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Caltiki – il mostro immortale (Blu-ray Review)

Caltiki – il mostro immortale (Caltiki – The Immortal Monster, 1959) is known among cult circles for its dual directorial influence; though officially recognized as a film by Riccardo Freda, cinematographer Mario Bava filled Freda’s sizeable shoes when he left the production before its completion. Contrasting reports suggest that either Freda’s absence was strategic, to allow Bava to prove himself as a director to studio executives, or imply that he abandoned a struggling project, forcing Bava to pick up the pieces. Either way, the result is a uniquely inventive blend of science fiction, horror and melodrama, all of which is beautifully realized in the new 2K restoration of the film from Arrow Video, a special edition release containing high definition Blu-ray and Standard Definition DVD presentations.

The film follows a team of anthropologists investigating the sudden disappearance of the Mayan population of Tikal, Guatemala in 607AD. The mystery of why this powerful city was abandoned by its inhabitants remains unsolved, despite numerous scientific expeditions. The descendants of Tikal believe that their relatives fled from a divine terror, in the form of the terrible goddess Caltiki. The anthropologists treat such superstitions as exactly that, until a volcanic eruption disturbs the landscape to reveal an underground cave system, complete with bas relief of the goddess and the prophetic inscription: “Caltiki is One, the only immortal god, and when its mate appears in the sky, Caltiki will destroy the world”.

The party soon realise that the body of water in the depths of the cave system was used to offer human sacrifices to the goddess. In their greed, they dive for gold and other treasures scattered at the bottom of the pool and are soon rewarded by an appearance of Caltiki itself: a singular organic mass that strips the flesh of anything in its path.

The film explores mythology, superstition and the supernatural alongside a scientific interpretation of the creature, perfectly capturing societal fears of nuclear war in the post-WW2 era. It also features an innovative, if minimal, scene that preceded early examples of found-footage cinema, as well as some interesting effects – from the tripe-covered sacks used to create the creature, to the gory aftermath of its attacks. Similarly, the dramatic score from Roman Vlad and Roberto Nicolosi alternates between eerie and fervent to complement the atmosphere onscreen, elevating the melodrama – which presents its female characters in a more progressive and complex manner than similar genre films of this decade – and scenes of action and horror to great effect.

This special edition release is loaded with content that will sate fans familiar with the film, as well as provide a detailed introduction for new viewers. The beautifully illustrated collector’s booklet features comprehensive complementary articles from Kat Ellinger, Editor-in-Chief of Diabolique Magazine, and Roberto Curti, film historian and author of Italian Gothic Horror Films, 1957-1969 (2015).

This in-depth analysis continues in two fascinating commentary tracks from authors Tim Lucas (Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark, 2007) and Troy Howarth (The Haunted World of Mario Bava and So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films, 2015).

Another highlight of the new release is author Kim Newman’s (Nightmare Movies: Horror on Screen Since the 1960s, 2011) discussion of the film, From Quatermass to Caltiki, which situates the film in the wider world of classic film monsters and serves as a great introduction to the two archival interviews included in the release. The first is with filmmaker Luigi Cozzi (Starcrash (1978); Contamination (1980); and Hercules (1983)) on The Genesis of Caltiki, and the second is from noted critic Stefano Della Casa, who also features in an archival introduction to the film, titled Riccardo Freda, Forgotten Master.

This special edition release of Caltiki – il mostro immortale from Arrow Video is a staple for fans of Italian horror and is available from 10 April 2017.

About Rebecca Booth

Rebecca has a Masters in Film Studies from the University of Southampton. In addition to her role as Managing Editor at Diabolique Magazine, she co-hosts the international horror podcast United Nations of Horror, as well as X-Files X-Philes and The Twin Peaks Log. She has contributed to several popular culture websites such as Wicked Horror, Den of Geek, and Big Comic Page, and has contributed essays to following publications: Unsung Horrors (We Belong Dead, 2016), Lost Girls: The Phantasmagorical Cinema of Jean Rollin (Spectacular Optical, 2017), and the forthcoming A Filthy Workshop of Creation: Sin & Subversion in Hammer's Gothic Horrors (Electric Dreamhouse Press, 2018).

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