Review: Joe D'Amato's 'Caligula: The Untold Story' a Success in Excess

by Sam Cohen

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday April 20, 2022

Review: Joe D'Amato's 'Caligula: The Untold Story' a Success in Excess

The Penthouse-produced "Caligula" from 1979 was notorious even before it hit the screens. It was shot in 1976 and was such a big international production that it was hard for everyone not to take notice. Some of those people to take notice were Italian maestros of exploitation, like filmmaker Joe D'Amato of "Beyond the Darkness" and "Black Emmanuelle" fame. The man had been working in the Italian exploitation circuit for about ten years before his 1982 effort "Caligula: The Untold Story" hit theaters. And in a way, it feels like the best version of a highly-improvised work of exploitation, one characterized by matching the sex and violence with equal intrigue.

Severin Films presents "Caligula: The Untold Story" on Blu-ray, filling out this edition with great special features, a terrific presentation of both cuts of the film and a soundtrack CD for people who want to listen to the score alone. The Italian Extended Cut and shorter U.S. Cut are both sourced from a 2K scan of the original negatives. The source seems to be in very good condition, as the presentation here is incredibly sturdy throughout. The Italian Extended Cut is presented in Italian as well, rather than the dubbing in the U.S. Cut.

"Caligula: The Untold Story" drops us into the last days of emperor Caligula (David Brandon). As he spends his days arguing with senators, raping peasants, and luxuriating in excess, he ends up murdering the young, beautiful, and betrothed Livia (Fabiola Toledo). Livia's best friend, the Egyptian priestess Miriam (Laura Gemser), intends to infiltrate Caligula's life and get her revenge. Naturally, an erotic attraction between Caligula and her gets in the way.

The U.S. Cut of the film is more of the skinemax-type version of the film, while the Italian Extended Cut is full-on hardcore sex and depravity uncut and unfiltered. Both cuts do highlight D'Amato's very good skill at cutting around footage to suit a story for pacing. Even though the Italian Extended Cut is padded with hardcore sex, it still all feels natural to the film, thanks to D'Amato's penchant for marrying genuinely good filmmaking with shock.

As for special features, Severin rounds out this edition with some really great interviews with cast and crew from the film. In particular, the interview with actor David Brandon is incredibly enlightening, as he discusses Joe D'Amato's process for improvisation and working with Laura Gemser, someone he remarks as being a kind and gentle person. I can say with the utmost certainty that "Caligula: The Untold Story" is the best rip-off of "Caligula" to ever exist.

Other special features include:

"A False True Story" — Interview with screenwriter Luigi Montefiori

"Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy" — Interview with actor Mark Shannon

Deleted scenes

US trailer

"Caligula: The Untold Story" is now available on Blu-ray from Severin Films.