BR: Caltiki – The Immortal Monster / Caltiki – il mostro immortale (1959)

December 1, 2014 | By

Film: Excellent

Transfer: Excellent

Extras: Excellent

Label: Arrow Video / MVD Visual (USA) / Unobstructed View (Canada)

Region: A

Released:  April 25, 2017

Genre:  Science-Fiction / Horror

Synopsis: A blob-like mass taken from an ancient Mayan temple begins to reproduce, threatening civilization as we know it!

Special Features:  Audio Commentary #1: author & Mario Bava biographer Tim Lucas / Audio Commentary #2: author Troy Howarth / 2017 Featurette: “From Quatermass to Caltiki” with author Kim Newman (18:12) / Two 2007 Italian featurettes with English subtitles: “Riccardo Freda, Forgotten Master” with critic Stefano Della Casa (19:04) + “The Genesis of Caltiki” with director & author Luigi Cozzi (21:32) / 2007 Italian Intro with English subtitles to “Caltiki” by critic Stefano Della Casa (:21) / Alternate Main Titles to U.S. version (2:23) / U.S. Theatrical Trailer / Reversible sleeve art with new art by Graham Humphreys / DVD edition / “Caltiki” Photocomic in PDF format / 36-page colour booklet featuring essays by Kat Ellinger, Roberto Curti, and Tim Lucas.




Already an esteemed cinematographer and wonderful effects whiz, Mario Bava remained a reluctant director – reportedly wanting to move into the director’s chair, but keeping a deliberate distance – so it took some clever maneuvering by Riccardo Freda, Calitiki‘s original director, to give Bava a taste of directing a full movie. Legend has it Freda feigned illness and disinterest in both Caltiki and the pair’s prior collaboration, I Vampiri (1957), forcing Bava to take over directorial duties, and it seemed the trickery worked, as Bava soon made his formal debut with the classic gothic shocker Black Sunday the following year.

While Bava’s later films have relatively steady pacing, there’s nothing in Bava’s C.V.  like Caltiki, in which the eponymous creature – a blob-like thing brought back from an ancient Mayan temple – almost shares as much screen time as the humans it eventually attempts to ingest.

Caltiki riffs a few core elements from the cult hit The Blob (1958) – the amorphous, parasitic creature latches onto an archeologist’s arm before it runs amok, and one of Nature’s key elements is ultimately used to destroy the thing – but this is very much an expansion of the killer blob concept, ultimately mandating the assistance of the army, and a battalion of flame-throwing men with tanks.

The initial danger begins when a team of fame-hungry archeologists extract rare gold artifacts from a deep underwater ‘lake’ in an ancient ceremonial cavern, and the greediest of the lot, Max Gunther (scene-chewing Gerard Herter), is attacked by the creature that’s either an ancient curse, a guardian of the cavern, or a prehistoric thing that survives on the tomb’s natural radiation levels and the odd human dumb enough to wade into the ‘lake.’

In a hospital, the creature – a cross between an inflating burlap dish rag that’s been marinated in dog drool – is literally peeled off Max’ arm in one truly gross moment. This traumatic event (plus his now-skeletal arm), causes Max to treat his “half-breed” girlfriend Linda (Divorce Italian Style‘s Daniela Rocca) like crap, and the weasel eventually escapes from the hospital to the estate of colleague John (Toronto-born John Merivale), whose wife Ellen (Didi Perego / aka Didi Sullivan) he intends to covet. This obsessive subplot is especially pungent, and there’s much fun in watching Herter consume every scene: his overacting veers into a belligerent spoiled brat, especially his wormy wriggling in a hospital bed, making his grisly comeuppance (eerily evoking Gerrit Graham’s death in 1977’s Demon Seed) most satisfying.

Caltiki’s ridiculous English dialogue was crafted by the film’s costume designer, Filippo Sanjust (Morgan, the Pirate)who would leave film in 1966 for a celebrated career in opera. Much of the dialogue sounds like literal translations from a sparse Italian script and is quotably bad, but any flaw in the film is augured by Bava’s marvelous black & white cinematography, especially the use of light, shadow, miniatures, and kinetic visuals; no matter how lo-fi the blob monsters may be, they’re shot and edited to extract as much character as possible, building up their lethal dimensions and appetites for the big (and lengthy) showdown between Man vs. Monsters.

