December 31st, 2007

CALIGULA (1980) ** ½

Caligula will forever go down in history as one of the most talked about disasters in motion picture history.  Originally, Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione hired Italian exploitation director Tinto (Salon Kitty) Brass to helm a historical epic about Caligula, emperor of Rome that was as ribald and debauched as the emperor himself.  Guccione also hired the esteemed Gore Vidal to write the script and got a lot of name actors like Malcolm McDowell, John Gielgud and Peter O’Toole to star.  Brass went to work thinking this was his ticket to the big time and shot the film as your average history lesson, except it featured a bunch of tits.  When Guccione saw the footage and realized that it didn’t live up to his standard of sleaze, he secretly went back and added some hardcore footage unbeknownst to the cast and crew.  Guccione figured that the audience wasn’t coming to see this flick because they wanted to learn history; they wanted to see some people in togas doing the nasty. 

 

The sad thing is that he was right.

 

Watching Caligula, it’s hard to imagine why anyone would want to watch it in the first place if it didn’t feature hardcore nudity.

 

The stuff that happens between the sex (AKA:  “the story”) has Caligula (McDowell) murdering his grandfather to become emperor.  Once he becomes ruler, he is outraged he isn’t allowed to marry his sister (Teresa Ann Savoy) and goes on to wed the “most promiscuous woman in Rome” (Helen Mirren from The Queen).  He slowly starts going crazy and makes the senate worried when he does things like have people murdered for no reason whatsoever, dances around naked, and turns their wives into prostitutes for his senatorial brothel.  After the death of his beloved sister, Caligula descends further into madness.  Finally the Roman bigwigs have enough of Caligula’s tomfoolery and stab the shit out of him and his wife and child.

 

I think Guccione was trying to bring a European flair to the proceedings by hiring Brass, but his camerawork is stunningly erratic at best.   In some shots he uses a lot of cool Kubrickian zooms, but in another scenes the camera wanders aimless around as if it was seeking SOMETHING interesting to film.  The set design is impressive, but sometimes Brass pulls the camera back so far that you can actually see the seams on the enormous sets.  I don’t know if it was Brass’s intention to break the “reality” of the scene to make the sets seem more “theatrical”, but it’s an odd effect to say the least.

 

The gore is more than adequate for a costume drama.  There’s a great scene in which a drunken guard’s dick is tied shut and is given tons of wine to drink, then someone stabs him in the stomach and wine pours out of the wound.  (It could have been blood, I’m not sure.)  There’s also a cool part when a guy gets castrated and his junk is fed to a pack of hungry dogs.  But the coolest carnage comes from Caligula’s decapitation machine (it looks like a John Deere version of a hovercraft) that cuts off people’s heads as easily as pulling weeds.

 

There are a couple of shocking moments that are peppered throughout the film (my favorite was when Caligula uses his authority to deflower a virgin bride on her wedding night AS WELL AS HER HUSBAND) but for the most part they are few and far between.  The hardcore footage is also haphazardly edited in after the fact and isn’t shot (or performed) particularly well.

 

The performances are hit or miss to say the least.  McDowell ekes by on his gonzo charisma (not just anybody can lick the butt crack of a dead woman and seem convincing) and Savoy is fairly decent as his lovelorn sister, but the rest of the cast flounder in the miasma of the production. 

 

For the most part the film resembles a badly filmed Shakespeare play with scenes of Behind the Green Door spliced in. 

 

Caligula’s (the movie, not the man) built-in notoriety recommendation for fans of sleaze cinema.  You don’t need my review to tell you to go see it.  You’re either the kind of person who wants to see an X-rated all star historical drama or you’re not.  Thanks to the film’s maligned history, Caligula is a mess, but it’s a fascinating mess.

 

AKA:  Caligola.  AKA:  Caligula, My Son.  AKA:  Lo, Caligola.

JOHNNY FIRECLOUD (1975) ***

 

Victor (Don’t Answer the Phone) Mohica stars as the hot blooded Indian, Johnny Firecloud (so named because he was born on the day of the first atomic bomb testing) in this entertaining action flick.  The constant bar fights (lots of people get hit with pool cues), the villain who owns the entire town, and the bloody revenge the hero dishes out makes this the Road House of it’s day.  It also happens to be the greatest Kung Fu Indian Revenge Flick of 1975.

