Caltiki, The Immortal Monster, 1959.
Directed by Riccardo Freda & Mario Bava.
Starring John Merivale, Didi Sullivan, Gérard Herter, Giacomo Rossi Stuart, Gail Pearl, and Daniela Rocca.
A group of scientists investigating the disappearance of an ancient Mayan civilisation discover a remnant of an alien species that infects one of their crew.
Caltiki, The Immortal Monster is an Italian sci-fi/horror movie from 1959 that is credited as being directed by Riccardo Freda (The Vampires) but features more than a bit of the handiwork of one Mario Bava, the legendary filmmaker responsible for Gothic horror classics Black Sunday, Black Sabbath and the influential giallo Bay of Blood. In it, a group of archaeologists are investigating what happened to an ancient Mayan civilisation that just seemed to disappear. When one of the crew dives in the pool that is situated inside the ruins of the ancient city a blobby alien entity is awakened, and when the team manage to get a piece of it to take away and study they soon get more than they bargained for when they realise the whole of humanity could be in danger.
Essentially an Italian knock-off of The Blob with a bit of Quatermass thrown in for good measure, Caltiki, The Immortal Monster does have a surprisingly high level of quality about it, mainly thanks to Mario Bava’s eye for framing and lighting shots plus his work on the special effects, which are remarkably gruesome for a 1950s sci-fi movie and wouldn’t look out of place in some of the grindhouse efforts of the 1970s. The talky bits in-between the monster attacks are as melodramatic and predictably daft as anything else put out from the US in that era, the only difference being that the subtitles distract your eyes from watching Bava’s gooey chamois leather creature making its way around the miniature sets as if it were being dragged by fishing wire (which it probably was). To be fair, the miniature models don’t look that bad when viewed as a film from nearly 60 years ago, again thanks to Bava and his masterful eye for scale and a few neat lighting tricks.
The plot itself is fairly standard stuff for a sci-fi/horror movie from this era, although the inclusion of Mayan mythology to go alongside the layman’s scientific babble about comets gives it a little bit of authenticity over the communist-plot-to-take-over-the-world subtexts that the US were knocking out almost weekly at that point. The characters are all pretty stock, although the inclusion of the stunning Daniela Rocca as Linda, the Mexican wife of the devious Dr. Gunther (Gérard Herter – Ludwig), offers up the chance for a little bit of mild racism and casual sexism as the doctor has his eye on the wife of his colleague, but viewed through a contextual lens the script is secondary to the visuals and is serviceable enough to keep you watching until the next effects set piece.
In some ways this movie is better than The Blob as being in black-and-white the creature effects don’t look overly-stylised with those lurid colours of that movie’s monster, and at 76 minutes long it is a little shorter and feels a lot tighter. The 2K restoration is crisp and clear, showing off Bava’s lighting techniques to the full, and the disc comes with two audio commentaries – one by Bava biographer Tim Lucas and the other by author Troy Howarth – plus a short featurette with critic and author Kim Newman talking about the film and its influences so for an obscure genre movie from the 1950s Arrow Video have certainly put a lot into it, and although it isn’t the greatest movie from that period it is certainly a very good one that benefits from having such treatment.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★/ Movie: ★ ★ ★