It’s been a very
long time since I last sat down to watch Caltiki - The Immortal Monster. It was
back in a time when like-minded friends would exchange and trade (decidedly dodgy)
VHS copies of obscure monster movies such as this. The term ‘dodgy’ of course
is used in retrospect; at the time they were pure gold dust, a rare opportunity
to watch something which was out of reach to mainstream admirers. You needed to
put in the leg work and research, but becoming part of that community offered
so many rich rewards.
Today, it’s a
society that has basically become redundant. There is simply little demand for
an ‘under the counter’ or private exchange community. Instead we appear to be
rather satisfied, accepting and respectful of the efforts provided by the
speciality labels. To a large degree, the industry has taken over the leg work
and as a result, begun to fulfil our demands. It’s become a stable position and
something that we could only perhaps dream of during the early graduate years
of the blossoming video revolution.
Arrow’s Caltiki -
The Immortal Monster serves as a perfect example and illustrates just how far
we have come. Let’s be clear, Caltiki is a film that could perhaps be described
as a little thin. However, as a slice of enjoyable hokum it could equally be
described as quite perfect.
A team of
archaeologists led by Dr John Fielding (John Merivale, Circus of Horrors)
descends on the ruins of an ancient Mayan city to investigate the mysterious
disappearance of its inhabitants. However, the luckless explorers get more than
they bargained for when their investigation of a sacrificial pool awakens the
monster that dwells beneath its waters – the fearsome and malevolent god
Caltiki was a
project that bought together two giants of Italian cult cinema – Riccardo Freda
(The Vampires, The Horrible Dr Hichcock) and Mario Bava (5 Dolls for an August
Moon, Blood and Black Lace). In consideration of the film’s low budget, the
filmmakers certainly made the most of what they had. The on screen results are
a testament to their combined creative talents. Caltiki is a film that works
best when not examined too closely, it needs to be enjoyed rather than
scrutinised. Yes, there are cheap mistakes and tell-tale signs, such as actors
casting shadows on the glass matte paintings, or a desire to shoot too darkly
in order to cover up the thin production values - but it hardly matters. The
production values actually balance out rather well. This film has some
incredibly gory moments that are in fact executed (by Bava) with some style.
Skulls with bulging eyeballs, half eaten human appendages are among the film’s
many impressive effects. Don’t be fooled, an early Italian film it may be, but
it’s right up there with Britain’s Hammer films in terms of vivid gore. Some
may even maintain that Caltiki’s gore factor exceeded that of any Hammer
production made during the same period, and they may just have an argument. Viewing
Caltiki today, one can only wonder how it would have looked - had the budget stretched
to the luxury of colour film stock… Caltiki also bears an uncanny resemblance
to Hammer’s The Quatermass Experiment (1955). Bava would later express that he
was in fact influenced by the story. Not that it matters a great deal, it was
the era of creeping slime and Bava wasn’t alone, with Hammer following their
own trend with X The Unknown (1956) and Hollywood close behind that with The
Arrow’s Brand new
2K restoration of the film has been produced from the original camera negative
and looks very impressive. The picture perhaps lacks a little in terms of fine
detail which is more likely down to poorer grade film stock – remember this was
a low budget production. There are good deep black tones and the general
picture appears far smoother and nicely balanced in regards to overall
contrast. It couldn’t be further from the grainy old prints that were once
circulated. I should also point out, Arrow have used the Italian print of the
film which contains both English and Italian mono soundtracks (Lossless on the
Blu-ray disc). By picking the original Italian track, you can also access the
newly translated English subtitles.
Caltiki bonus material are two new audio commentaries. Tim Lucas, (author of
Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark) provides another excellent commentary.
Interesting and articulate, Lucas proves once again to be the perfect choice
for the job. The second commentary by
Troy Howarth, (author of The Haunted World of Mario Bava and So Deadly, So
Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films) is also a good listening
experience. There isn’t really too much different to be heard that hasn’t
already been touched upon by Lucas. There is also very little in terms of
contrasting opinions, both men clearly have a love for Bava which results in
their observations generally coming from the same perspective. (Was there a
need for a second commentary?)
From Quatermass to Caltiki is a new and all too short discussion with author and critic Kim Newman on the influence of classic ‘creeping monster’ genre movies.
Riccardo Freda, Forgotten Master is an archival interview with critic Stefano Della Casa which is interesting enough and doesn’t look too ‘archival’ as it appears to be shot on tape. There is also a second featurette, The Genesis of Caltiki which consists of an interview with filmmaker Luigi Cozzi. Both Della Casa and Cozzi speak in their native language with English subs added.
Stefano Della Casa also provides an optional introduction to the film. The bonus material is rounded off by alternate opening titles for the US release version and a couple of original Italian and English trailers.
Arrow has put together a very nice collection. The new 2K restoration is probably just about right. I can’t really see what difference a 4K restoration would had achieved. Caltiki is an important little film from an even smaller niche subgenre. It’s a credit to Arrow, a company who not only possess an impressive vision, but a genuine validation in delivering titles that have for so long tended to allude us.
Technical Spec: Region: B/2, Rating: 15, Duration: 76 mins, Language: Italian / English, Subtitles: English / English SDH, Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1, Audio: Mono, B/W, Discs: 2