Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

Since Tinto Brass hit us with ‘Caligula’ and the legendary Joe D’Amato struck back hard with ‘Caligula: The Untold Story’, fellow Italian Schlock Master Bruno Mattei wasn’t the type of guy to sit on the sidelines and let his homies have all the fun. Thus we have today’s exploitation crapterpiece, 1981’s ‘Caligula and Messalina’. An informal survey of people who love watching Italian exploitation films would probably rate Mattei behind Brass and D’Amato in terms of ability, and this is with the full knowledge that one D’Amato’s crowning film achievements is the masterpiece known as ‘Anal Palace’ but his version of the Caligula saga just might be the best of three, cinematically speaking. Brass’s incredibly messy version was notoriously corrupted by Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione, D’Amato’s version is basically a porn movie with Mattei’s film being the most coherent and the least sleazy. Of course I can hear the rumblings from the gallery as they ponder why anyone would watch an Italian exploitation flick about a foul Roman emperor that wasn’t sleazy, but I didn’t say it wasn’t sleazy, just that it was the least sleazy. ‘Caligula and Messalina’ is plenty sleazy, believe that, but there are ‘Gang Bang Girl’ episodes that are less sleazy than those other two Caligula movies. Not that I’ve ever seen anything like that.

Our film opens with two Roman soldiers on horseback whining about the emperor while over looking their vast city. Sir Bruno is somewhat notorious for stealing scenes from other movies and inserting them into his own so one can easily surmise this shot of this vast city teeming with people came from some other movie. Hell if I know which one.

From there the movie gets into the historical atrocity that is Caligula (Vladimir Blajovic). Nothing we haven’t seen before in various representations of Caligula as he enjoys hot sex with his sisters, puts people to death for little or no reason, makes his horse a senator and deflowers virginal couples, including the males who probably wouldn’t have minded remaining a virgin in that particular way. And if you had a sore throat… don’t eat a cough drop. Please, just don’t do it. Caligula doesn’t like that.

Then the tall and lean Messalina (Betty Roland) shows up on the scene and blows the emperor’s filthy mind. Messalina’s mom taught the girl the ways of gladiator which she put to good use in the arena, and mom also taught her the ways of love. How does a mother teach a daughter the ways of love? Well, it seems the girl needed one last lesson before mom sent her off on her mission to snag the emperor. To say that Messalina’s mother is ‘hands on’ with her training techniques would be an understatement.

It’s always a good thing when a plan comes together and soon Messalina has the Emperor Caligula eating out of her slender hand, but he’s not long for this world. Messalina’s mom gets the word that Caligula is going down and redirects baby girl to his successor, Claudius. Apparently Claudius hasn’t, um… risen to the occasion in some time, but Messalina corrected that unfortunate situation, long before the advent of Cialis, and now he’s in love and the new emperor has a wife.

But where Caligula’s fatal flaw was that he was a sick bastard, Messalina’s fatal flaw is that she likes to screw. A lot. Think of the thing you like do most in the world, multiply that by 214 and you get an idea of how much Messalina likes to get down. Midgets, Ogre’s, random dudes in the street, her mom… the woman even had sex with eunuch. I didn’t even think that was possible. And it was Messalina’s uncontrollable libido that that would tragically do her in, lead to Caligula’s sister Agrippina becoming the next empress, who has a son named Nero, and that was pretty much all she wrote for the Roman Empire.

I gotta admit that ‘Caligula and Messalina’ was a strange exploitation experience. There was plenty of exploitation fodder to be had with orgies aplenty, more nudity than you can shake a stick at and the always distasteful practice of these schlockmeisters forcing us to watch horses have sex. But the odd thing about this exploitative stuff is that while it was going on, there was plot relevant dialog being spoken. Sure, Messalina and Agrippina are about to lez out in the pool, but they have to discuss the impending arrival of Claudius and its ramifications while doing this. One of Caligula’s sisters, whose name I can’t remember, was constantly having sex with her lover but they talked so much about political affairs during sex that’s it wonder how they got any pleasure out of it.

So you can see why this is such an odd movie from the late Mattei in that he seemed to take some pains to makes sure his film is reasonably accurate, at least as accurate as an historical exploitation film can be, while still assaulting us with as much exploitation nonsense as possible. I don’t know if the mute lady with sparkly white face that was galloping like a horse around a slain Caligula was accurate, but I wasn’t there so how would I know? I guess the performances were decent enough considering the version I watched was horribly dubbed, the stolen scenes that were inserted, while obviously stolen, did look like they halfway belonged and the interior sets were fairly impressive.

I guess my dilemma with ‘Caligula and Messalina’ is that I can’t outright call it a bad movie, though I was fully expecting it to be a bad movie. It has it’s challenges as a work of cinema, no doubt, but it’s possibly the most competent movie I’ve ever seen from Bruno Mattei to be quite honest with you.

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