Bava managed to work miracles with miniatures and trick elements to evoke deep focus shots, and the action scenes move at breakneck speed thanks to Salvatore Billitteri’s sharp editing. For the finale, the interpolation of massive gusts of fire and explosions add so much energy to what’s clearly a modest location (an idea perhaps inspired by the flame-throwers used in Them!), and Bava’s use of mattes are just as effective as any Hollywood studio production. (The film’s producers must have been stunned by the value Bava added to what was likely designed as a Blob cash-in for European audiences and U.S. drive-ins.)

Roberto Nicolosi’s score is part classical and orchestral jazz, and while his brassy motif is oft-repeated, his variations are effectively moody, similarly tempering the goofiness of the film.

CaltikiR2Released theatrically in the U.S. by Allied Artists, Caltiki was released on DVD in 2007 by now-defunct NoShame label, albeit as a Region 2 PAL disc. Their transfer, made from a decent 1.66:1 print, featured both the English and Italian dub tracks (minus any English subs). Extras included several Italian-only interview featurettes, plus an Italian commentary track with director Luigi Cozzi and film historian & curator Giona A. Nazzaro.

The wait for a Blu-ray in both Europe and North America finally ended with Arrow Video assembled a near-perfect special edition in 2017 that offers wholly new and some goodies from the NoShame edition.

The new 2K transfer from the camera negative is very crisp and clean, with beautiful grey levels that preserve Bava’s fine cinematography and trick effects, and there’s a choice between English and Italian audio with optional subtitles. The actors clearly spoke English dialogue during filming, but there’s a different degree of gravitas in the Italian dub track, especially for Max, whose scheming behaviour seems a bit edgier.

More unique is what’s billed as a ‘full frame’ transfer from a print that features unmatted effects scenes. Apparently Bava shot many of the VFX full frame, which offer more detail than the matted final release version. Now, this sounds like a no-brainer – watching the film with more gooey, slimy info and accepting the periodic shifts in aspect ratios between the straight dialogue scenes – but Arrow also includes edges of the film frame, including perforations, so this is a transfer purely for Bavaphiles, as the centered the image is significantly smaller than the 1.66:1 matted version, which fills out a widescreen standard monitor.

Newly recorded are two separate audio commentary tracks by Bava biographer / authority Tim Lucas (Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark) and Italian genre historian and author Troy Howarth (The Haunted World of Mario Bava and So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films). Lucas’ track is naturally concise and packed with many details that separate myth and legend from fact, if not accounts that help clear up who directed what (it’s more or less asserted that Freda left the film due to budgetary quibbles with the producer, and Bava stepped in to finish the film after Freda had already directed most of the straight dialogue scenes), plus good bio sketches of the film’s cast and key crew.

Overlaps in facts plus odd gaps tend to weaken the impact of Howarth’s track; Lucas often confirms a few production and cast aspects from his extensive research and interviews which Howarth doesn’t, and the former’s authoritative stance contrasts with the latters more casual tone. They’re both good tracks, but it’s best to approach the second after a few day’s pause to minimize a sense of already-heard-that.

It might have been better to record Horwath in a separate on-camera interview with clips to illustrate his narrative of genre films and Bava’s involvement, much in the way Britain’s esteemed Kim Newman was snagged for a featurette on the film’s greater connection to Britain’s Nigel Kneale. Titled “From Quatermass to Caltiki,” Newman traces the origins of Bava’s film, which has more parallels to Kneale’s classic tale of an astronaut’s crash-landing on Earth, and the creature that consumes and transforms him into a blobbish creature which threatens urban England.

It’s not improbable to suggest the makers of The Blob borrowed the alien slime concept and distilled Neale’s tale into a simpler primordial story aimed at drive-in teens by having the goo assault areas of teen leisure (homes, soda bars, and the town’s local cinema), but those unfamiliar with Kneale’s epic saga, which spanned radio, TV, and several feature films, will see greater parallels with the equally brisk and inventive 1958 drive-in hit that also spawned a 1972 sequel (Beware the BlobSon of the Blob) and superb 1988 remake.

