JOE D’AMATO WEEK: Caligula… The Untold Story (1982)

After the media excitement around the controversy of Tinto Brass’ Caligula, there came — pun intended, always — plenty of ripoffs as is the Italian exploitation cinema way of life. They include the Bruno Mattei films Caligula And Messalina and Nerone e PoppeaCaligula Reincarnated As Hitler (AKA Cesare Canevari’s The Gestapo’s Last Orgy so it’s a really Naziploitation and not Caligulaspoitation or even Roman Porno, which comes from Japan, not Italy), Bruno Corbucci’s Messalina, Messalina! (AKA Caligula II: Messalina, Messalina and shot on the very same sets and using the same costumes as Brass’ film with no permission), Lorenzo Onorati’s Caligula’s Slaves (a ripoff of the movie we’ve about to discuss), Jaime J. Puig’s Una virgen para Calígula and this film, written by the unholy trio of George Eastman, D’Amato and an uncredited Michele Soavi.

Caligula (David Brandon, JubileeStagefright) has been having nightmares of being stalked and killed by a man with a bow and arrow. This does not stop him from continuing his aberrant life, filled with murder, lust, mayhem and well, everything that makes a Joe D’Amato movie.

The film starts with Domitius (Soavi) attacking Caligula and being beaten down and then ruined for life by having his tongue sliced off and the tendons of his legs cut. Caligula keeps him alive and tortures him with female slaves for most of the rest of the film. Our antagonist follows this by assaulting Livia in front of her new husband Aetius. After she commits suicide rather than be touched for one moment more, the crazed emperor kills her lover and blames it all on Christians, something the senators can’t believe.

Meanwhile, as the couple is buried on a beach, Miriam Celsia (Laura Gemser) proclaims herself a priestess of Anubis and claims that the Christians must forget their God and turn to her god of vengeance, burning their bodies and setting off for revenge. She sacrifices her virginity to Anubis in exchange for strength for her revenge and then somehow falls in love with Caligula and that’s not how that’s supposed to work.

But it does work — he ends up causing his own downfall, bringing the movie right back to its original nightmare.

The first two times this movie went before the rating board — which is absolutely hilarious that they were forced to watch this — it was kept out of theaters. 22 minutes of footage was removed, replaced by 15 minutes of tamer scenes — no more fellatio, no more real horseplay, no more nine minute orgy scene. Supposedly, there’s a two-hour plus cut and when you think, “Hey this is 85 minutes,” you can only imagine what was cut.

I always have a but with D’Amarto. Despite the sheer volume of manaical acts in this…but it’s gorgeous. Seriously, he’s making a film that looks as good — and at times better — than Brass’ better known and more overblown film. He has no pretense toward being an artist or intellectual. He just wants to make a movie that makes money, yet he’s talented in spite of himself, making a movie with underwater camera shots, effective dream scenes and huge tableaus of debauchery.

D’Amato used footage from this movie when he remade it in 1997 as the adult Caligola: Follia del potere. By that point, he wasn’t making movies like this any more, even if he was making movies like this.

You can now order this from Severin, whether you want a Caligula Bundle that comes with a coin, foto-comic and a copy of Bruno Mattei’s Caligula and Messalina or you can order it all by itself. I’m ready for that cleaned up Italian extended cut. Alert the authorities.

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