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Caligula - The Imperial Edition (Image Entertainment) DVD Review

    Ian Jane

  • Caligula - The Imperial Edition (Image Entertainment) DVD Review

    Released by: Image Entertainment
    Released on: October 2nd, 2007.
    Director: Tinto Brass/Bob Guccione
    Cast: Malcolm McDowell, Teresa Ann Savoy, Helen Mirren, Peter O'Toole, John Steiner
    Year: 1979
    Purchase From Amazon

    Caligula - The Imperial Edition - Movie Review:

    Caligula must have sounded like a sure thing. Famed writer and historian Gore Vidal wrote a script detailing the rise and fall of Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, better known as Caligula (his nickname meaning 'Little Boots'). Bob Guccione, the founder of Penthouse Magazine helped bankroll the production meaning that there'd be no shortage of cash on hand to realize Vidal's vision. Italian sexploitation auteur Tinto Brass, fresh off of the extremely successful Salon Kitty , was going to direct while Oscar award winning Danilo Donati was going to handle the set design and art direction. Master composer Bruno Nicolai (credited under the pseudonym of Paul Clemente) would supply an appropriately grandiose score, while in front of the camera the acting duties would be performed by such illustrious thespians as Malcolm McDowell, future Academy Award Winner Helen Mirren, Italian exploitation regular John Steiner, Shakespearian actor Sir John Gielgud and none other than Lawrence of Arabia himself, Peter O'Toole (who at this point in his career had received the Oscar nomination no less than five times). There's no doubt that on paper, the film looked like it should have been well received with audiences and critics alike - and then the production started...

    The film follows the rise and fall of Caligula and, in its own convoluted way, attempts to present a reasonably accurate portrayal of actual events that took place in ancient Rome. When we first meet Caligula (Malcolm McDowell) he's a young prince enjoying everything that his stature affords him. As time passes, he soon sets his sights on the throne and when his father, Emperor Tiberius Claudius Nero (Peter O'Toole) contracts syphilis Caligula coerces a guardsman named Marco (Guido Mannari) to assassinate him. When this happens, Caligula is able to usurp the throne.

    Initially, his rise to power is seen as a good thing. He seems a good natured and kind ruler, affording pieces of gold to all Roman citizens, but we soon realize how completely paranoid Caligula really is when he pretty much fires everyone who worked under his late father's rule. He brings in his sister, Drusilla (Teresa Ann Savoy) and Marco to work alongside him and soon begins having anyone who opposes him put to death. Before long, Caligula is obviously starting to go mad. He's conducting an illicit and incestuous affair with Drusilla, he's murdering his counsel left right and center, and he's spending money like it's going out of style. Caligula's brother Gemellus (Bruno Brive) and his uncle Claudius (Giancarlo Badessi) keep a watchful eye on him while he attempts to recoup some of his financial losses by offering the senator's wives as prostitutes at the price of five gold pieces for twenty-minutes in an Imperial Brothel, but by this point Longinus (John Steiner) and General Proculus (Donato Placido) have had enough and are starting to scheme against the mad Emperor of Rome. They hope that his marriage to Caesonia (Helen Mirren) will calm his increasingly bizarre ways, but it soon becomes apparent that the Emperor is not going to pull out of his downward spiral.

    Or something like that.

    The film as it stands makes very little sense. While the cinematography and set design are beautiful and some of the performances, McDowell and O'Toole in particular, are very strong Caligula is a complete mess of a film. It's obvious that a substantial amount of money was poured into the production as it looks fantastic from start to finish but the story is all over the place and when it's all over and done with the film feels like less of an actual narrative or chronicle than a bunch of depraved set pieces strung together with a very basic story tacked on as an afterthought. Interestingly enough, the film falls victim to the same plight that destroys its titular character - excess! Just as Caligula himself decided to indulge his every whim and fancy, be it anally fisting a man at his own wedding, lying in bed with his beloved horse or screwing his sister silly - so too does the film overindulge with completely gratuitous hardcore sex, explicit scenes of gore (the nasty castration scene is still painful to watch, made all the worse when the dogs chow down on the detached member!) and set design that, while beautiful, looks like something out of Flash Gordon. Who's to blame for the fiasco is really difficult to say, and the truth of the matter is that fingers should probably be pointed at all involved to some extent. Brass' direction cribs from Fellini (though one could make the argument that Brass influenced Fellini first) but lacks that man's finesse. Gore's writing reeks of egotism. Most of the cast members overact a few times, or stand there looking dazed.

