Wednesday, April 26, 2017

CALTIKI THE IMMORTAL MONSTER (1959) (Blu-ray Review)

CALTIKI THE IMMORTAL MONSTER (1959) 

Label: Arrow Video

Region: A
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 76 Minutes
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.66:1)
Audio: Italian LPCM Mono 1.0, English LPCM Mono 1.0 with Optional English, Italian Subtitles 
Directors: Riccardo Freda, Mario Bava, Gérard Herter, John Merivale, Daniela Rocca,Didi Perego    
Cast: John Merivale, Didi Perego


Caltiki The Immortal Monster (1959) is an Italian knock-off of the American science-fiction film The Blob (1958), directed by Riccardo Freda (Murder Obsession) and lensed by Mario Bava (A Bay of Blood), who also completed the film when Freda walked off the project a few days before filming wrapped. Notably Bava also did the gooey special effects for the movie, which for '59 were mighty visceral. A nice touch is the addition of a Mayan back story involving a vengeful Mayan goddess Caltiki, who was ceremonially presented with human sacrifices by ancient Mayans. 

The film opens with a group of archaeologists investigating ancient Mayan ruins located deep in a cave, where they discover a underground pool with a statue of the deity Caltiki presiding over it. One of the archaeologists dons some scuba gear and heads into the pool of water in search of a missing fellow archeologist. In the depths of the water he discovers human skeletons scattered along the bottom of the underground lake, each adorned with golden artifacts from the Mayan era. He emerges from the water, not having found the missing archaeologist, he does however appear with a handful of rare artifacts, and his greed sends him back to the bottom in search of more loot, only to be attacked by a blob-creature which melts his face off, and it is really gooey for a 50's film! The blob-monster emerges from the pool and attacks the remaining archaeologists, with Max (Gérard Herter) losing his arm to the blob in the process, it envelops his hand with its fleshy mass, dissolving skin and muscle, leaving behind just the gruesome bones - another gooey special effect, courtesy of Bava. His colleague Dr. John Fielding (John Merivale) saves him, pulling him to safety and destroying the creature with a huge fireball explosion, he also manages save and isolate a piece of the creature, which he hopes to study, and to use it to save his friend Max, who while recovering in the hospital goes a bit mad, having been infected by the creature Max begins to go a bit mad, believing himself to have diabolical powers, overcome by greed and paranoia, he turns out to be a baddie in the film. 

All the while the seemingly dormant piece of the blob monster begins to reanimate when exposed to various amounts of radiation, and wouldn't you know it - a comet hurdling towards Earth's orbit is returning after several hundred years, bringing with it a radiation signature which ignites the blob into a massive spate of reproduction and intense growth, unleashing the blob in it's full force, leading to a showdown with the Italian military armed with flamethrowers, and it a makes for a fun 50's sci-fi horror stuff, for sure. 

In true 50's fashion we have some melodramatic drama that bogs down the otherwise well paced movie, for instance we have Max's suffering and ultimately doomed girlfriend Linda (Daniela Rocca), a nice girl who tries to nurse Max back to health, but she cannot do much for his burgeoning insanity, and she is helpless to find his heart when he pines away for Fielding's wife Ellen (Didi Perego). The melodramatic stuff is a bit of a yawner, but I do love this creature feature for the drive-in era fun and 50's schlockiness. As a knock-off I loved the creative special effects. Bava created the blob-mass by animating cow stomach (tripe), and it's effective stuff, coming off as a bit leathery, gooey and slimy looking, a pulsating mass of doom. The effects of the creature dissolving people are pretty great, the flesh is dissolved, revealing gooey skeletons and skulls beneath, as said before, it seems much more visceral than what I am used to seeing in 50's creature features. The creature and mythology itself has a strong Cthulhu/Lovecraft vibe, which I loved. 

The story is a fairly shallow monster movie, typical of the 50's, but what I thoroughly enjoyed about this is the deep noirish lensing from Mario Bava, it's shadowy and moody stuff, plus his wonderful special effects work, including some ingenious use of matte painting, forced perspective, miniatures and cow guts to create something weird and gooey, it may not be a great movie, but I think it's pretty awesome.

Audio/Video: Caltiki The Immortal Monster has been out of print on home video for awhile now, there was a No Shame DVD, but this is the debut on Blu-ray, and it looks great to see the film in HD! Framed at the correct 1.66:1 original widescreen aspect ratio the source looks great, the moody Mario Bava lensed noirish black and white cinematography looks solid, all things considered. The new 1080p transfer is sourced from a dupe negative, it was shot a bit dark - which is mentioned in the extras as perhaps a choice to mask certain seams in the special effects - however, despite that the image looks very nice with good contrast, a nice amount of fine detail and the grain is intact. The disc includes the original mono Italian track and an English-dubbed track, with optional English and Italian subtitles. Both tracks have okay fidelity, it does the job, but the English dub is pretty awful, adding more schlockiness to the b-movie than is actually there, the kid is the worst - reminded me of times of that kid Bob from Lucio Fulci's The House By The Cemetery! The Italian track is clean and reasonably crisp within the limits of the source.     

Arrow port over all the extras from the now out-of-print No Shame DVD including a very brief 21-second introduction from film critic  Stefano Della Casa (in Italian), a 21-min conversation with director Luigi Cozzi (Wax Museum) about Italian sci-fi and this film in particular, with some nice anecdotes about conversations he had with Freda, Bava, and others in respect to the movie, in Italian. Stefano Della Casa  shows up again for a 19-million conversation about the career of director Riccardo Freda, also in Italian. additionally we have the US trailer and the alternate US opening title sequence for the film. 

Of course Arrow throw in some pretty substantial new extras for the film, beginning with two brand new audio commentaries, the first with Tim Lucas, author of Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark, another with Troy Howarth, author of The Haunted World of Mario Bava and So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films - and these are dense with Mario Bava-centric infor, combined these are like a masterclass in Italian cinema, and a must-listen for fans of Bava. As if that was not enough we also get a 18-min conversation with one of my favorite horror talking heads,  author and critic Kim Newman who goes into some depth about the influence of classic creature features on Caltiki. Also, not to be overlooked is a full aperture version of the film, the full frame image opens up the image with additional on the top and bottom of the image, some of the edges can be rough and there's a hair in there for a bit, but this version was interesting, it made it feel more like watching it on a Saturday horror matinee n TV as a kid. The release also features a sleeve of reversible artwork, plus a collector's booklet with new writing on the film by Kat Ellinger and Roberto Curti.

Special Features:
- High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
- Original mono Italian and English soundtracks (lossless on the Blu-ray Disc)
- Newly translated English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack
- Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtrack
- New audio commentary by Tim Lucas, author of Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark
- New audio commentary by Troy Howarth, author of The Haunted World of Mario Bava and So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films
- From Quatermass to Caltiki, a new discussion with author and critic Kim Newman on the influence of classic monster movies on Caltiki (18 min) HD 
- Riccardo Freda, Forgotten Master, an archival interview with critic Stefano Della Casa (19 min) 
- The Genesis of Caltiki, an archival interview with filmmaker Luigi Cozzi (21 min) 
- Archival introduction to the film by Stefano Della Casa (1 min) 
- Original English Theatrical Trailer (2 min) HD 
- Alternate opening titles for the US version (2 min) HD 
- Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys
 - FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring  new writing by Kat Ellinger and Roberto Curti.

It is wonderful to have this Italian 50's creature feature in HD and packed with so many cool extras, this is a true treat for monster movie kids and fans of Mario Bava. Arrow have gone above and beyond yet again and knocked it out of the park with a superior release of a cult-classic.  3.5/5 

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