEX SEX RANDOM ROSE PETALS SEX FUCKING LESBIAN SEX  Caligula's eye is taken by none other than Helen Mirren, who loses major Awesome Points for being in this movie.  "But she's the most promiscuous woman in all Rome!" protests Drusilla.  "My soulmate!" says Caligula.  He sneaks her into another room and monologues while sexing her from behind.  Mirren rests her chin in her hands and looks bored.  SEX SEX SEX DOGGY STYLE SEX BORED BORED SEX.

More living it up. Caligula, his ladies and his court are all hanging out doing what Romans do for fun when they're not orgyizing - watching a giant red wall with tentacle-blades that beheads people who are buried in the ground up to their necks.  I know you think I'm making this up, but I'm not.  The wall is, naturally, piloted by fifty naked people.  Hey, at least no one's fucking.  Yet.

Caligula Death Machine
Twirling red tentacle death machine!

CaligulaWe move into our next MFK.  Caligula and Drusilla, leading Helen Mirren by a leash, gate-crash a wedding.  There's an orgy going on, of course, and the wedding cakes are humongous genitalia.  PENIS-CAKE COOTER-CAKE SEX SEX ORGY SEX.  Caligula leads the bride and groom into their kitchen and then rapes them both.  Later, back at the palace, there's a thunder-storm.  Caligula has sex with Drusilla and Helen Mirren while thunder crashes and lightning flashes.  IT IS SUPER ARTY, YO.  Meanwhile, since the principle actors clearly wouldn't actually fuck each other, the film cuts back and forth between them and two women in the room next door having incredibly graphic sex.  CALIGULA SEX THUNDER RANDOM LESBIAN SEX LIGHTNING CALIGULA SEX THUNDER LESBIAN SEX ad infinitum. 

Some time between the rape and the film's end, Caligula has the groom killed.  Afterward, some women have sex with the corpse and then pee all over it.  SEX NECROPHILIA FUCKING PISS SEX SEX.

CaligulaHelen Mirren gets pregnant. Caligula affiances the unborn baby to his sister.  Being Mrs. Caligula, however, means that Helen Mirren gets tied down and forced to give birth in front of about half the palace staff.  The baby pops out inconveniently female.  Oops.  Whatevs.  Time for another orgy!  SEX ORGY FUCKING COCK SEX VAGINA SEX SEX At some point Caligula pretends to invade and defeat Britain, but actually just has his soldiers (naked, of course) run into some lake and fight papyrus weeds while he snorts and giggles into a conch shell.  Really!  Then everyone has sex some more. SEX SEX SEX SEX SEX.

Drusilla catches a fever and dies.  Caligula drags her naked corpse around the palace while screaming.  If he's not engaging in out and out necrophilia, he's not too far off.  SEX SEX SEX Although he was never really the poster-child for calm and reason to begin with, Drusilla's death sends Caligula off the deep end. SEX SEX SEX  His horse starts showing up in the background of scenes. By the expression that crosses its face as it's lying in bed with Caligula it's clear that the poor animal wishes it had been cast in The Godfather instead.  SEX SEX SEX There are some more random scenes to illustrate how totally batshit fucking nuts Caligula is, including one set in a kind of kitchen-thing filled with plaster casts of penises, where Caligula signs all his state papers.  FUCKING! And more orgies, of course. SEX SEX SEX And then, the film's, erm, climax:  the MFK to end all MFKs.  The orgy scene to end all orgy scenes.  Literally, I mean:  it's so aggressively unerotic as to send the audience screaming from the touch of another human being.