    The icing on the cake is the hardcore inserts that Guccione shot after principal photography had wrapped using some of his Penthouse Pets on set in Italy, best represented by a steamy but completely unnecessary girl on girl love scene and the plethora of penetration seen in the Imperial Brothel sequence. Truly, no one is innocent and it seems that by hoping to expose the depravity of ancient Rome in all of its splendor the filmmakers fell victim to the same hubris that would ultimately befall most classic meglomaniacs. Reading too much into it? Quite likely, but it's interesting food for thought.

    That said, as bad as Caligula is in so many ways, it is not without merit. Indeed the curiosity value alone makes the film worth seeing, particularly after gaining a context for the situations under which the production was made and the tumultuous post-production tampering, tinkering, editing and re-shooting. Make no doubt about it, the film is bad, but it's gloriously bad - a fabulous disaster if you will. Look at it as a prime example of what can go wrong where there are too many cooks in the kitchen. Had one of the three principal players -Gore, Guccione or Brass - been left in charge and the film had maintained a singular vision throughout, it would have no doubt turned out a better film. On the other hand, there's no way it would have been as interesting as the mess the three men made.


    Never before seen until this release, there are some noticeable differences between this cut and the more widely seen version contained on the first disc. The film now opens with Caligula waking up from a nightmare rather than with the scene where he fools around with his sister in the woods. Sub-plots involving two key characters are now presented chronologically instead of in chopped up bits and the hardcore inserts shot by Guccione are all but completely gone, in some places replaced with softcore shots and in others just missing entirely.

    The film flows better in this cut and it makes marginally more sense thanks to a few assorted bits of character development that just flat out work better here, but even in this noticeably different cut the film still has some glaring mistakes and editing problems.

    Caligula - The Imperial Edition - DVD Review:

    Aside from some mild compression artifacts just barely noticeable in the darker scenes, Caligula looks very good in this new release and the 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is a marked improvement over the previous single disc release that Image unleashed way back when in 1999. The film has always looked a little grainy so to see that carried over to this newly restored transfer shouldn't be an issue for most fans. Print damage is never problematic and color reproduction is excellent.

    There's a lot more fine detail present here than there has been previously, making it easier to appreciate the set design and the lush colors that are used throughout the picture. The pre-release cut on the second disc doesn't look quite as clean as the uncut version on the first disc, but it's very close and it too looks quite good.

    Neither transfer suffers from heavy edge enhancement or aliasing and flesh tones look quite natural throughout save for scenes where they've intentionally been lit in a manner meant to give things a sort of otherworldly vibe. All in all, fans of the film or those simply curious and wanting to check it out should be pleased with the visual side of this package.

    The uncut version of the picture is presented in your choice of the original English language Mono track or by way of a newly re-mastered Dolby Digital 5.0 Surround Sound mix. While a 5.1 mix is always preferable, the 5.0 track here is pretty impressive. Most of what you'll notice in terms of how the surrounds are used is how the score is presented, it has a lot more power on this track than it does on the mono track. Surrounds fill in some ambient noises here and there, always a nice touch. Dialogue is pretty clear and while the obvious dubbing in some parts of the film hurts the production, at least these awkward moments are presented with clarity. There are one or two moments in the film where the score is so pumped up that it buries everything else but this occurs infrequently and isn't really a serious issue. The mono mix doesn't sound quite as good, it's a little shrill in spots, but it's certainly serviceable.

    The first question someone might ask, when they realize the extent to which the supplements on this disc delve into the scattered history of the production, is 'why?' Who on Earth would want to know so much about a film that is almost universally reviled and which has been disowned by some of the people who made it? Essentially, because it seems that the screwed up productions are always the most interesting and there are few films more screwed up than this one. As such, the story behind the film is a genuinely fascinating one. Here's what Image has brought to the table…


    Aside from the lengthier hardcore cut of the film, the first disc in the collection contains some slick menus, a chapter selection sub-menu, and a trio of anamorphic widescreen trailers for the film - the 'green band' theatrical trailer (1:50), the teaser trailer (credited to Analysis Films, narrated by Bob Guccione, 1:09), and the R-Rated release trailer (1:01).


