Caltiki: The Immortal Monster
Director: Riccardo Freda (as Robert Hamton)
Stars: John Merivale, Didi Sullivan, Gérard Herter
Reviewed by Brian M. Sammons
This is a late 50s, Italian, Sci-fi monster movie set in Mexico with heavy Lovecraftian overtones. Oh, and the cherry on top: it has Mario Bava (one of my all-time favorite directors) doing a lot of second-unit directing duty, albeit doing so uncredited. So why have I never seen it before? Hell, why have I never even heard of it? All of these things are right in my wheelhouse. So three big, enthusiastic cheers to the always amazing Arrow Video for bringing this movie out, looking glorious in HD B&W, and loaded with extras. So yeah, you know I’m going to love it, but would you? Well let’s find out.
Archaeologists are investigating some ancient Mayan ruins in the Mexican wilderness when they discover a protoplasmic blob-like monster. This nasty critter eats one man’s face down to the bone, and grabs ahold of another’s arm and just won’t let go. A handy axe frees the person, taking a bit of the creature along with him, and the hulking horror is defeated with the help of an exploding gasoline truck.
The wounded man is brought to the hospital where the piece of the monster is separated and saved for study. Sure, what could go wrong with that? In short order we discover this glob of death could be a Mayan god called Caltiki, responsible for the destruction of that ancient civilization. The touch of the thing causes madness and it grows and divides when exposed to a special kind of radiation. Oh, and it is just one big single-cell organism. Neat. What’s less neat is that a comet that last visited Earth around the time of the fall of the Mayan people just so happens to be returning now, and wouldn’t you know it, it gives off the same radiation that causes Caltiki to grow and multiply. I’m sure that’s just one hell of a coincidence.
Caltiki is great on so many levels. It is movie monster fun from 1959, but with an Italian edge, so there are some surprising gore gags sprinkled throughout. Despite its low budget, it was made by people who knew how to make film look great, and while some of that credit has to go to the wonderful eye of Mario Bava, credited director Riccardo Freda is no slouch himself. The whole thing is a wonderful homage to H.P. Lovecraft, playing with many of the Grand Old Gents ideas, but with modern (at the time) sensibilities. It very much feels like a British Quatermass film, and that is very high compliment coming from me. Yes, there is some 50s sci-fi cheese in here, and some of the acting is a bit stiff or out-and-out wooden, but that only adds to the charm of the film. The old saying, “they don’t make ‘em like this anymore” is certainly true here, sadly.
Let’s get to the special features and goodies on this new Blu-ray/DVD release from Arrow Video. First, the film is presented with the original Italian soundtrack and English subtitles, or with an optional English dubbed soundtrack. Then there are some physical extras like double-sided cover art and a nice 35-page collector’s booklet. As for on-disc bonuses there is a commentary track with Tim Lucas, author of the book Mario Bava – All the Colors of the Dark, and another with Troy Howarth author of The Haunted World of Mario Bava. I told you Bava’s influence was all over this movie. There is a featurette with author and critic Kim Newman about the movie that runs 18 minutes. There is a full aperture version of the film presented here that provides a better view of Mario Bava’s effects work. Then there are three archival features: “Riccardo Freda, Forgotten Master,” that’s 19 minutes; “The Genesis of Caltiki” that’s 21 minutes long; and a short archival introduction to the film. A US theatrical trailer and a US title sequence brings this list of impressive extras for a mostly forgotten movie to an end. Way to go, Arrow Video, good on you.
Caltiki: The Immortal Monster is an amazingly fun bit of classic sci-fi horror. If you are a fan of 50s monster movies, science fiction, Lovecraftian horror, the Quatermass movies, and/or Mario Bava’s amazing black and white camera work, then this is a movie for you. If you are, like me, a fan of all of those things, then this new Blu-ray release from Arrow Video is a must have. So it gets an easy and very high recommendation from me.