In the early days, horror was usually better without a science angle. Back in the ’50s, filmmakers had a hard time dealing with the explanations necessary to explain the rising interest in sci-fi for a public who largely didn’t understand anything about it. This is why something like The Blob worked so well. It barely touched on the fact that the monster was from space at all–only how destructive it could be on Earth. We weren’t focused on the cause, but the effect.
After their previous effort together on 1957’s I Vampiri, director Riccardo Freda and his DP Mario Bava collaborated again on 1959’s Caltiki – The Immortal Monster. Bava had finished Freda’s previous film after the director walked off the project, but here Freda apparently left Caltiki in order to force Bava into the director’s chair for the “first time” (he had done work on the aforementioned I Vampiri, as well as Steno’s The Day the Sky Exploded).
Following the success of the 1958 American film The Blob, Freda had the idea to make a similar picture, diving into sci-fi for the first time. The result is ultimately less than thrilling, with the filmmaker approaching the amorphous monster concept from a more technical standpoint, not putting the audience in the monster’s presence enough to be intimidated by it or showing us the havoc it can wreak on society.
A blob-like monster is found in the ruins of an old Mayan temple. It kills several members of a research crew before they take a piece of the organism back to the city to study it. There’s a big opportunity missed not setting this entire film in the Mayan temple and its primitive environs. The set pieces are exciting in their grandeur and the effects successful in their ambition, albeit pragmatic in their purpose. There’s a group of superstitious tribal locals who go criminally underused in this story. We have high hopes in the first act, only to be fed a whole lot of dry exposition with an underwhelming payoff.
Bava’s knack for terror is well on display early on, but following an enthralling and promising setup, we get almost nothing but inordinate amounts of scientific explanation and no tension buildup, leading then into a lackluster and anticlimactic finale featuring laughable miniatures that make the effects in The Blob look like they were produced by Tim Burton. Simply put, after a great first 15 minutes, nothing happens that’s interesting at all.
The main actor is super stiff with absolutely no charisma. The woman who plays his wife is the real star here, but for a 76 minute movie, she’s given way too much time to do very little.
Not nearly as suspenseful or as rich as I Vampiri, Caltiki – The Immortal Monster never lives up to its evocative title, committing way more into the sci-fi aspect of the story rather than the horror one.