    As stated, disc two contains the never before seen pre-release version of the film but aside from that there are also a trio of exclusive audio commentaries, the first of which comes courtesy of Caligula himself, Malcolm McDowell, who is joined by moderator Nick Redman. Fans of the film or of McDowell should really enjoy this talk as McDowell is quite amicable throughout and has no problem whatsoever being upfront and honest about his thoughts on the film and the people involved in the production. He does go on record and say that because the film was taken from Brass that 'we all paid the price' and he talks about how despite all the flaws it was the most profitable film he's ever been involved in. McDowell discusses working with other prestigious actors, O'Toole in particular, and how he didn't care that Penthouse was financing the film because Gore Vidal was writing it. Obviously circumstances changed once Guccione added the hardcore footage and McDowell refers to the inserts as crass and ridiculous, claiming they 'ruined the intent of what Tinto wanted to do.' McDowell also talks about his personal take on the character that he plays and spends a bit of time talking about some of the good things that the real Caligula did that weren't really covered in the movie.

    The second commentary track comes from Helen Mirren, the actress who played Caesonia in the film. She's joined by writers Alan Jones and James Chaffin. The moderators come out and ask her frankly about Peter O'Toole's drinking and she comes right out and says that he wasn't drinking because he was told it would kill him, and that instead he was smoking a lot of dope. She talks about how intimidated she was by him the first time she met him, but states that he was a bright and smart man. She talks about how impressed she was with some of the sets that the film was shot on and how beautiful they were, and then how shocked she was to walk into one of the sets and find it full of naked people. She goes on record saying she did the film because Guccione offered her more money than she'd ever been offered in her career and talks about how impressive the scope of the production was.

    Last but not least is an audio commentary from Ernest Volkman, the on-set reporter employed on set during the production. Volkman, recorded here via telephone, talks about how Guccione didn't want to listen to voices of reason despite the fact that he had many qualified filmmakers on the set that could have helped him. Volkman talks about the different versions of the film and why/how they exist, he talks about the brothel scene in the truly uncut version and how it 'goes on and on and on - a mini porno film wrapped into another film.' Volkman talks about how Guccione was temperamental and likely to sue people he didn't like, and how he wasn't above pulling publicity stunts and how Guccione would respond to the film's many critics. Volkman was never a proper Penthouse employee but he did continue to work for Guccione off and one for a while after the film was over with and he talks about how he always respected Guccione for what he did for the veterans when no one else was doing anything to help them.

    Also included on Disc Two is a selection of deleted and alternate scenes, available to watch individually or by way of a 'play all' feature and presented in 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen. No sound was recorded so they're all presented here with only the score over top:

    Tiberius' Grotto (13:52): random footage of debaucheries set to music from the score. Snakes are molested, bestiality is inferred, poorly lit orgies are held, and we see a very hairy crotch in close up while various background characters have simulated acrobatic sex.

    Satyrs, Nymphs And Little Fishes (6:49): A few bit part players, some nude, sit around the blue-lit grotto while some percussionists and other musicians play their instruments. From there a bunch of them go skinny dipping.

    Killing Tiberius - Unfinished Work Print Edit (4:32): A very rough cut of the scene where Tiberius is put to death. Shot in black and white, this version features a few different angles and alternate clips - it's quite interesting to see how it compares to the version seen in the film.

    Tiberius' Deathbed - Extended (3:41): A very different alternate take on Tiberius' final moments featuring some elongated shots and alternate footage.

    Caligula's Counsel With Longinus (0:56): Caligula and Longinus have what appears to be a heated discussion, at least on Caligula's part, while a female aide stands aside and watches.

    Drusilla Comforts Caligula (1:04): A black and white work print clip wherein Drusilla climbs into Caligula's bed, kisses him, and then makes love to him or at least gets naked and rolls around with him a lot.

