Caleb Landry Jones in Antiviral


A movie for every day of the year – a good one



29 February



Rare Disease Day

This day every leap year is Rare Disease Day. Initially chosen because the day itself is rare, and to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Orphan Drug Act in the USA (which makes it easier for therapies for designated diseases to be developed), it was first observed in 2008. When there isn’t a 29 February in the year, the day is observed on the last day of the month. A rare disease is technically defined as one found in fewer than five people in 10,000, but there are more well known rare diseases than might at first be thought – cystic fibrosis, conjoined twins, Creutzfeld Jakob disease to name three beginning with the letter C. The day is largely used to raise awareness and increase access to facilities and treatment, but is also seen as an opportunity for lobbying and fund-raising. The organisation’s website is at




Antiviral (2012, dir: Brandon Cronenberg)

Meet Syd. He works at a strange medical facility which deals in celebrity infections. Not the curing of infections that celebrities have, but the culturing and selling on of infections – herpes seems to be a favourite – which a particular celebrity has had, the idea being that the adoring fan will buy anything, and especially something so intimately connected with fame. So that’s Syd’s job – selling famous people’s diseases. He’s at the fragrant high end of a market which, lower down the pecking order, deals in cloned celebrity muscle tissue, offered up on the black market at a handsome price to the fanbase. They eat it, apparently. In films where the “hero” works in some highly mechanised and not particularly savoury occupation, at some point he generally makes a break for it, or sets about bringing about a revolution. Syd does neither. Instead he sneaks some infection home from work inside his own bloodstream, with the intention of either doing some black market trading, or having his own private facetime with a celebrity virus, we’re not sure at first. But Syd’s theft has consequences, and he’s soon fighting the very thing that other people are fighting to get.
The time is the near future; the place is a sort of aseptic steampunk version of the present; the influences are the dystopia of Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange and the body horror of David Cronenberg. And the director is Cronenberg’s son, Brandon, who could be accused of having cloned his dad’s sensibility, if we were being cruel. I suspect that Cronenberg Sr had some ancillary input in Antiviral – the technical work, the mis en scene, and the support cast are all perfect – but there is more going on here than Mini-Me horror. Cronenberg Jr builds a convincing universe, uses his cast well (Caleb Landry Jones as the pasty salesman/technician/thief; Malcolm McDowell affirming the Kubrick connection; Sarah Gadon blonde and charismatic as the Madonna/Gaga-esque star the plot hinges on). Brandon Cronenberg also has his own vision, tells his own story and follows his theme of vampiric celebrity culture – they live on us, though fans believe it’s the opposite – through to its pitiless satirical conclusion (OK, that last bit is definitely the father’s style too). More importantly, he fuses the clean-tech high modernist sci-fi look – the opening shot is of a white light and white is the key colour throughout – with something much more organic, wet, dark, even hairy. Enjoy.



Why Watch?


  • The directorial debut of another Cronenberg auteur
  • Powerful, disturbing body horror
  • Old-fashioned physical special effects extremely well used
  • Part of the rise and rise of Caleb Landry Jones


© Steve Morrissey 2014



Antiviral – at Amazon






Malcolm McDowell and Mirella D'Angelo cavort in Caligula

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

24 January

Caligula assassinated, AD41

On this day in AD41, or 41BCE, the Roman emperor Caligula was assassinated.

His name was in fact Gaius Augustus Germanicus and Caligula was his nickname – meaning “soldier’s little boot” – picked up while he was a child accompanying his general father on campaigns.

Caligula arrived as ruler of Rome by a tortuous, intrigue-filled and bloody route and worked hard once in power to increase the autocratic power of the emperor. This did not sit well with those who still saw Rome as a republic. Nor did Caligula’s spending of huge amounts of money on lavish residences for himself.

Caligula became emperor in March AD37 and was initially popular but by October that year he had started on a series of politically motivated murders (first his cousin and adopted son, then his father- and brother-in-law).

The following year he reinstated democratic elections and embarked on a series of tax reductions designed to bolster his popularity. The year after that the money ran out and he was forced into a series of revenue-raising stunts from unorthodox directions – such as auctioning off gladiators at public shows.

A famine broke out, partly due to Caligula’s incompetent handling of Rome’s infrastructure.

He was a contradictory ruler – he built many roads, aqueducts, temples and huge ships and seemed to love audacious civil engineering projects. But it was when he started murdering members of the Senate – who had grown used to ruling alone after Caligula’s predecessor, Tiberius, had retreated from active life – that the conspiracies against the emperor started to flourish.

These only grew in number when Caligula started to dress himself up as a god and claim divinity. He ordered a statue to himself erected in the Temple of Jerusalem (orders wiser heads never carried out). Tales about Caligula increased further – sleeping with sisters, prostituting them, making his horse a consul.

In AD40 Caligula announced he was moving to Alexandria, Egypt, where he would be worshipped as a god. This seems to have provided the spur to the conspirators, who moved quickly to kill the emperor.

Led by Cassius Chaerea they stabbed him to death in an underground corridor while he was addressing an acting troupe. Keen to destroy his line, they also murdered his wife and daughter. They failed to kill his uncle, Claudius, who became emperor.

Caligula (1979, dir: Tinto Brass)

If you have not seen Caligula, I strongly urge you to do so. Not because it is a great film – it really isn’t – but because it offers the sight of illustrious names of film being made a total fool of.

Peter O’Toole, John Gielgud and Helen Mirren are among those lining up for a drubbing in a film ostensibly directed by Tinto Brass, and ostensibly giving us a straight version of the life of the infamous Roman emperor.

Malcolm McDowell plays Caligula, and you couldn’t ask for a better actor to play a megalomaniac going off his chump. The script is by Gore Vidal, prolific writer of lightly fictionalised histories of the American republic. The ideal man, you’d have thought, to tackle a story about the ancient empire all modern empires style themselves on.

As for director Brass… well, here’s where the smudging starts. A talented director, Brass operated at that time in the peculiar territory shared by arthouse and pornography – for reasons to do with censorship and economics most towns could afford one non-mainstream cinema, which had to do double duty.

The reason why I use the word “ostensibly” in relation to direction and plot is because the film is bankrolled by Bob Guccione, the owner of the soft-porn title Penthouse. And once Brass’s work was done, Guccione took control of the film, hired another director, Giancarlo Lui, to shoot hardcore inserts.

Thanks to constant rewrites, budget over-runs, arguments and walkouts, the film was probably already a mess before Lui and Guccione got to work, but what eventually appeared on the screens is through-the-fingers stuff – the continuity is shot away, the film makes no sense and keeps taking pauses so that people who appear to be from another film entirely can disport themselves pornographically.

When they got wind of what Guccione and Lui were up to, Vidal sued, Brass sued, some of the actors sued too (though it must be said that the sensible ones simply chalked it up to experience).

“Shameful trash” the celebrated critic Roger Ebert called it. He’s being kind. If you want to buy the DVD or Blu-ray (its soft of focus either way), make sure to check out the “making of” interviews made before it debuted and featuring Guccione, Brass, Vidal et al. The gap between their windy guff and the leaden reality is a whole new realm of pleasure.

Why Watch?

  • An eye-rolling Malcolm McDowell
  • The high tone cast includes John Gielgud (killing himself)
  • The glory that wasn’t Rome
  • ”Been there, done that” kudos

Caligula – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

I am an Amazon affiliate

© Steve Morrissey 2014