I’ll say this straight up and get it over with. Ridley Scott could learn a lot from Mario Bava’s work (although some would say with a nudge and wink he’s been there and done that previously). Sitting through Scott’s way too tired, formulaic and practically scare-free Alien Covenant was a chore for me, but going back to Bava’s more compelling Caltiki, The Immortal Monster made for an interesting counterpoint. Sometimes, more is indeed less and exactly what’s required when it comes to horror.
Low-rent though it may look, the “collaboration” of Bava and initial director Riccardo Freda makes for quite a compact and thrilling slice of sci-fi/horror that works as a sort of H.P. Lovecraft homage with a few intentional riffs on Hammer Film’s The Quatermass Xperiment tossed in for good measure. Initially the cinematographer, Bava stepped into the director’s chair after Freda left the production. But it seems he did everything from design some impressive (for the era) visual effects to create some amazing backdrops using collage that included ceramic planters, magazine photos and matte paintings. It’s wacky as all get out, but it works surprisingly well and to some extent, even better today.
I recall seeing this on TV years ago as a kid thinking it was one of the handful of cheaply made Mexican horror flicks that popped up on occasion. Nope- I was just under-informed . It’s all Italian and a film made for overseas consumption thanks to the usual eyeball rolling dub job the film got. Still, I’m glad to have encountered this film way back when, as stuff like this made me appreciate the art of the “B” movie even more. Bava’s craft is right up in your face and ready to surprise you with a few jumps and jolts.
Anyway, the film gets right to it with a great opening scene as it sets up its team of archaeologists to discover Caltiki’s resting place and bring her back to writhing, slimy life. Two of the team are killed and one man is horribly disfigured, but he survives and is hospitalized. Naturally, that thing now growing on his twisted arm isn’t going to make him any better. But the rest of the team (and later, the military) ends up having more fish to fry when it’s discovered that a chunk of the creature is alive and well and in the process of reproduction. Eeep.
While it’s got a few warts and plot holes, Bava manages to grab you consistently with his visual effects wizardry and use of the camera. There’s a found footage sequence, some creepy stalking of one of the female characters, an almost noir-like dedication to the use of lighting and more. The added bonus of sexual tension creeping into the film at a few points makes it noteworthy, but this is more or less okay for kids to watch considering what passes for “normal” on network TV these days.
Yeah, yeah, some of the budget effects are laughably bad by today’s CGI everywhere/all the time standards. But that creepy monster works well despite looking like a rolled up towel someone wrapped in rubber before popping it into an oven. Hey, whatever works, right? There’s also definitely a huge The Blob influence here. But Bava manages to outdo that classic creature’s ickyness while amply amping up the fear quotient when required. Yes, the finale is the expected mayhem you’d want to occur, but at least the film holds its cheap head up proudly to this day.
This disc isn’t as packed with features as other Arrow Blu-Rays, but you do get a nice bit of bonus content:
Brand new 2K restoration of the film from the original camera negative
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
Riccardo Freda, Forgotten Master, an archival interview with critic Stefano Della Casa
The Genesis of Caltiki, an archival interview with filmmaker Luigi Cozzi
Archival introduction to the film by Stefano Della Casa
Alternate opening titles for the US version
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
There’s also an “open matte” cut included if you really want to pore over every inch of Bava’s collage and visual effects work. It’s kind of a “thing” for some movie buffs out there, but I can live without it at the end of the day. Anyway, score another one up for Arrow Video, on target as usual.
Score: A (90%)
Review copy provided by the publisher