    Proculus Runs The Gauntlet (2:36): Another black and white work print clip featuring the infamous gauntlet scene where the giant lawn mower devices chop off heads and threaten to kill poor Proculus who is pelted with eggs and refuse from the onlookers.

    Marco's Execution - Extended (5:01): This black and white work print segment starts with the lawn mower machine at one side of the stadium where it moves across to the other side and ultimately relieves poor Marco of his noggin.

    Death Of Drusilla - Alternate Angles (2:42): An alternate version of Caligula mourning over Drusilla and dragging her naked corpse up the stairs to hold her before carrying her out of the room.

    Arriving On The Bordello Ship (0:54): An almost slapstick-comedy scene where the prostitutes-to-be and some of the male cohorts arrive on the ship where the prostitution is to take place.

    Bordello Ship (2:45): The guards dance around the ship as do some entertainers, before the camera takes us onboard. Caligula wanders in among the participants and starts things off while naked women swing around, dance and gyrate.

    Temple Of Jupiter (2:51): A man is killed with a hammer blow to the head, the blunt instrument of death wielded by Caligula himself. The temple goers stand there to watch and then applaud to show their approval.


    The rest of the extras, and there are a lot of them, are found on the third disc. Here's a look…

    My Roman Holiday with John Steiner (24:21): Now employed as a real estate agent, Steiner talks about how he got his start by acting in a high school play and how the buzz he got from that made him want to act. He covers his early years, his work with The Marat Sade, and how the first time he went to Rome with his girlfriend he found that people in Rome knew who he was because of that work which in turn led to offers in the Italian film industry at the time. He talks about Vidal and Brass's work on Caligula, and he gripes about the costume that he had to wear in the film and how it irritated him. He flatly states that he did not enjoy working on Caligula, that he hated it, but that it and Salon Kitty earned him enough money to buy a house. He also covers his work with Argento, Margheritti and Deodato and the time he spent in the Philippines. He then explains how the quality of the movies was getting poorer and he was getting paid less, hence his exit from the industry. Steiner tells some great stories and does a good job of honestly relaying his time spent in the golden age of the Italian genre film industry.

    Caligula's Pet: A Conversation with Lori Wagner (28:18): Lori talks about how fresh out of high school she was when asked to pose for a photographer who finally got her smashed and convinced her to get naked in front of the camera. She says Playboy didn't want her cause her nose was too big and her breasts were too small (she also admits that she 'fixed that') and how Guccione wanted her in Caligula. She talks about her impression of Guccione, and how she didn't even arrive on the set of Caligula until the production had been shooting for six months and she says that McDowell stayed in character the entire time she was on set. She talks about how many of the Pets got bored on set as they didn't have a whole lot to do, and how later Guccione brought them in to sex it up a bit as everything that Brass had shot was 'odd.' Wagner helped cast the male parts for Guccione's footage, and she then explains her reaction to the finished film and how she didn't want to help promote it or go out and pose for photos to help with the publicity. She talks about her work on the film Messalina, and how on that set too she found herself bored with little to do. She explains how she almost wound up in a Fellini film but that he didn't want her in it, having heard she was too wild. From there she cleaned up her act and quit living the wild life, then explains a few parts she took afterwards and how due to never having the right agent she never got the chance to make it in the music industry like she wanted to. From there she shows the cameraman her musical gear and gives a tour of her home. Wagner's music plays over the end credits.

    Tinto Brass: The Orgy of Power (34:23): Brass starts off by saying that many of the stories about the film are grossly inflated. From there he covers how after he finished Salon Kitty he was offered Caligula and how he didn't really see eye to eye with Vidal on how the story of Caligula should be told. Cigar in hand, Brass talks about how his vision really should have demonstrated how Caligula's madness ensured that Rome was really ruled by an anarchist and how he equated Caligula's rule with a child who enjoys smashing his toy. He explains how his contract for the film only allowed him to have first cut, not final cut, and he then explains the difficulties in his relationship with Gore Vidal and with Bob Guccione. He describes Vidal's original script as too talky and too focused on Tiberius, and how writing for text is different than writing for the screen. He explains how Guccione wanted to be the real father of the project and Brass explains how he wound up closing the set to certain individuals for fear of interference. He expresses his admiration for Donalli's set design, and he covers working with some of the actors and actresses featured in the film and some of the issues he ran into with some of the actresses specifically. He says that the flaws of the film are more to do with the ego problems between Vidal, Guccione and Rossalini, and how the editing of the film, which was taken out of his hands, was cruel and decisive and how because it was taken out of his hands it prevented him from giving the film a style. He does state for the record that he liked Guccione and got along with him well but that the sycophants he surrounded himself with were very problematic. Brass sums up the film saying that it was no longer about an orgy of power, but about the power of the orgy. Directed by David Gregory, this is an excellent and very honest discussion with Brass and it's great to see him finally say his piece on the film.

