Saturday, 1 June 2013

Caltiki the Undying Monster (1959)

Caltiki the Undying Monster (Caltiki - il mostro immortale) is a 1959 Italian science fiction film (actually a US-Italian co-production) that is best-known today for the fact that Mario Bava finished the movie after director Riccardo Freda quit. Bava also did the cinematography, which is certainly another reason for seeing this film.

The legend is that Freda abandoned the movie in order to give Bava his chance as a director. That may or may not be true, but it makes a nice story.

A team of archaeologists is exploring Mayan ruins in Mexico when a volcano erupts. One of the party goes missing. When one of his colleagues goes diving in an underground lake to look for him he finds a fantastic treasure, but he also finds a hideous and terrible monster - Caltiki!

Caltiki looks pretty much like the Blob from the American movie of the same name. It starts off small but it grows rapidly, because of the radioactivity. As everyone in the 50s knew, radioactivity always makes monsters grow to enormous size. Caltiki grows especially quickly because a comet happens to be passing the Earth - the same comet that appeared in the skies at the time the Mayan civilisation collapsed.

While all this is happening Dr John Fielding (John Merivale) and his wife Ellen (Didi Sullivan) are having marital problems. This expedition was supposed to be their honeymoon but it hasn’t worked out well. The rather slimy Max Gunther (Gérard Herter) is starting to put the moves on Ellen but she’s not interested.

Max soon has bigger problems to worry about, after he has his arm eaten away. That’s what happens to anyone Caltiki touches. Max will soon find himself compelled to serve Caltiki’s interests.

When Caltiki starts to reproduce as well as grow the Mexican army is called in, so we get some fun scenes of tanks and flame-throwers battling the monster.

John Merivale makes an adequate hero, while Gérard Herter is effective as the rather sinister Max. The other actors perform reasonably enough for this type of movie.

The science is delightfully loopy. Caltiki is revealed to be a single-celled animal more than 20 million years old. None of the stuff about radioactivity or comets makes any sense whatsoever, which is how it should be in a monster movie. The attempts to link the monster with Mayan legends and to convince us that Caltiki has some connection with the Mayan deity of the sane name are equally ludicrous, and equally entertaining.

There are a few Bava moments although if you’re expecting the sort of stylistic tour-de-force that he produced in his later movies you might be a trifle disappointed. Nonetheless it’s still visually quite impressive and Bava does manage to provide plenty of atmosphere. The battle scenes with the Mexican tanks towards the end of the movie are great fun. Obviously done with miniatures but in such a way as to be almost surreal.

The Mexican setting is convincing despite the fact that the crew never left Rome.

The Italian Region 2 DVD release includes both the Italian and the English dubbed soundtracks. It’s a decent widescreen transfer.

This is a wonderfully silly movie which should please fans of 50s sci-fi and monster movies. Definitely worth a look.

1 comment:

Laurie Brown said...

I think this movie is so much better than 'The Blob'! When I was a kid sneaking out of bed to watch the horror movies on TV, 'The Blob' did nothing for me. But 'Caltiki' succeeded in scaring the bejesus out of me for some reason.