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Caligula & Messalina (Severin Films) Blu-ray Review

    Ian Jane

  • Caligula & Messalina (Severin Films) Blu-ray Review

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    Released by: Severin Films
    Released on: February 22nd, 2022.
    Director: Bruno Mattei
    Cast: Vladimir Brajovic, Betty Roland, Françoise Blanchard, Florence Guérin, Sal Boris
    Year: 1981
    Purchase From Amazon

    Caligula & Messalina – Movie Review:

    When Tinto Brass’ Caligula rose to notoriety in 1979, it only made sense that Bruno Mattei, the Italian master of ripping off other popular films, would offer up his own cheap, stupid take on the story of Rome’s infamous mad emperor. The results? 1981’s French/Italian co-production (it's "An Italfrance Film Paris Production"!) Caligula & Messalina, a weirdly cheery take on the legend of the man who inspired Brass’ original film (which was notoriously manhandled and messed up by Penthouse magazine mogul and producer Bob Guccione).

    This time around, the mad emperor Caligula (Vladimir Brajovic) falls in love with a female gladiator named Messalina (Betty Roland) who lusts for power almost as much as she does sex. After catching his eye and realizing she’s got a shot at taking power, she manages to shift Caligula’s sister, Agrippina (Françoise Blanchard), out of the picture, temporarily dashing her plans to see her son, Nero, take the throne.

    Not one to take this sort of thing lightly, Agrippina, who has slept with her brother, begins to plot her Caligula’s demise but once that’s been dealt with, Messalina, quick to spread her legs, jumps into bed with Caligula’s successor, Claudius (Antonio Passalia). Messalina, however, can’t be satisfied by just one man, and proceeds to run about Rome screwing all manner of men, including a eunuch (huh?) and a rather sinful dwarf, engaging in bouts of single and double penetration, and soon finds herself great with child. When it becomes obvious to anyone with half a brain that Claudius is not the father of her unborn child, Messalina winds up in some very hot water and Agrippina sees her chance to finally get revenge.

    In true Mattie ‘cut and paste’ style, Caligula & Messalina ‘borrows’ footage from the likes of Sergio Leone's The Colossus of Rhodes and Walerian Borowczyk's La Bete. While Mattie’s Caligulasploitation effort never reaches the heights of sleaze that Tinto Brass’ original film did or that Joe D’Amato’s Caligula: The Untold Story wallowed in, it still offers lots of sex and plenty of visual hedonism, even if it lacks the stronger violence of those other two films. That isn’t to say that Caligula & Messalina doesn’t deliver the sleaze, because it does, but it doesn’t mix the sex and the violence together in such strong doses, with even the torture chamber sequence coming across as only mildly bloody. You could argue, however, that the orgies and horse sex make up for that, if you’re into orgies and horse sex. Either way, pretty much everyone fucks everyone else, but weirdly enough, as everyone fucks everyone else, they have a tendency to talk politics while they do it. It’s a strange thing to put as much expository dialogue into the sex scenes here as Mattei does, but there you have it. In most other ways, however, it’s as nonsensical as you’d expect from Mattie but it is at least different from D’Amato and Brass’ efforts in that it spends quite a bit more time with Messalina than it does with Caligula, with her rise to power and conflict with Agrippina taking up the majority of the story.

    While Vladimir Brajovic definitely lacks the screen presence and over the top performative abilities that Malcolm McDowell brought to Brass’ film, the supporting cast in Mattei’s picture is pretty solid. If we don’t get the likes of Peter O’Toole or Helen Mirren, the beautiful Betty Roland and the even more beautiful Françoise Blanchard (she of Living Dead Girl fame) are fun to look at. Throw in a supporting role for none other than 'The Beast In Heat' himself, Salvatore Baccaro (aka Sal Boris), and the aforementioned horny little person, and this winds up being a pretty fun cast. Production values are okay. The stock footage inserts stick out but at least the newly shot footage mostly looks like it matches in terms of costuming, location and period. The plot moves at a pretty decent clip and Mattei does manage to tell a reasonably coherent story here, even if the sex is clearly the focus of the production overall.

    Note that Severin has included two cuts of the movie on their disc, the extended X-rated cut (1:41:07) and the unrated cut (1:34:51). The difference in the running time is made up primarily of longer, and considerably more graphic, sex scenes – mostly between humans of varying genders and heights, but one time between two horses that seem to be really enjoying themselves.

    Caligula & Messalina – Blu-ray Review:

    Severin Films brings Caligula & Messalina to Region A Blu-ray famed at 2.35.1 widescreen and presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition. Taken from a new 2k scan of the original 35mm negative, the longer X-rated cut uses 22.3GBs of space and the unrated cut 21GBs, the two separate transfers sharing the same 50GB disc. Regardless of which cut of the movie you opt to view, expect things to look pretty soft and a little too smooth. There isn’t much print damage here at all, and colors look quite good but the image isn’t as detailed as you’d hope it would be and some minor compression artifacts can be spotted here and there.

    Both versions of Caligula & Messalina get a 24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Mono track in English. Optional English subtitles are provided. The audio sounds pretty clean here. The dialogue, which doesn’t always match the lip movements of the actors in the movie, is easy to follow and understand and there’s a reasonable amount of depth to the score. The effects can sound a bit thin in spots, the sword clanks during the gladiatorial battles being an example, but that’s almost certainly the way that the original audio sounded and it isn’t a flaw with the disc. Overall, the audio quality here is just fine.

    In addition to the two cuts of the film, the disc also contains a featurette called Caligula: The Life Behind The Legend, which is an interview with Anthony A. Barrett, the Author of Caligula: The Corruption Of Power. Here, over the span of thirty-seven minutes, Barrett, who was interviewed via Zoom during the Covid-19 pandemic, goes over the quick four year timeline of Caligula's rule, the image that the general public has of him and what was real and what was made up, the numerous problems with the sources surrounding the real Caligula's history, differences that exist between the different accounts of his life and rule, the state of Rome during Caligula's time in power and the impact that the made emperor had on his subjects, Caligula's ruthlessness and why he took things to the extreme that he did, his private life versus his public persona, how the Roman Senate reacted to his behavior, the facts around his eventual assassination and how the legend around Caligula's story have become fact in the eyes of many people.

    Aside from that, the disc also includes a trailer for the feature, menus and chapter selection options.

    Also included with this release is the film's soundtrack on CD, there are eleven tracks included. Severin has also included a postcard insert with the track listing and credits on one side and some great promotional artwork on the reverse.

    Caligula & Messalina - The Final Word:

    Caligula & Messalina is unrepentant trash of the highest order, an unabashed and hedonistic cash-in on Brass’ original Caligula film that lacks the scale and acting talent that made that cinematic enigma as interesting as it was, content instead to wallow in sex. For that reason, its comes recommended (no, really!) to exploitation fans who can appreciate Mattei’s ridiculous copycat style and penchant for nonsense.

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