Color, 1982, 121 mins. 7 secs. / 94 mins. 47 secs.
Directed by "David Hills" (Joe D'Amato)
Starring David Brandon, Laura Gemser, Luciano Bartoli, Charles Borromel, Fabiola Toledo, Michele Soavi, Gabriele Tinti
Severin Films (Blu-ray and DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9), X-Rated Kult (DVD) (Germany R0 PAL) / WS (1.85:1)
The belated release of the Penthouse-distributed, adults-only epic Caligula in around the turn of the '80s was a major event in Italy, where the film had been shot starting in 1976 with rumors swirling about all kinds of debauchery going on within its lavish Danilo Donati sets. Never ones to miss an opportunity, Italian filmmakers were ready to cash in with a string of debauched Roman epics including Caligula and Messalina, Nero and Poppea - An Orgy of Power, and a slapstick gore spoof, Messalina, Messalina, which ended up preceding the real thing into the theaters by a wide margin. Even later in the '80s, U.S. VHS label Magnum Video unleashed a whole string of retitled Italian films with variations of Caligula Reincarnated as... (Nero, Hitler, etc.) in its titles, keeping the Caligula-sploitation torch burning for at least another generation. However, the most elaborate and outrageous of all the Caligula imitators came in 1982 with Caligula: The Untold Story, directed by the beloved Joe D'Amato (who later revisited the same territory under this film's original shooting title during his late '90s porno period as Caligula: Follia di Potere). Circulated in an absolutely baffling number of alternate cuts around the world, this was made at the most important part of D'Amato's career when he was alternating successful international exports like Anthropophagus, Absurd, and Ator the Fighting Eagle with offbeat adult films under the name "Alexandre Borsky." The end result doesn't bear much resemblance to the original all-star hit apart from a couple of minor plot lifts, instead delivering a 100% D'Amato experience full of sleaze, ornate sets, and nasty plot twists.
Plagued by nightmares about an impending assassination, Caligula (Stage Fright's Brandon) spends his time arguing with senators, planning a massive auction to find the construction of a new palace, and murdering and raping his way through any peasants unlucky enough to cross his path. However, his assault on the young and betrothed Livia leads to her suicide and a vow of revenge by her closest friend, Miriam (Gemser), an Egyptian priestess who serves as a Roman slave to find her target. As Caligula's excesses spiral out of control, he and Miriam wind up becoming transfixed with each other during a big orgy fundraiser and embark on an affair that can't possibly end well.
Though it's hard for anyone to really step into the little boots of Malcolm McDowell, Brandon does extremely well here with a very committed, mischievous performance that anchors the film from start to finish. Gemser is hypnotic as always without having to do a ton of heavy acting, and regular D'Amato composer Carlo Maria Cordio delivers an opulent score that amusingly quotes from John Barry almost verbatim a few times. Fans of Stage Fright will also be amused to see its future director, Michele Soavi, turning up here in a couple of scenes as an ill-fated poet. One can only imagine what he and Brandon chatted about when they were reunited. As mentioned above, this film was released in different cuts depending on the restrictions of each country, with a general English-language export cut of 94 minutes getting retooled for territories where varying degrees of sex and sadism were deleted. Versions as short as 90 or even 85 minutes popped up on VHS here and there (the U.S. version from TWE was relatively unscathed), while in Italy it was initially run in a heavily cut version that barely qualified as softcore. The film was also prepared in a much longer hardcore edit, a variation of which running 110 minutes popped up on Dutch VHS and became a familiar hot item on the tape trading circuit well through the 1990s. That XXX cut, similar in tone to what D'Amato did with his dual versions of Emanuelle in America and Emanuelle Around the World, features a lot of hardcore footage during the pivotal orgy scene including a fairly brief but insane bit with a woman manually stimulating a horse. As usual, Brandon and Gemser stay strictly softcore throughout no matter which version you see.
However, the Dutch version was missing quite a bit of dialogue and other non-explicit footage, which was overcorrected with the first really significant disc release of this film, a 2007 double-disc DVD set from Germany's X-Rated Kult. The first disc features a long composite version of the film (125 mins.) featuring German, Italian, and English audio options, with the English track switching to subtitled Italian for everything without existing audio (which means nearly every scene switches back and forth like crazy). This isn't really an "uncut" version of the film though since they've actually cobbled together the most explicit Italian cut with some reedited material from the English one (the opening narrated montage, for example), along with some random outtake scraps. None of this was really meant to be cut together, so the result has a lurching, off-kilter quality that makes it a curio at best. Disc two features the shortened general release Italian version (102m17s) in Italian and German, a newly created German trailer, excerpts from the Italian script (as Follia di Potere) and the English-translated one, the Italian TV and U.S. theatrical main titles, a gallery of video and poster art, and a wild 1986 Italian photonovel.
That brings us to the 2022 Severin release available on Blu-ray and DVD as well as part of The Caligula Bundle, with the Blu-ray coming with a bonus CD featuring the global premiere of the full 24-track score (69m15s) in gorgeous stereo sound. You get two viewing options for the film here, both in a 2K scan from the original negative. First is what's billed as the U.S. cut, which is the English export version (94 mins.) with optional English SDH subtitles; it's a significant recut from the Italian version with some intricate shuffling of lines and other organizational changes while retaining enough of the saucy stuff to give it a nice Skinemax feel. Then you get what appears to be the home video debut of the real uncut Italian version (121 mins.), in Italian all the way through with translated subtitles and featuring all of the unsimulated mayhem you'd expect. It's nice to finally see this version without all the editorial monkeying from the German release, and it's safe to say this is the best option around. Both tracks have pristine DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono tracks. In "The Orgy of Power" (26m25s), Brandon delivers a fantastic interview about his time on the film, his great satisfaction with his performance, his memories of D'Amato, his discomfort with doing the Livia rape scene, and his thoughts on working in Rome as a young actor. Then in "A False True Story" (12m15s), screenwriter Luigi Montefiori, a.k.a. George Eastman, goes into his long string of collaborations with D'Amato, the genesis behind this story as a different angle on the Caligula history, their rushed writing schedules, the parallels with modern society he was going for, the totally fictionalized events of the story, and some elements dropped along the way. Finally in "Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy" (21m42s), frequent D'Amato hardcore vet Mark Shannon talks about his entry into filmmaking via a very bumpy role in a softcore film, the wild seven-film Santo Domingo cycle he did with D'Amato (which included the infamous Erotic Nights of the Living Dead and Porno Holocaust), and his reliable ability to perform his scenes on demand. Also included is a batch of deleted scenes (11m21s) representing all the composite reworking from the German release, plus a U.K. trailer sourced from VHS.
Reviewed on April 3, 2022.