    The Making of Caligula-Documentary (1:01:27): This vintage documentary starts off by reading a memo explaining how no one outside of those involved with the production were allowed on set. From there the cameras take us on set where we hear McDowell complain about how cold it is on set in Rome. Guccione shows up on camera and explains why he's making the film the way that he is, stating that it needed to be shot in Rome where Caligula lived, loved and died. Every prop was manufactured and the whole film was started from scratch, no prop house was used. He explains how craftsmen were brought in to provide authenticity for the picture, and he sums it up by saying 'Italy is... the best.' Vidal shows up and explains his reasons for writing the script, expressing his admiration for the cast and why he hoped that the audience would find sympathy for Caligula. McDowell talks about how the film is meant to give a reason for Caligula's madness. Guccione talks about how people tried to break into the set during the production, and how no one collection of photographs or stories from the press can tell exactly what happened on set as that has remained an absolute secret. Guccione calls the film sexually explicit and makes no apologies for it, and we see some full on hardcore blowjob footage, Guccione explaining that the film represents the morality of Rome. Lori Wagner talks about the sexuality of the film and her part in it, the graphic lesbian scene specifically. Brass wanders around on set and smokes cigars, Guccione discusses the adult film industry, and we're treated to a wealth of excellent behind the scenes footage. Directed by Giancarlo Lui, it's quite a lavish documentary and it's great to see it included here as if nothing else it does an interesting job of letting Vidal and Guccione speak about the production.

    The Making of Caligula-Featurette (9:55): Though this uses some of the same footage that we see in the documentary, the narration for this much shorter look at the making of the film is very different. Again we see a lot of behind the scenes footage here and we're treated to some great clips of the cast and crew on set. This featurette puts a fair bit of emphasis on Caligula's incestuous relationship with his sister before going on to explain Caligula's madness and the effects that it had on the people around him. This piece isn't nearly as thorough as the documentary is but it's interesting to see the footage and clips presented in a fairly different manner.

    Behind The Scenes Footage: Up next is a massive selection of behind the scenes clips shot on the set of the production. No sound accompanies these clips so music from the film's score (or in some places some odd disco music) is placed over top. They're all presented in anamorphic widescreen and are available to watch individually or by way of a 'play all' feature. The titles more or less explain what we see:

    Pets Arrive in Rome (0:54, Penthouse Pets show up at the airport), Set Construction, Painting & Props (12:57, various carpenters and construction workers building, painting and detailing the sets - watch for Brass walking by the camera towards the end), Extras Make-Up (7:58, clips of various extras both male and female getting their makeup done on set), John Gielgud In Make-Up (2:00, Gielgud having his hair and makeup done in a dressing room), Caligula's Arrival In Capri (3:38, the crew prepares the set for the scene while McDowell wanders around in costume and takes direction), Creating Tiberius' Grotto (6:33, crew members prepare the set while Brass directs and extras prepare to fill in the background of this fairly infamous scene), Too Much Wine (3:35, we see the cast prepare for the gore scene then watch O'Toole and McDowell arrive for the blood drenched finale), Preparing Marco's Execution (5:49, the cast and crew and a massive array of extras prepare for the epic scene where Marco loses his head), Tinto Brass Directing (4:11, clips of Brass interacting with his cast and crew on set and dealing with cameras), Isis Pool Rehearsals (4:16, clothed female extras block their scenes and practice on the set for the pool scene), Isis Pool Filming (4:16, raw footage of the female extras, mostly nude, frolicking in the pool and engaging in some Sapphic love making), Preparing The Wedding Banquet (3:30, cast and crew on set preparing for the aforementioned scene. Look for McDowell in his bathrobe!), The Wedding Rape (7:27, test footage of McDowell and the female co-star blocking the scene trying out a few different options before we see McDowell and his male co-star try out the fisting scene!), Caesonia's Dance Instructor (3:58, a dance choreographer gives his direction from behind the camera), Filming the Bordello Ship (4:58, cast and extras wander the set as the cameras show off the design work. Look for Guccione towards the end of this clip!).

