It’s well known that Italian producers, writers and directors spent much of the ‘70s and ‘80s building a profitable business from riffing on and ripping off the bigger international hits of the time. Filling them with blood, gore, sex and violence it brought in the cash and left behind cult films that range from the awful to the brilliant in their own right. Of course, Italian cinema isn’t just that and the hugely inventive craftspeople involved brought us the best neorealism, peplum, spaghetti westerns, giallo, horror and some of the greatest directors film can offer. That drive to replicate the success of international studios started earlier than the ‘70s too. Which brings us to Caltiki the Immortal Monster.
In many ways very much an Italian version of the Quatermass / X the Unknown films, it concerns an expedition to a ruined Mayan city, headed by Dr. John Fielding. Hoping to discover what happened to the Mayan people and why they left behind their civilisation centuries before, the group instead finds unimaginable horror. Following the deaths of a number of the party, Fielding and the expedition makes its way home with the last remaining living piece of a previously undiscovered, probably alien creature and an injured colleague, near death and probably going mad. When that man, slowly being taken over by the creature's influence, escapes and goes on a murderous rampage, Fielding has to find a way to try and cure his friend and save the world.
Directed by Riccardo Freda with significant help from cinematographer and special effects man Mario Bava, it’s a lustier version of those British sci-fi classics. Like many a monster movie since, the bits with the humans and their melodramatic relationship woes are generally tedious, threatening to underwhelm, but it really doesn’t matter. What you’re here for is a monster flick and it doesn’t disappoint. Some vivid, impressively gory imagery collides with charming, inventive model work to make Caltiki more than just its influences and something special in its own right. It works as a more ludicrous, blood-thirsty matinee monster movie, but added to that is the place the film holds in the burgeoning Italian genre field. As a document of the developing direction for Bava’s talents, it’s invaluable.
For this release Arrow must be commended. There are two welcome commentaries, one each from Bava enthusiasts Tim Lucas and Troy Howarth, as well as Kim Newman talking about the film’s influences, and some archival interviews about Freda and the film’s genesis. If you’re a fan of shrieking monster movies this certainly scratches that itch, but if you’re a fan of Bava, Freda or Italian genre movies then it’s an essential package and comes very highly recommended.
CALTIKI THE IMMORTAL MONSTER (1959) / CERT: 15 / DIRECTORS: RICCARDO FREDA, MARIO BAVA / SCREENPLAY: FILIPPO SANJUST / STARRING: JOHN MERIVALE, DIDI PEREGO, GÉRARD HERTER / RELEASE DATE: 10TH APRIL