6 April 2006 | Squonkamatic
Erotic Peplums are sort of a lost cause on me: The idea of paying a bunch of Euro film performers to dress up in ridiculous looking "Roman" costumes, have palace intrigue intrude on their sex lives and bouts of torture has about the same effect as Sominex. They are only interesting if the sex, violence, and women are interesting. This one has an inordinate amount of BARED MIDDLE AGED MALE BUTTOCKS intruding into the fantasy of Roman indulgences, perhaps it was made with the ladies in mind. Like, older ladies ... Not that there is anything wrong with that, and the actress playing Cleopatra was a fetching young uninhibited thing with shimmering blue eyes that are hard to ignore. She also spends half of the film either topless or completely nude, though this is strictly a soft-core romp with none of the grisly inserts used to spice up CALIGULA and it's other unwholesome offspring. There is little or no gore, the violence all happens quickly and predictably, and a lot of the (would be) graphic sex scenes are shown as shadows on walls. It's more silly + offbeat than in your face + nasty, and there's something to be said for that. Harmless guilty pleasure fluff, with a pair of surprisingly gentle whipping scenes for those with a taste for discipline -- "Caligula for Couples."
This includes the horse barn scene, an eye opener for sure. Cleopatra (who looks to be about 24) and one of the 55 year old Roman men who she is involved with go down to the stables to introduce themselves to an actual horse that the producers managed to hire for a scene. As the nubile Egyptian queen and her over-aged hook nosed suitor go at it we are shown a silhouette of Cleopatra manipulating what appears to be a fire extinguisher strapped onto the horse for effect. Don't worry, there is no fire and no discharge of flame suppressing foams, and the whole scene has a sort of inappropriate quality to it that says to me that the director knew he was doing something naughty and, ultimately, silly. It was about as arousing or gratifying as a smutty little drawing on the wall of a toilet stall in the boy's locker room.
Which is the point of Erotic Peplums: Since the Romans were notoriously indulgent a director could use the setting of Ancient Rome to excuse staging scenes that were meant to titillate, shock or repulse depending upon whim + budget. There is an undeniable air of (sic) juvenalia going on -- this is like what a 13 year old would think Ancient Rome looked like, with half naked pretty bisexual handmaidens galore giving each other massages or whatever, some of which is played for laughs. The film has the professional sheen of a well made Doctor Who episode and about the same budget; for a Roman orgy we get to watch six or seven people slobber food, sit around with their robes half open and ogle two Nubian dancers (male and female, and neither nude) shaking their booties with nary a disemboweling or beheading in sight. And in the end you've learned zilch about Rome, Cleopatra, Caesar, Mark Antony, or just what the horse gets out of it. Even the closing narration which describes the fate of the players rather than showing it isn't memorable enough to bother debating the historical accuracy of what takes place, which makes sense since it doesn't really matter. It's just history as a plot device.
One scene did kind of pay off -- whilst prepping for yet another middle aged paramour Miss Cleopatra begins on her own and as she starts to warm up to herself finds that a spotted tree python has been provided by a stage hand to help out. She kind of goes with it, and for about two minutes this movie was pretty darn interesting. If that's worth tracking down a copy good luck, the film is incredibly obscure & generally unavailable, and in my humble opinion that may be a good thing. As long as the python and the horse didn't mind no harm done I guess, and on that level this movie actually is kind of an improvement on CALIGULA. Or at least is over a lot quicker, with less buckets of innards & vomit lying about.
4/10: I figure two stars for every good minute, and for those two minutes this film was all I was thinking about.