One from the to watch pile…
Caltiki the Immortal Monster (1959)
Film: I was involved in a conversation the other day on Facebook about Italian horror film directors, and basically the question was ‘other than Lucio Fulci, Dario Argento and Mario Bava, who is your favourite Italian horror film director?’
This proposes an interesting point: most of us who are Italian horror fans rely on those three directors as our go-to men for European horror, and why not? Argento chills us with his deft hand with giallo, Fulci thrills with his gory-laden zombie output, and Bava… well, Bava is Bava: a director whose eye for setting, and lighting a scene is unsurpassed, and who is European cinematic royalty… no, WORLDWIDE cinematic royalty!
This film, 1959’s Caltiki the Immortal Monster, aka Caltiki il Monstro Immortale, is Bava’s first directorial attempt, though he is uncredited. Credited director Riccardo Freda left the project halfway through, claiming he wished the producers, who had previously mistreated Bava, would recognise what a talent he actually is. Bava himself described this as his first film.
Caltiki the Immortal Monster tells of a group of archeologists who are set upon by an amorphous thing when investigating an ancient Mayan temple. One of the expedition is killed, and another injured by the creature, and the only way to help him is to cut off the piece of the creature that is attached to his arm.
We make it back to civilisation and discover not only had the victim of the attack gone slightly mad (actually, he was somewhat of a jerk in the first case, so one hardly notices) but the now-removed thing on his arm hasn’t only grown, it has also multiplied… can mankind survive this creature, or is it doomed to suffer the same fate as the Mayan’s did many years before..
This film is very much a product of what some countries were doing in this time. The success of the Universal horror and scifi films, and their competitors, had changed cinema somewhat and had created an industry were professors were heroes, me monsters, alien or terrestrial, are the enemy.
One of the real surprising things about this film is that even though it’s origins in the American black and white scifi and horror films, it has a lot of European sauce through it. There is a scene of a native dance that is surprising in its explicitness for its time. Now I don’t mean there is full frontal nudity, but the native girl gyrates in a manner quite over the top for the time it was filmed. For that matter, it’s surprisingly gruesome for the same time!
The effects showing the gore is pretty good too, and really only falls over with a miniature scene of two, and honestly can be forgiven when the time is to be taken into consideration. There’s one particular matte painting which fails too due to an actor’s shadow being cast over the image, which reveals it has no depth of field.
The story by Fillipo Sanjist is a quaint mix of American films of a similar period, with smart adventurous scientists, a monster and a threat from space filling its script. It does borrow heavily from The Blob (Caltiki is a Blob like creature and attached itself to a man’s arm) and has elements of Quatermass and Lovecraft within its universe.
The best thing about the film is how you can actually see Bava’s use of light to create depth. Something he does much better in color, but it is still extraordinarily impressive when doing it with black and white. You can really see the beginnings here of what will become an amazing career.
I really liked this film and am happy to include it both my Mario Bava and Arrow films collection.
Format: The reviewed copy of the film was the UK Arrow films region B Bluray (which also comes with a DVD copy) which runs for approximately 76 minutes and has a strikingly good 2K restored, 1.66:1 image with an efficient mono audio track.
Extras: There is a real great bunch of extras on this disc. The first thing is two commentaries, one from horror historian and Bava buff Tim Lucas, which is a technically complete commentary with many insights into the making of the film and the other is from Italian horror movie expert Troy Howarth, writer of giallo bible So Deadly So Perverse, which covers a lot of the same ground as Lucas’, though Howarths is far more conversational and less formal.
From Quatermass to Caltiki sees writer Kim Newman talk about not just this film, but what influenced it and what it influenced.
There is a really cool full aperture version of the film which removes any in-camera matte work so the joy of Bava’s cinematography and effects work can be better appreciated.
Archival Features has some previously released extras of the film including a 20 minute discussion about Riccardo Freda, with film critic Stefano Della Casa. The Genesis of Caltiki which talks about the film with Luigi Cozzi. There is an Archival introduction to the film, again with Stefano Della Casa. There is also a US theatrical trailer and alternate US opening titles.
As with many of Arrow’s releases this comes with a reversible cover, and an illustrated booklet featuring essays by Kat Ellinger, Roberts Curti and Tim Lucas.
WISIA: This is exactly what WISIA is all about: I thoroughly enjoyed the film but can’t see myself visiting it again.