Newman rightly regards Caltiki as a fun film, and although it’s not one of Bava’s best works, his ability to extract brilliance on a tiny budget is extraordinary. Credit must also go to editor Billitteri, who cut very few films, but became one of American International Picture’s most reliable post-production supervisors from 1964 thru 1979 (Foxy Brown, Boxcar Bertha, California DreamingThe Amityville Horror), ending with the provocative MGM hit Summer Lovers (1982) before his death in 1985.

Bava’s professional relationship with Freda is detailed in one of two excellent (albeit talking head) interview featurettes from the NoShame edition. In “Riccardo Freda: Forgotten Master,” Italy’s Stefano Della Casa recalls the director’s professional relationship and absolute respect for Bava, as well as Freda’s own career and importance in Italian film. Where postwar neo-realists were championing grit and drama, Freda opted for spectacle and colour, working in popular genres which didn’t endear him to snooty elite critics but ensured a lengthy career. Tales of his personality quirks are amusing and striking – the giant dogs on set is especially surreal – and Della Casa (who also recorded a filmed intro that’s also included) recalls his own encounters and conversations with Freda, including the retrospectives he programmed which helped bring the spotlight back to a filmmaker who’d fallen on hard times in his final years.

Luigi Cozzi (The Killer Must Kill AgainStarcrash) shows himself to be a font of Italian film history in his own separate interview (“The Genesis of Caltiki”) from the NoShame archives, which is similarly in Italian and subtitled for the first time in English. Cozzi eventually poured his keen interests into a book, and it’s a very personable oration on Caltiki’s origins, debt to Quatermass, and Bava’s knack for creating content from virtually nothing. It’s also worth nothing that where Sanjust doubled as screenwriter and costume designer / set decorator and Bava tackled cinematography /direction / effects using paint, glass, simple props, national geographic cut-outs, burlap and cow tripe for the monster, Freda also doubled as director / sculptor, creating the Mayan statues by the underground ‘lake.’

Cozzi and film historian Giona A. Nazzaro collaborated on a commentary for NoShame’s DVD, but their discussion remains exclusive to that release, and those fluent in Italian. It is a pity their track wasn’t ported over by Arrow – completists will cite English subtitled tracks for some of the old Shriek Show Japanese monster DVDs, and Sony’s Crimson Rivers (2000) and Anatomie (2000) which also sported English subtitles for the respective Japanese, French, and German films – but perhaps much of what was discussed exists in the nearly 60 mins. that make up the Cozzi and Della Casa interviews, so maybe it’s all good.

Like the NoShame disc, Arrow includes a trailer packed with every major spoiler, and alternate U.S. titles. Graham Humphreys’ new sleeve art is gorgeous – I’d love a poster of this stunner – and the key art used by NoShame is on the sleeve’s reverse.

Arrow’s thick booklet includes essays by Kat Ellinger, Roberto Curti, and Tim Lucas, whereas unique to the 2007 NoShame edition is a Photo Gallery and a 14-page colour booklet (in Italian).

If The Quatermass Experiment and The Blob spawned Caltiki, one can perhaps argue Freda and Bava’s film spawned the low, low budget shocker The Sound of Horror (1963), in which ‘archeological treasure hunters’ track down a cave in search of ancient wealth, unleash a natural phenomenon, and become trapped in an isolated residential location. The difference, of course, went beyond the talent gap between that film’s director and Bava: unlike the various glimpses of the malevolent Caltiki,  Sound’s monster remains invisible until the finale, and its demise is ineptly choreographed.

Riccardo Freda would direct several sword and sandal epics (The Giants of Thessaly, The Mongols) plus the cult shocker The Horrible Dr. Hichcock (1962) with Black Sunday’s star Barbara Steele. Bava’s formal film as solo director is Black Sunday, but Lucas also cites The Day the Sky Exploded / La morte viene dallo spazio, a 1958 film which Bava took over after original director Paolo Heusch left, and finished within a few days.

Lastly, Gerard Herter is perhaps best-known as the arrogant Prussian duelist in the classic spaghetti western The Big Gundown (1966). His other supporting roles were in the TV series The Odyssey (1968), co-directed by Bava, Fraulein Doktor (1969), Hornet’s Nest (1970), and Luchino Visconti’s Ludwig (1972).



© 2014; revised 2017 Mark R. Hasan



External References:
Editor’s Blogs: 2014 / 2017IMDB  Soundtrack Review —  Soundtrack Album — Composer Filmography
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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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