 

After returning from Vietnam, Johnny Firecloud faces rampant racism in his small hometown which is ran by the evil Colby (Ralph Meeker from Kiss Me Deadly).  Since Johnny knocked up his daughter, Colby retaliates by hanging his drunken uncle played by Frank (F Troop) DeKova.  Later after some yokels rape an Indian schoolteacher (Sacheen Littlefeather, the chick who declined Marlon Brando’s Oscar) Johnny says enough’s enough and makes like a Comanche Charles Bronson and gets revenge. 

 

Johnny dispatches his victims by scalping, unleashing poisonous snakes, tomahawks to the head, dynamiting a motor home and lets a vulture peck out some dude’s eyes.

 

Mohica gives a terrific performance as the seething Johnny and David Canary does some fine work as the homosexual sheriff who must kowtow to Colby’s demands.  It’s fun seeing Littlefeather on the screen, especially when she’s got her luscious breasts on display.  (Brando sure knew how to pick ‘em!)  Perennial screen drunk George “Buck” (They Live) Flower also gets a small role as one of Johnny’s victims.

 

Director William Allen (The Erotic Adventures of Zorro) Castleman films the action with panache and does a good job establishing just how far Johnny has to be pushed before resorting to violence (the film somewhat resembles First Blood in that respect), but drops the ball when it comes to the nonexistent ending.  Despite the shitty denouement, and a couple lapses in both pacing and logic, for the most part, Johnny Firecloud is a blast.  (No pun intended.) 

 

It helps when the film is brimming with such memorable dialogue as:  “You have the balls of a mouse!”, “I may have a big mouth but I don’t use it to kiss ass!”, and “One of these days you and me are going to tangle assholes!”

 

AKA:  The Revenge of Johnny Firecloud.

BUMMER (1973) *

 

Talk about accurate titles.

 

This meandering, plotless, excruciating hippie flick focuses on a rock band named “The Group” (the name “The Band” was already taken I guess) on their road to superstardom (or stunning mediocrity, whichever comes first).  They attract the attention of a trio of hot groupies (appropriately named “The Groupies") and they fall in love.  When success seems imminent, the overweight, slovenly, personal hygiene challenged bass player has a meltdown and accidentally kills one of the groupies.  He then goes nuts and shoots the singer point blank with a shotgun, which causes the rest of the groupies to get their revenge.

 

The only reason for this piss poor excuse of a movie to exist is to show some skin, but the filmmakers are pretty inept at even doing that.  It doesn’t help when a lot of the nudity is at the expense of actresses’ dignity either. 

 

The bass player has to be one of the most disgusting characters ever filmed.  In one appalling scene, the drunken slob forces two girls to take a shower together while he slaps them around and insults them by calling them “pigs”.  I’m usually the last person in the world to label a movie misogynistic, but this flick just HATES women.  (Not to mention the audience.) 

 

If this movie was just 90 minutes of half assed rock stars banging groupies, it would be one thing, but unfortunately the filmmakers seem more concerned with showing off the fat bassist’s tub of lard physique than showcasing the cute groupies’ bods.  The most nudity in the film comes via a corny freeze frame filled montage of the groupies frolicking in the fields.

 

I know I keep harping on how disgusting the bass player was, but honestly everyone else in the cast is so lame that all you can think about IS that stupid bassist.  The other band members are so thinly sketched that I can hardly remember any of them.  Let’s see there was the sensitive vocalist, the ladies man drummer, and of course the fat, drunken, abusive slob, and uh… the other guy.  The “stars” that I could recognize like Carol (The Mack) Speed and Leslie (The Girl in Gold Boots) McRae were OK, but the rest of the cast was woefully pitiful.

 

If I didn’t know any better, after viewing this flick I’d say it would be wise to NEVER let the director near a camera ever again.  Luckily I’m not in charge of Hollywood and thankfully the director, William Allen Castleman, went on to helm the infinitely better Johnny Firecloud.

 

AKA:  The Sadist.