McDowell’s addictive commentary says it all. Disowned by the writer, cast off by the director and produced by Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione, Caligula is a disaster of such astonishing epic oddness that it just can’t be ignored.
Fellini’s Oscar-winning production designer Danilo Donati produced 64 incredible sets, 450 gallons of blood and over 3,500 costumes. Some of the most revered British actors alive signed up.
Guccione flew in Penthouse Pets to play writhing naked extras, snuck on to the set after dark to shoot hardcore sex scenes, then locked the director out of the editing room to assemble the movie himself.
What emerged four years later was a staggering mess: McDowell off the rails as the depraved Roman emperor; John Gielgud, Peter O’Toole and Helen Mirren watching their dignity spin down the plughole; decapitations and disembowelments a-go-go; reams of faceless flesh and deeply unsexy sex.
Too joyless to be kitsch, too out-there to offend and too long to sit through, the X-rated epic gets some sort of second life via this four-disc doorstop, finally passed 18 by the BBFC.
Take your pick from the threesome: the castrated ‘Theatrical Version’ clocks in at 101 mins; the ‘Complete Uncut Version’ lasts 156 minutes and boasts the hardcore sequences; ‘The Alternative Version’ runs three minutes shorter and makes slightly more sense.
Then learn the story of Caligula’s barmy history through a gamut of extras. Three affectionate, funny chat-tracks from McDowell, Mirren and Penthouse’s on-set reporter, an hour-long Making Of and frank interviews with ‘Caligula’s Pet’ Lori Wagner and Tinto himself are the standouts. There’s also masses of DVD-ROM material, including Penthouse’s special Caligula issue. The last word goes to McDowell: he claims his horse turned in the best performance.
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