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  Caligula and Messalina Unimpressive EmperorsBuy this film here.
Year: 1981
Director: Jean-Jacques Renon, Bruno Mattei, Antonio Passalia
Stars: Vladimir Brajovic, Betty Roland, Françoise Blanchard, Raul Cabrera, Gino Turini, Angelo Arquilla, Piotr Stanislas, Vincent Lo Monaco, Fanny Magier, Laurence Lovall, Antonio Passalia, Dominique Irissou, Marie-Noëlle Arnoult, Silvie Dezabauneix, Kathy Sadik
Genre: Sex, Trash, Historical
Rating:  2 (from 1 vote)
Review: Caligula (Vladimir Brajovic) is regarded as the cruellest ruler of Ancient Rome, not that you would mention it to his face should you have been around at the height of his infamy. Under his reign, everything is geared towards hedonism, and if that pleasure seeking holds within it a power to murder whoever Caligula wants to, then so much the better for him, he truly is drunk with his huge influence over his citizens and authorities. But he has a short attention span, so tires of his playthings with alarming regularity, one minute committing incest with his sister Agrippina (Françoise Blanchard) the next taking his fill of bloodshed from the gladiatorial arena - as a spectator, of course. Then a certain woman enters his life who appears to be well able to match his debauchery...

That'll be Messalina then, played by Betty Roland in a film that has about as many versions as the source it was ripping off, not some history textbook but a work of more recent vintage, the Tinto Brass fiasco of great notoriety, Caligula. That had been widely criticised for its crass excesses, though proved a hit with those audiences who went to see it, therefore the Italian film industry being what it was imitators sprang up as soon as the lower budget producers noted Brass's profits. This was one credited to at least three directors depending on which version you watched, though the most recognisable name there was Bruno Mattei, himself rather infamous for his frequently ludicrous exploitation flicks.

That said, there was so much stock footage from other Roman epics used here to pad out scenes and make this look more expensive than it was, then perhaps the editor could just as easily be credited with directing this by piecing together whatever he had to hand in various incarnations: there was one reputed to run to almost two and a half hours, which given how excruciatingly tedious the shorter variations were sounded like an experience purely for those gluttons for punishment who could not get enough of some of the least convincing historical fiction imaginable. It may be curious to say that something with this amount of softcore sex and to a lesser extent bloody violence could be quite as boring as it is, but if anything it illustrated how Brass was the superior fillmmaker.

Whatever else it was, his Caligula was never dull, but Mattei and his amazing friends served up such an indigestible dollop of sexploitation elements that by the hour mark the attention had begun to wander since this was more or less the same damn thing over and over. We got the idea that Ancient Rome was a place of extreme decadence in the first five minutes, but this had no idea of what to do other than cut a bunch of samey sex scenes in and out of costume together, with very little to engage otherwise. Caligula didn't even stick around for the whole movie as he was assassinated halfway through, leaving Messalina to carry on with the new Emperor Claudius to very little interest. It takes a peculiar kind of talent to take historical sensationalism and flatten it out, but here we were.

There was the occasional scene to wake you up a tad, not because they were any good but because they were really bad, so we join Messalina going about her ablutions in a pool that asses' milk is poured into (think you're getting mixed up with Cleopatra, there, guys), and as a diversion she has said animal mounted by another, then when that has her fired up she persuades her eunuch into the water with her for some "fun". This inspired the editor to include the horse mating scene from Walerian Borowczyk's La Bête as she and Caligula look on impressed, apropos of nothing other than filling up the running time, though another scene entirely of their devising saw Messalina enjoying herself with one of her consorts when the dwarf character hops on behind her for a spot of possibly Soft Cell inspiring buggery as she continues, looking understandably surprised. If that floated your boat, you might be mildly entertained, but this was so shoddy, so low rent, so downright uninspired that it was difficult to care. Malcolm McDowell obviously had it easy. Music by Giacomo Dell'Orso.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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