Sort of Immortal
The core pieces of 1950s sci-fi/horror pile onto Caltiki, a movie about an ancient creature resurrected when exposed to radiation. Scenes of scientists discussing the potential peril and peering into microscopes kill time, baiting the audience (even boring them) until the energetic, monster-spawning finish.
To Caltiki’s credit though, the Italian project lavishly comes under the guard of Riccardo Freda and Mario Bava. A lesser and earlier work of Bava, yet lush and evocative in a way few American ‘50s films were. More than workmanlike direction and passe relationships, Caltiki relishes the classic horror cycle. Stellar, eerie lighting spills onto the frame, leaving lurid images over seedy characters. The film invokes elements of adultery, lust, and near rape at a time when the matching American output ensured a clean Christian-infused atmosphere.
Caltiki is led by John Merivale, hardly a memorable starring role. The passionate scientist character doesn’t allow Merivale room in a paltry 76-minute film. Instead, bit parts give Caltiki its prowess. Cast in unforgiving shadows and expressive lighting and left scarred by the creature, Gerard Herter’s descent into criminal madness bides time until the Caltiki shows up. By Caltiki’s closure, his animalistic streak piles on thematic danger.
With this character hook and often scintillating narrative (pointlessly wasting five minutes on a suggestive tribal dance), Caltiki resonates more than it should. It’s an often pale, dry outing about a blob of ancient gunk wrecking a small Mexican town. The Blob, reduced to its bare frame. Or, more specifically, Britian’s The Quatermass Experiment or Hammer’s X The Unknown. Blob flicks were in vogue, just not in Italy.
While The Blob’s spirited, teen-soaked take on gelatinous horror resonates to the period, Caltiki supersedes its era. Part homage, Caltiki has an enthusiasm for cinema, and in a way, it’s groundbreaking. Its efforts to enhance screen bloodshed jolted a genre which, by 1959, was well beyond sensible ideas. 1957’s From Hell It Came, with a walking killer tree, pretty much ended it.
Leave it then to a foreign perspective to shake things up, a young Italian director energizing the formula and leaving a credible work behind. Caltiki’s visual signature removes the dry, disinterested approach of American studio productions. Bava (uncredited as director despite working most of the piece) gives the film dimension, partly via lighting, and partly in clever composition. Add still his special effects, opening on a sensational matte shot to depict a Mayan village and later, minor miniatures to give the multiplying Caltiki(s) scale. Effectiveness aside, they outclass the full color Blob via flair, style, and ingenuity.
The US home video situation for Caltiki prior to this Blu-ray was dire. Left to rot on bootleg discs, using a print so dark it was hard to see anything, those shoddy DVDs finally lose their necessity. Arrow’s disc sports a stunning high-resolution master, perfecting the grain structure with a gorgeous encode.
More importantly, it’s possible to actually see much of this movie. Although limited in gray scale and lacking in pure black, the slight graying of the image reveals plentiful details. The texture of the undulating monster itself allows for appreciation of the design – it’s more than a blob. Prickly spikes and grotesque skin-like forms appear on the creature, all of it visible.
Facial definition soars in many close-ups, showing off the lighting schemes when at their best. And although true black is rare, it’s of little consequence outside of minor banding. Gradients toward near black still hold power and depth. The disc pays attention to Bava’s use of shadows, making sure of their visibility.
Aside from a stray hair peeking in late, Caltiki’s print condition is shockingly pure. In scene transitions, faded scratches appear, quickly receding. In motion, it’s a beautiful presentation, well beyond anything prior on home video.
The main track is dubbed Italian, presented in PCM. While not heavy on damage, the score does sound as if melting. Any fidelity drops in and out. Luckily, this fate does not impact the dialog, clean and sharp, if notably dated by default. Any instances of hiss or loss were handled without audible impact.
Note the English dub track comes included, albeit with a warning. Cobbled together from various elements after permanent loss of the main track, quality varies scene-to-scene, sometimes even in a scene. It’s serviceable if subtitles turn you off from watching, but expect trouble.
Two commentaries feature on the disc. The first comes from Mario Bava historian Tim Lucas. On the second track, author Troy Hayworth. Both deep dive into the film and Bava’s history. A new featurette produced by Arrow brings in critic Kim Newman to discuss the film, titled From Quatermass to Caltiki.
The Return of Caltiki starts an older series of bonuses, running 19-minutes as an Italian crtic relays the film’s impact. Italian filmmaker Luigi Cozzi reminisces about Caltiki for 22-minutes in The Genesis of Caltiki. An older Italian DVD intro is rather pointless, while the trailers and the US version’s opening credits come separately.
The oddest bonus comes in the form of a full aperture version of the film. The additional exposure of the film frame could be a home video first. No other disc I recall offered this. All of Caltiki is exposed this way, significant as Brava shot many of the effects in open matte. It’s not the easiest way to watch a movie, but it’s so interesting, the extra earns bonus points.
Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.
Click on the images below for unaltered, full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Patreon supporters see our screen shots first, view our entire library in .png format, and gain fast access to 19 Caltiki exclusives for as little as $1, perfect for custom cover art, film study, or other applications.