    Last but not least, there are also four extensive Still Galleries included, all presented without sound: Color Film Stills (approximately 18 images over 2:03), Black And White Film Stills (approximately 38 images over 3:08), Behind The Scenes (divided into sections: Main Cast, Tinto Brass Directs, Tiberius' Grotto, Nerva's Suicide, Isis Pool, Marco's Execution, Wedding Banquet, Death Of Proculus, Bordello Ship, Assassination, Proculus' Audition, Deleted Scene: The Treasury, Deleted Scene: The Temple Of Jupiter, Extras, Sets & Props, Costumes & Make Up) and Promotional (approximately 13 images over 1:03).

    Those with a DVD-ROM might like to know that if they pop the disc into their computer they'll have access to press kit notes on The Real Caligula and Caligula Press Materials, biographies for the principal cast and crew members, two versions of Gore Vidal's original script, four Penthouse articles related to the film as well as a seventy-four page movie tie-in novelization. All of these DVD-ROM features are provided in Adobe Acrobat PDF format.

    If that weren't enough, there's also a booklet of liner notes containing the following essays: Why Caligula by Thomas A. Ryerson; The Strange Case Of The Mutilated Caligula, Making The Movie, Unmaking The Movie, Releasing The Movie, Repairing The Movie, When You Least Expect It, How You - Yes You! - Can Help, and But Why? by RJ Buffalo. These liner notes do a great job of explaining the convoluted release, its various edits, and the restoration and alternate version contained in this set.

    So why doesn't this set receive 5/5 for supplements? Simply because it was originally to come with the soundtrack, which would have been a very welcome addition to the set, and for whatever reason between the original press release and street date something changed that stopped that from happening (likely legal reasons or a rights issue of some sort). Thankfully, that's really the only disappointment with this set in terms of supplements. Rights issues prevent the alternate footage from Italian and British variants from being included here, Image can't be faulted for that and what we have here is pretty damn extensive and the bulk of it is quite fascinating.

    Caligula - The Imperial Edition - The Final Word Review:

    A fantastic transfer, solid audio, and a wealth of extra features cannot change the fact that this film is a disaster. A fabulous disaster, definitely, but a disaster never the less. That said, it's a fascinating and utterly bizarre piece of movie history and Image's release of Caligula - Three-Disc Imperial Edition does a great job of attempting to explain the film's convoluted history. This makes for a very interesting and impressive package that stops short of trying to legitimize the film's flaws and instead attempts to document how it all went wrong. Interesting stuff!

    • Lalala76
      Senior Member
      Lalala76 commented
      Editing a comment
      I do remember the execution of Macro Being compelling and terrifying. Unforgettable
      Nothing in this compares with the Spear up the ass in Damato's Caligula: The Untold story though. Truly eye watering.

    • Newt Cox
      Newt Cox
      Senior Member
      Newt Cox commented
      Editing a comment
      Originally posted by Lalala76
      Nothing in this compares with the Spear up the ass in Damato's Caligula: The Untold story though. Truly eye watering.
      Is there an english friendly uncut version of Damato's Caligula on DVD or Blu? I got the vhs rip cut version,was a Xmas gift from my grandparents.

    • agent999
      Senior Member
      agent999 commented
      Editing a comment
      Originally posted by Newt Cox
      Is there an english friendly uncut version of Damato's Caligula on DVD or Blu? I got the vhs rip cut version,was a Xmas gift from my grandparents.
      There were DVD releases in Germany and Italy but both are out of print. They were from a restoration by X Rated, the Italian was anamorphic.

      Supposedly one of the US releases on some grindhouse label was the full version, but I can't vouch for that.
      Senior Member
      Last edited by agent999; 09-21-2020, 01:25 AM.
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