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  • Ravi Swami

"Caltiki - The Immortal Monster", dir: Riccardo Freda, 1959

Coming hot on the heels of "The Blob" (1958), an American film notable for being the on-screen debut of future superstar actor Steve McQueen, though it is not immediately apparent since by comparison the plot of "Caltiki - The Immortal Monster" is, to me at least, far more interesting and owes a great deal to pulp science fiction and horror literature by writers like H.P Lovecraft and others.

An Italian film production, and equally unusual for that reason since the horror genre had limited appeal compared to the stock in trade "Sword and Sandal" epics like "Hercules" of the producing studio, Galatea, though they would often feature horror elements, or at least depictions of mythical creatures etc.

The plot involves a group of explorers of a Mayan temple complex where they awaken the "Caltiki" of the title, a Mayan god depicted on carvings on the walls, and that turns out to be an amoeba-like blob that absorbs any living thing it encounters.

A scientist leading the expedition manages to get a sample of the creature after one of his team is partially absorbed by it but escapes with his life, and after bombarding it with radiation it starts to grow and divide, eventually growing to enormous proportions and destroying the house where it is being kept for study and also threatening the life of his wife and child.

The film concludes with the typical 1950's response to such threats as the army move in with flame-throwers and tanks to eventually destroy it completely.

Marauding blobs from space - it transpires that "Caltiki" will be revived from slumber by a comet that just happens to be transiting Earth when they discover it - also form the plot of Nigel Kneale's classic "Quatermass" (1953) series that predates this film and it has in common the same brooding sense of terror, enhanced by monochrome photography.

Of particular note are the very effective visual effects by Mario Bava who later went on to forge a successful career in Italian cinema of very distinctive horror films, and who co-directed many scenes in the film even though he is credited as a visual effects director.

Amorphous blobs are a challenge to depict in a film even in the current era of digital effects and Bava manages to pull it off via a combination of careful lighting of what appears to be nothing more scary than a bath towel soaked in sticky goo and manipulated like a hand puppet, or at least that's what it seems to be, and the end the result is creepily effective.

This, alongside miniature work, atmospheric lighting and a few clockwork tanks (:)) combine to produce an eerily effective film with a novel premise that is guaranteed to terrify.

"Caltiki - The Immortal Monster" Dir: Riccardo Freda, 1959

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