There is a certain charm to 1950s low-budget monster flicks, though that charm can only take one so far. Caltiki: The Immortal Monster (1959) is an Italian riff on The Blob (1958). Scientists investigating possible causes for the fall of Mayan civilization discover a hidden cavern filled with treasure – and occupied by an amorphous monster. After one of their number is killed and another member maimed by the creature, they take a sample back to the lab to study it. This is not a good idea. The special effects are decidedly low-budget, but there are a creativity and appeal to them that makes them more effective than they should be. Unfortunately, this does not save the picture. The first two-thirds of the film are a slog and make the film feel much longer than its trim 76-minute runtime. Viewers who manage to make it through the uninspired first part of the film are rewarded with a third act that manages to be thrilling and perhaps even a little frightening. Even so, this still leaves too little to recommend the movie.
In Caltiki: The Immortal Monster, a team of archaeologists, biologists, and adventurers are in Mexico to study Mayan ruins in an effort to figure out why that civilization collapsed. Two members of the group head into the ruins. Only one returns, and he is a mental and physical wreck. Investigating their team member’s disappearance, the remainder of the group finds a grotto under the temple. There, they discover a statue of the Mayan deity, Caltiki, as well as a deep ceremonial pool. Exploring the pool, they do not find their colleague, but they do find treasure. When one of their members dives to retrieve the treasure, he is killed by something that has dissolved his flesh. The monster, an amorphous blob, attacks the rest of the crew, maiming one of them, Max Gunther (GÃ©rard Herter). Quick thinking by team member Professor John Fielding (John Merivale) destroys the monster. Or does it? The team rushes Max to the hospital, with a bit of the blob still attached to his arm. Max’s arm is withered and he seems to be suffering psychological effects, as well. Professor Fielding removes the creature from Max’s arm and takes it to the lab to study. The scientists discover that radiation makes the blob grow, possibly to the point where it can reproduce. This would not be an issue, except for the fact that a large comet is due to pass close by, enveloping the Earth in its radioactive cloud. The last time the comet came by, it coincided with the fall of the Mayan civilization. Could the comet and the monster be connected?
As with many low-budget horror films of the 1950s, the special effects in Caltiki: The Immortal Monster are somewhat less convincing by today’s standards. That said, they have a certain appeal, especially to fans of the era. The filmmakers utilize forced perspective, miniatures, and matte paintings, mostly to good effect. Some of the model shots, especially those where the monsters face off against tanks, are not quite as effective as others, though. If one were to call the monster “a load of old tripe,” one would not be inaccurate. The filmmakers quite literally used actual tripe for the creatures. This is surprisingly effective. The monsters look organic because they actually are organic. The most chilling and convincing special effects shots are when the human characters are attacked by the creatures. The shot of Professor Fielding removing part of the blob from Max, to reveal an almost skeletal arm below, is quite gory, especially for a film from the era. When one character is fully engulfed by the creature, the results really are quite horrific.
While the special effects shots are fun to watch, the bulk of Caltiki: The Immortal Monster is not. Most of the film is rather uneventful and talky. The monster does make an appearance fairly early on, but then it is relegated to sitting in a glass case for much of the runtime. At one point, it does grow uncontrollably in the lab, but the audience never gets to see that. Instead, only the aftermath is shown. There is a love triangle subplot that, while it does come into to play, still feels tacked on. The film is only 76 minutes, but the first two-thirds of it are so slow and uninteresting that it feels much longer. Many viewers may find themselves abandoning the picture before it ever hits the third act.
Audience members that do stick it out until the finale of Caltiki the Immortal Monster are rewarded with a rather tense and suspenseful scene as Ellen Fielding (Didi Sullivan) and her young son find themselves trapped in their house as it is set upon by a group of blobs. The filmmakers actually manage to inject some tension into the film, in spite of the uneven effects. While Riccardo Freda (as Robert Hamilton) is listed as the film’s director, the general consensus is that this scene, and with much of the movie, is actually directed by the film’s cinematographer, Mario Bava. Fan of Italian horror films will recognize Bava as the future director of such classics as Black Sunday (1960) and Planet of the Vampires (1965). It is in these scenes that the film shines. The problem is, even Bava’s stylish camerawork and tense direction cannot make up for the lackluster first two acts.
Caltiki: The Immortal Monster does have its charms, but its faults may turn off most viewers. The low-budget special effects work more often than not. Fans of the era will appreciate the use of miniatures and forced perspective more so than other viewers. The filmmakers’ decision to use tripe for the monster pays off. Alas, one has to sit through a lot of tripe in the figurative sense to get to the interesting bits of the film. Most viewers will find it too much of a slog to sit through. The finale of the film is surprisingly tense and effective, especially when compared to what comes before, but it may be a case of “too little, too late.” Fan of Italian director Mario Bava may enjoy Caltiki: The Immortal Monster, as it is one of his earlier directorial efforts. Other should probably look elsewhere for their blob-related horror needs.
Caltiki: The Immortal Monster (1959) (2.8 / 5)