BRUNO MATTEI WEEK: Caligula and Messalina (1981)

Vincent Dawn, in case you couldn’t guess, is Bruno Mattei and here, he’s making one of the several Caligulasploitation movies he’d churn out in his career. If you thought, “I liked Tinto Brass’ Caligula but I really wish it wasn’t so highbrow,” then Bruno — or Vincent — is your man.

Antonio Passalia, who co-directed this and Mattei’s other Romesplotation film, Nero and Poppea – An Orgy of Power, also appears in both of these movies as Cladius. But the real story revolves around Messalina (Betty Roland, who not to sound like a broken record, but also appeared in Nero and Poppea), who has one goal: to be Empress of Rome. If that takes fighting in the gladiator pits or literally blowing Claudius’ mind, so be it.

Meanwhile, Caligula’s sister Agrippina (Françoise Blanchard, The Living Dead Girl and, yes, both of these movies) sleeps with her own brother before eliminating him, all so that her son Nero can become Emperor. How will she make that move? Well, Messalina sleeps with everyone — even pulling off a surprise terzetto on her wedding night with a muscular man who is under 147 centimeters and somehow bedding a eunuch — and it comes back to haunt her when she becomes pregnant while her husband is fighting in a foreign war.

Agrippina is not to be stopped in her goals. She’s also a gladiator, albeit one that can do karate, and not shy when it comes to castrating her victims.

As if this movie couldn’t be any wilder, Mattei falls back to his tricks of, well, ripping off scenes from other movies, lifting from The Colossus of RhodesPontius Pilate and The Beast.

To be honest, I’m shocked that there weren’t more of these Roman epics filtered through the nothing-held-back mania of Italian maniacs like Mattei. Maybe they didn’t sell as well as prison, cannibal and last days of the Third Reich films.

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