Caltiki, The Immortal Monster (1959) – By Roger Carpenter

 

For the longest time, Caltiki was only available through poor quality, grey market DVD’s. Periodically I would check on Amazon or other sites only to see the same (obviously bootleg) DVD pop up along with terrible reviews regarding the quality of the product. So I was totally stoked when Arrow Video USA announced a spring 2017 release of Caltiki, in a brand new 2K restoration from the original camera negative and on Blu-ray no less.

Perhaps more famous than the film is the story behind it. Italian genre director Riccardo Freda (The Horrible Dr. Hichcock, The Ghost, The Iguana with a Tongue of Fire) famously walked off the set, purportedly over a disagreement with the producer, leaving his good friend and colleague, Mario Bava, to finish the film himself in order for Bava to get a chance to be noticed as a director himself. Bava, who was not the kind of man to rock the boat, had labored for years creating special effects and acting as cinematographer and assistant director on a number of films. When he and Freda chanced upon each other during the filming of a Freda film, the two became fast friends. During the production of I Vampiri in 1957, money for filming ran out, prompting Freda to bail. But the ever-resourceful Bava spent a few days on the script and cut a deal with the producers that allowed him to complete filming in just two days. The result was the first Italian horror movie of the sound era and a monumental flop in its country of origin. However, the film managed to earn its money back overseas. Unhappy with Bava’s lack of drive, Freda determined on his next film he would leave shortly before production ended, thereby giving Bava yet another chance to prove his mettle. The two fashioned a story straight from The Quatermass Experiment and X the Unknown. When The Blob (1958) was released shortly thereafter, the writing duo knew the time was right to release Italy’s answer to amorphous horror—Caltiki, the Immortal Monster.

The story unfolds in the jungle-like forests of Mexico where a scientific expedition is exploring a volcano. The first expedition disappears, with only one scientist making it back to camp—and he expires shortly thereafter, muttering only one word over and over…Caltiki!

Naturally, a second expedition is sent to search for the first group. They are able to trace the original expedition’s tracks to an underground cavern beneath a volcano where they discover a carved idol of Caltiki. However, the group is attacked by a blob-like monster. Max Gunther (Gerard Haerter) is attacked and, while he manages to escape with his life thanks to his friends, part of the monster is still attached to his arm.

The group manages to make it back to civilization and Max is transferred to a hospital where his arm is unbandaged. In a pretty gruesome scene for 1959, the blob is peeled away to expose Max’s skeletonized forearm and hand. His arm is promptly bandaged back up and the still-living piece of blob is placed in a clear plastic container for study. Around this time, however, a comet passes nearby Earth. The radioactivity from the comet reacts with the mysterious creature causing it to grow, escape its container, and go on a rampage. At the same time, Max, who is poisoned by the creature, also reacts negatively to the comet’s radiation and goes on his own rampage while searching for his true love, Ellen (Didi Sullivan), who just happens to be married to Max’s best friend, Professor John Fielding (John Merivale of Circus of Horror fame).

Caltiki is a fairly standard low budget sci-fi flick. Aside from a couple of particularly gruesome blob attacks, which were censored in Britain and the U.S. upon release, there isn’t much to recommend except for fans of this type of film or die-hard Bava fans. For fans of Mario Bava, this is an important film. Not only did Bava complete the direction of the actual actors, but he directed all of the scenes that included the monster and other special effects—over 100 special effects altogether. While some of these effects don’t really stand the test of time, as in the destruction of the miniature vehicles and many of the flame effects, other scenes are standouts. These include the scenes of Caltiki—alternatively described as bits of tripe or pliable leather—as well as the volcanic eruption at the beginning of the picture and the genuinely gruesome effects involving Caltiki’s attacks upon people. The movie is considerably more violent than most of the 1950’s output within the genre. But even the effects that don’t stand the test of time are remarkable when one considers the fact that Bava had almost no money with which to create these effects. What he manages with mostly creativity is fairly astounding and always entertaining, even if some of the effects aren’t necessarily the most realistic.

Like I Vampiri before it, Caltiki didn’t take in much box office in its native Italy, but did make a small profit from overseas sales. And Freda’s plan worked as Bava’s next film was Black Sunday, a huge international hit. And Bava never looked back, continuing to pioneer effects, cinematography, and even entire subgenres like the giallo films that became so popular in the early 70’s.

So then, while Caltiki isn’t a great film—and not even close to Bava’s strongest effort—it runs at a brisk pace, manages to entertain as much as any of the “classic” U.S. 50’s sci-fi fare, and is historically important to Italian genre cinema and, indeed, to international genre cinema as well.

Arrow’s print is lovely and clean, with crisp blacks and whites. Along with a standard and HD presentation, Caltiki is also presented in two versions: the typical letterboxed version as well as a version that allows for more screen information which helps to inform The Master’s special effects sequences. Both Italian and English tracks are available, as are English subtitles and subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing. There are some really fantastic special features including an interview with critic Kim Newman on the influence of classic monster films on Caltiki, an archival interview with critic Stefano Della Casa on Riccardo Freda, and another archival interview with Luigi Cozzi about the genesis of the film itself. There are other features including the alternate opening titles for the U.S. version of Caltiki and, finally, two very good audio commentaries. One commentary is by Video Watchdog and Bava biographer Tim Lucas while the second commentary is by author Troy Howarth, who has penned books about Bava as well as on Italian giallo films. Both commentaries contain a wealth of knowledge and aren’t too academic as to be boring for the passing fan, although both commentators provide much information during the runtime.

If you love 50’s sci-fi or Mario Bava, or if you enjoy learning a little film history, Caltiki is a can’t-miss purchase. Available now, you can order from Amazon or directly from Arrow at: http://www.arrowfilms.co.uk/category/usa