“CALTIKI, THE IMMORTAL MONSTER”— In the Mayan Ruins

“Caltiki, the Immortal Monster” (“Caltiki il mostro immortale”)

In the Mayan Ruins

Amos Lassen

When archaeologists investigate some Mayan ruins, they come across a blob-like monster. They manage to destroy it with fire, but keep a sample. Just at the same time, a comet is due to pass close to the Earth and it is the same comet passed near the Earth at the time the Mayan civilization mysteriously collapsed. Writer Filippo Sanjust’s ambitious screenplay is filled with so many fascinating ideas that make it hard to look away from the screen. This is a story of Mayan legends, Earth-shaking comets, psycho killers and flesh-eating blobs with lots of gore and violence.

The movie has the look and feel of a typical US made B/W creature feature of the time period (1959) bit then you realize that the dialogue is dubbed and understand this is a foreign film.

It all starts with an archeological expedition into trying to find out what led to the extinction of the Mayan civilization. An ancient prophecy is uncovered with an underwater treasure in gold and a millions of years old creature that melts the flesh off of those it comes into contact with. The monster is destroyed by a gas explosion after an attack leaves one of the researchers deformed and a chunk of what was left is taken back to a lab for study where it’s learned radiation exposure not only makes the thing grow, but it can split itself into multiple monstrosities. While studying the Mayan prophecy, the scientists learn of a comet that passes the Earth every 1,352 years is coming again and threatens to enlarge the creature from exposure to its radioactive rays.

Blobular monsters were big in the movies of the 1950s. Caltiki, the title creature looks like a bunch of towels clumped together and dipped in oil. The pulsating mass devours its prey by dissolving the flesh right off the bones. What makes this monster stand out from other 50s creature features are some astonishingly gruesome flashes of gore that, while not unheard of in foreign territories of the time, was rare occasion for movies of this time in North America. 

Mario Bava was in charge of the photographic effects and the shots of the monster(s) are totally effective. as they are. Caltiki splits into multiple monsters and the shots of the various Caltiki’s maneuvering through a mansion trying to eat a wife and child are tense and fascinating. The last few minutes when the sole remaining, and enormous monster takes on the military and their flamethrowers is wonderfully exciting.

The movie claims that the mystery of the Mayans is one that may never be solved: why did they leave their homes after centuries of prosperity never to return and why did they let with their cities decay behind them? Perhaps this party of scientists will find the answer. They are led by Dr. John Fielding (John Merivale), whose wife is accompanying him on this expedition along with a group of researchers under his guidance. One of those researchers, Max Gunther (Gérard Herter), has designs on Fielding’s wife Ellen (Didi Perego) and nurses his feelings of jealousy towards the happy couple. This was not something that would erupt into anything major, but it does add a destructive Mayan deity into the mix, and…

This was the first film directed by Mario Bava, although here he simply receives a cinematographer credit, and then under a pseudonym. The film was actually started by Riccardo Freda, best known for his cult horror The Horrible Doctor Hitchcock and its sequel, but he gave way to the talents of Bava for whatever reason. An Italian production with both eyes on the American market wanted something as good as what was coming out of Hollywood at that time.

The film is set in Mexico and starts with an archeologist running through the jungle that is filled with Mayan ruins while in the distance a volcano erupts (also a good effect). A band of archeologists eventually stumble upon a temple in a cave overlooking an underground lake. One of the members of the expedition dives to the bottom, finding pre-Columbian gold and jewelry along with many skeletons.

Because of greed getting the better of the man, he unwisely takes a second dive and is semi-absorbed by Caltiki, “a Mayan divinity” that melts the man’s face into a goopy mess, exposing his skull, while Max nearly loses his arm to the immortal monster.

The bulk of the picture involves Max’s unstoppable physical and mental deterioration and Fielding’s efforts to contain the menace, which grows exponentially when exposed to even the tiniest amount of radiation. Mayan soothsayers have predicted that Caltiki will destroy the world when its “mate appears in the sky.” This turns out to be a comet that approaches earth’s orbit every 1,300 years or so, and that the radiation it showers into the atmosphere will provide Caltiki with an immense source of energy. Now presented here for the first time in a newly restored high definition transfer, Caltiki shines and terrifies like never before.

DVD BONUS FEATURES include:

– Brand new 2K restoration of the film from the original camera negative

– Original mono Italian and English soundtracks (lossless on the Blu-ray Disc)

– Newly translated English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack

– Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtrack

– New audio commentary by Tim Lucas, author of Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark

– New audio commentary by Troy Howarth, author of The Haunted World of Mario Bava and So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films

From Quatermass to Caltiki, a new discussion with author and critic Kim Newman on the influence of classic monster movies on Caltiki

Riccardo Freda, Forgotten Master, an archival interview with critic Stefano Della Casa

The Genesis of Caltiki, an archival interview with filmmaker Luigi Cozzi

– Archival introduction to the film by Stefano Della Casa

– Alternate opening titles for the US version

– Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys.

The first pressing includes an illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Kat Ellinger and Roberto Curti

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