Tag Archives: banned

Caligula – Review

31 Oct

Throughout the years, there have been films that redefine what’s possible when it comes to film making and how to tell a story. In the past, there were classics like Citizen Kane and Lawrence of Arabia, which can both be seen as sweeping epics in their own ways. More recently we’ve had films like Inception or The Revenant. Both of these movies are unconventional in their means of telling a story and also offer visual spectacle that will be remembered for decades to come. Movies are a window into worlds that may otherwise never exist, and there are so many that so fully succeed into taking us away from our everyday lives and somewhere all together magical… and then there’s Caligula.

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In 37 AD, a young Caligula (Malcolm McDowell) is the next heir to the throne in the Roman Empire. His uncle and adoptive parent, Tiberius (Peter O’Toole), still is in control however, despite his growing physical and psychological sicknesses. After Caligula visits his uncle and sees the power he wields and is also almost assassinated by the sick man, Caligula decides to take fate into his own hands, along with the head of the Praetorian Guard, Macro (Guido Mannari), kills Tiberius. Now at the head of the empire, Caligula proposes many changes to the Senate and all seems to be going pretty well. The decline begins once a love triangle starts with himself, his sister Drusilla (Teresa Ann Savoy), and his new wife Caesonia (Helen Mirran). As if that isn’t enough, Caligula starts to grow paranoid of the people around him, which results in multiple arrests and executions, which forces certain members of the Senate and the Guard to plot to remove Caligula as Emperor.

Just look at that cast. You have Malcolm McDowell, Peter O’Toole, and Helen Mirran amongst some others. Don’t let that fool you like the producers fooled some of these actors. O’Toole had no idea that this movie would turn out the way it did. What could I possibly mean by this? Well, Caligula is the one and only film produced by Penthouse Films. You know…like the magazine. If you go into this movie expecting a historical epic that accurately portrays the reign of Caligula and the effects it had on the Roman Empire, than you’re going to be sorely disappointed. I like to think of this movie as the most expensive midnight movie you’ll ever see. There are hardly any redeeming qualities to this movie, but I’ll certainly give it a try. The performances by O’Toole and Mirran are both really good, while McDowell gives a fantastic performance as Caligula. You also can’t say that this movie shirks on showing the depravity that happened in the Empire. This kind of exploitation can go too far, however, and it goes way too far in this movie. I also have to give credit to some really amazing sets for the actors to perform in. It takes a lot to make this movie believable, and the sets can occasionally help.

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Let me just say that most of the critiques that I give Caligula, I do with a smile on my face just for the sheer absurdity of what I saw. Like I said before, this film was produced by Penthouse Films and the magazine’s creator, Bob Guccione, so be prepared for lots of sex and nudity. You can hardly get through a scene without some sort of nudity or sexual activity going on. It really starts to wear on you after awhile, especially when there are completely out of place sex scenes that can go on for about 10 minutes. When I  heard how controversial and graphic this movie is, I thought maybe a few scenes were the cause for such upset. I was wrong. It’s pretty much the whole movie. The way the story is told is also completely off the wall. The story’s filled with ridiculous and often clichéd symbolism that won’t add to the drama, but more so add to the unintentional hilarity. Don’t even try to follow the plot using any logic because the movie’s messy and troubled editing phase shines in a timeline filled with continuity errors and a failure to show the passage of time. You can’t even get a good historical retelling since this movie takes the term “dramatic license” and really runs with it.

Reading about the making of Caligula has really become part of the whole experience for me, because I can’t think of a bigger cinematic disaster story. From pre-production through post-production, this films was plagued with one catastrophe and betrayal after another. The original screenplay by Gore Vidal was bought and changed to the point of destruction that Vidal completely disowns it. The same can be said for Tinto Brass, the director, who was banned from the editing room so that Guccione had the control he needed. Even some of the actors had no idea what this movie was supposed to be and regret being seen in the final piece. McDowell even asked people in interviews not to see the movie. How could a movie that was this much of a problem amount to anything? Well, Caligula did amount to something. It became one of the most infamous cult classics ever made.

Caligula has completely earned that title of infamy. It’s a two and a half hour long disaster that could have been so much more if it wasn’t for a producer who had his own agenda, while the film makers and actors had a completely different one. For people who are interested in the goods and bads of cinema or people who have a fascination with movies as awkwardly weird as this one, it’s worth seeing for the history and legacy. For everyone else, keep far away from Caligula and save your sanity.

Final Grade: D-

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The Last House on the Left (1972) – Review

22 Jul

In terms of horror, there are many different iconic film makers that shaped what the genre is truly meant to be, but I think we can all agree that Wes Craven is the guy. This isn’t the first time I’ve covered Craven’s films on here so this should come as no surprise that I look up to him as a writer and as a director. Even the greatest of film makers have to start somewhere, and for Wes Craven is was in 1972 with his now infamous film The Last House on the Left. In terms of coming out of the starting gate, I don’t think Mr. Craven would have wanted it any other way.

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Mari Collingwood (Sandra Cassel) is a typical upper-middle class teenage girl who is celebrating her seventeenth birthday by going to a rock concert with her friend Phillis (Lucy Grantham). The two girls seem completely carefree despite the warnings of Mari’s parents (Gaylord St. James and Cynthia Carr) and start the night with some drinking and a search for some weed. Their attempts are stopped when they are kidnapped by a group of escaped convicts led by the sadistic Krug (David A. Hess). The two girls then endure a period of rape, torture, and murder with the convicts thinking this is one last ride before they make their escape. What they didn’t count on was the vengeful spirit of Mari’s parents which leads to more bloodshed than the criminals could have believed.

Interestingly enough, Wes Craven was inspired by an Ingmar Bergman film from 1960 called The Virgin Spring, which has a story quite similar to this one. Bergman’s film was highly controversial and banned in certain places. Well if that happened to Bergman, it sure as hell happened to Craven. When The Last House on the Left was released in 1972 it was met with MAJOR controversy. According to Craven, people were vomiting, passing out, and leaving during screenings. He was also forced to cut a lot of scenes, but was still threatened with an X rating until it was finally slapped with an R just because he knew someone on the rating board. Even today, the BBFC has trouble censoring and releasing it and it was made over forty years ago!

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It really says something when a jaded 21st century movie buff like me actually gets uncomfortable watching something, let alone something that was made way before I even existed. That’s the case with The Last House on the Left. The odd thing is that I can sit through something like Hostel or Saw and not really get uncomfortable because both of those examples really feels like a produced movie with production values that make it look nice and pretty. This was not the case for Craven’s debut. Everything from the actors to the production design is dirt cheap. The look can kind of be compared to the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre in how it almost has a documentary feel to it. I felt like I was watching these atrocities happen which made the entire experience all the more uncomfortable and sickening. But hey! This is a horror movie. That’s the whole point!

There are some really, and I mean really, stupid things that happen in this movie and the all revolve around two completely inept police officers. This is really the only shitty part about the movie. In one scene, I’ll be completely horrified by the violence and then the next scene I’ll be watching these two Keystone cops flopping all over the place and making themselves look like idiots. I’m all for comedic relief, and they provide some good stuff earlier on in the movie, but they become completely useless as the movie progresses.

Wes Craven really created something unbelievable with The Last House on the Left, a movie that still pushes the boundaries of what’s acceptable film making and even helped coin the British term “video nasty.” While it is a story about murder and revenge, it also gives us a look at the violence that even the most ordinary people keep deep down in their subconscious until it is forced back into their lives. This isn’t a perfect film, but it is a fine and disturbing example of modern day horror that was a game changer when it was released and a cornerstone to the genre today.