Review by Eric Hillis
Directed by: Riccardo Freda, Mario Bava (uncredited)
Starring: John Merivale, Didi Sullivan, Gerard Herter
From the 1950s to the '80s, Italian filmmakers cashed in on practically every commercial genre in their own unique way, but oddly enough, few monster movies emerged from the Italian knock-off industry, despite their huge popularity in the US during the cold war paranoia era of the '50s. At this time, Italian producers were more interested in ripping off the historical and biblical epics of the period, possibly because all you needed were a loincloth for your muscular hero, a tiara for his love interest and some centurion outfits for the villains. The need for special effects may have turned off most Italian filmmakers from attempting to outdo American sci-fi, but it didn't stop director Riccardo Freda (credited here as the Anglicised Robert Hamton) from getting in on the monster craze with 1959's Caltiki: The Immortal Monster.
Freda's movie features that classic b-movie antagonist - the amorphous blob. This one is discovered in Mexico by a team of very non-Mexican scientists, along with their wives, who moan about how their husbands are more interested in fumbling around with gooey single cell organisms than their other halves. This is an Italian b-movie from 1959; don't expect a feminist tract here folks.
The boffins are warned that the blob is Caltiki, an immortal god of native legend, but they shrug off such primitive beliefs and take it to a state of the art research facility in Mexico City, where they learn it's a millions of years old single cell organism - and it's growing!
If you've ever seen a '50s b-movie you won't find many surprises here in terms of plot, as it pretty much just throws The Blob into a blender with The Quatermass Experiment. What does make it stand out from its American cousins is its red-blooded Italian focus on sex and violence. When Caltiki goes on the rampage in the film's climax, a villainous scientist gets his comeuppance in a fashion that's still gruesomely shocking today, the skin peeled away from his skull. Elsewhere the film rubs censors the wrong way with a dance by a 'native' girl that seems to have inspired Miley Cyrus's stage routines, while leading lady Didi Sullivan appears to have been lactating during the shoot, with damp patches around her nipples clearly visible at several points.
The other notable aspect is the dual cinematography and FX work by no less a figure than Mario Bava, who is said to have directed portions of the film also. Visually, Caltiki may not be the most inspired monster (it's essentially a pile of tripe, which apparently stank the set to high heaven during production), but the manner in which it physically interacts with its surroundings is far more sophisticated than the likes of the titular creature of The Blob (no rear projection on display here), and its climactic rampage is something of a tour de force of '50s FX. This impressive 2K restoration finally allows us a proper look at Bava's work here.
This Arrow Video disc presents the film in both its original Italian language version and its English dub. While I would generally recommend subtitled versions of movies, in this case the English dubbing adds to the film's b-movie appeal. Listen out for a toddler voiced by a grown woman; it's deeply unnerving.
Two commentaries by arguably the world's foremost experts on Mario Bava, Tim Lucas and Troy Howarth, make this an essential purchase for fans of the Italian director. No slouch himself when it comes to genre insight, Kim Newman appears in a featurette in which he discusses Caltiki's place in the monster movie pantheon. Interviews with critic Stefano Della Casa and filmmaker Luigi Cozzi, alternate US opening titles, a booklet and trailer round out an impressive package, making this disc a must have for fans of schlock and Italian cinema alike.
Caltiki: The Immortal Monster is released on dual format blu-ray/DVD on April 10th from Arrow Video.