Archaeologists investigating some Mayan ruins come across a blob-like monster. They manage to destroy it with fire, but keep a sample. Meanwhile, a comet is due to pass close to the Earth - the same comet passed near the Earth at the time the Mayan civilization mysteriously collapsed. Coincidence?Written by
James Barrett <email@example.com>
CALTIKI, THE IMMORTAL MONSTER (Riccardo Freda and, uncredited, Mario Bava, 1959) ***
This Italian sci-fi/horror film has been mentioned so often ever since I've been browsing the Internet (and prior to that on the occasional reference book) that it had practically acquired legendary status! Now that I've watched it myself, I can say that it's an effective blend of THE QUATERMASS XPERIMENT (1955) and Mexi-Horror – though it's not as intellectual as the former, nor as campy as the latter (on the accompanying Audio Commentary, Luigi Cozzi also mentions the Japanese sci-fi THE H-MAN  as a possible influence); the climax, then, seems to have been inspired by QUATERMASS II (1957) – while the archaeologists' discovery of footage shot by their missing/deranged companions actually looks forward to CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1979).
For its miniscule budget (which shows in the distinct lack of extras during a conference held to announce to the world the historic find!), the film's look (Rome standing in for Mexico!) and make-up effects (quite repulsive for the time, with the monster scenes themselves being perhaps more extensive than contemporary genre efforts) are very convincing; the attack by the blob-like monster on lead John Merivale's house (with his wife and daughter trapped inside) is especially well done – and reasonably scary. The cast – also featuring Gerard Herter (an unsympathetic variant on THE QUATERMASS XPERIMENT's Richard Wordsworth), Daniela Rocca and Arturo Dominici – is interesting as well and there's a fine, suitably rousing score by Roberto Nicolosi.
The DVD supplements are superb (I'm lucky to be fluent in Italian) and include two separate interviews featuring genre exponent Luigi Cozzi – who attempts, firstly, to restore to its proper place screenwriter/designer Filippo Sanjust's undervalued contribution to the film and, then, outlines Bava's exact function behind-the-scenes (he didn't actually direct any of it but, following Freda's departure, took charge during the editing stage) – and critic/historian Steve Della Casa – who talks about Freda's place in the history of Italian cinema and mentions an especially amusing anecdote involving Freda and another cult film-maker, Vittorio Cottafavi, on meeting one another in their old age at a Film Festival (each thought the other would look down on his work only to discover that they were secret admirers of one another!). It's a pity, therefore, that film buffs unfamiliar with the language can't enjoy the Audio Commentary either, as it's a truly fascinating discussion: among other things, critic Giona A. Nazzaro voices his regret over the lost art of Italy's genre cinema; there's also an interesting sideline into the unusually creative contribution of editors to Italian films during this era, among whom Mario Serandrei (responsible for CALTIKI itself) was one of the undisputed masters; Cozzi, however, mistakenly refers to John Merivale as having played Sherlock Holmes in A STUDY IN TERROR (1965), when it was actually John Neville (Merivale didn't in fact appear in that film!).
Finally, since Image's DVD of an earlier Freda/Bava collaboration – I VAMPIRI (1957) – hasn't gone out-of-print and, so, will probably not be part of Anchor Bay's upcoming Mario Bava releases, I may well spring for it in the near future along with THE GHOST (1963), an unwatched classic Freda that's been coupled with a German Krimi – DEAD EYES OF London (1961) – on the Retromedia DVD
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