CaligulaOkay, so Caligula has built, like, a giant boat?  In his palace?  He's filled it with the wives of all the senators, as well as every pimp and midget in Rome, and he's running it as a brothel.  And he and Helen Mirren wander around watching all the sex while he invites soldiers and citizens and, I don't know, whoever else goes strolling by, to come in and get their coitus on.  Meanwhile his advisor/accountant/bald dude stalks around the periphery getting progressively angrier, all "this is just totally the worst thing Caligula has ever done!" And oh my god, man the fuck up advisor-dude. The guy who made his horse a senator hasn't even killed anyone yet.  Meanwhile SEX FUCKING COCK MIDGET ORGY PENIS VAGINA AMBIGUOUS SEXUALITY FUCKING BLOWJOBS SEMEN SEX SEX SEX SEX SEX SEX SEX SEX SEX SEX SEX SEX SEX SEX SEX oh my god I want to die. 

Caligula We're nearly done now, I swear.  It's a beautiful morning!  Caligula and Helen Mirren act out some strange play about Isis and Osiris and then go for a nice stroll about the palace with their daughter.  They're fully clothed and talking like normal people; it's the most restrained moment of the last three hours, so naturally it can't last.  The captain of the guards runs up and takes a swing at Caligula, who falls to the ground.  Someone skewers Helen Mirren.  Someone else kills the child's nurse and smashes the kid against the ground.  Caligula somehow staggers to his feet and bugs out his eyes all "you kill me now when I'm not fucking my dead sister's corpse or declaring my horse senator?  Really?"  and gets run through for his trouble.  Then a load of Praetorian guards march up and take turns spearing him and after like fifteen minutes of "glrrg"ing and "arrg"ing and spurting blood, Caligula dies.  The guards kick the bodies down a flight of stairs, proclaim Claudius emperor and march off.  There's a final close-up of Malcolm McDowell's bugging eyes and blood-soaked body, over which the credits roll. THANK GOD.  Christ.  I'm never going to touch another human being again.

Jared, during the boat/orgy scene.

The film leaves a lot unexplained, like Caligula's terror of birds.  Although likely meant to suggest his fear of bad omens, not a single second in the film's five decade run-time is devoted to explaining why Caligula shrieks and cowers at the sight of a blackbird. It's one example (of many) where someone - presumably Gore Vidal - tried to write in something resembling character development or plot, but someone else - presumably Penthouse founder Bob Guccione - came along and was all "character? Plot?  Bah!  What this scene needs is MORE COCK."  And, indeed, that's probably what happened.

The film's troubled production history makes for a fascinating read.  Suffice it to say, Gore Vidal wanted to write an historical swords-n-sandals epic, but had to go hat in hand to Guccione for help financing it.  The film turned into the three hour sexpic at Guccione's behest - he even fired the original director and got someone else to finish the film and edit in more sex.  Which explains why "people in the next room" are always having major hardcore orgies while the principles get it on in slightly less hardcore fashion.

Helen Mirren commands you... never to watch Caligula.

As a cultural artifact, Caligula is absolutely fascinating.  It represents the last gasp of a non-starter industry subgenre about to be dealt the dual killing-blows of home theatre technology and a cultural U-turn to social and political conservatism.  As a film, however, Caligula is about the worst thing I have ever seen, and that includes a Malaysian bootleg of The Chronicles of Riddick before the post-production edits were finished.  It's a million years of my life that I'll never get back, and as good a candidate for the Cinematic Black Hole as I've ever seen.

* This swine/swineherd thing is apparently the movie's "theme," and may explain why the first shot of the film is of... sheep? Maybe not.  I... just don't know anymore.  This movie has broken my thinkhole.


Mullets:  Not a one.  But Caligula begins the film with a fleshbeard, which is its own special kind of follicular horror.

Hookers, Victims & Doormats:  The amazing thing about Caligula is that every woman is actually written to be all three of these things, simultaneously.

Destroying my Childhood by Inches:  Forget childhood.  I'm pretty sure my psyche has been irreversibly damaged.

Comprehensive Monsters & Mullets Awesomeness Spectrum Placement:  Remember how I was all "man, nothing could be as bad as Q the Winged Serpent"?  I was a more innocent person back then.