Caltiki! Caltiki! It’s not a tour company, but a blobtastic 1959 monster movie.
Continuing on my tour of excellent cheesy horror pictures (I speak of The Maze ) I hit another gem with Caltiki The Immortal Monster (aka The Undying Monster) an Italian-Mexican production about a blob awakened by an archaeological expedition on the eve of its reemergence and regeneration due to the passing of a highly radioactive meteor. The horror is effective and palpable right from the start, as one of the expedition scientists (Arturo Dominici) staggers back to camp through the Mexican night, in the moonlit shadow of Mayan ruins and an active volcano, collapsing in a petrified heap right after uttering “Caltiki!” He’s come back without his partner, and the film they shot captures some horrible incident at a cave exposed by the eruption.
The other eggheads, led by John Merivale, resolve to investigate after the locals get done with a symbolic dance, in a scene that sets up one of the scientists as a grade A jerk and creep (Gerard Herter), and another (Daniele Vargas) as an impulsive and cursed soul. When the team finally descends into the cave, Vargas dives into the lake and finds untold Mayan treasure in jewelry. He also encounters the mystery figure while going back to scoop up the loot; Caltiki the blob. Yes a blob, but before you get disappointed, let me tell you that what this blob lacks for in speed or stealth, it more than makes up for in fearsome relentless and destructive power, for it sucks a body like a strand of spaghetti into its weird, foaming, pulsating, steaming, entrail-looking mass (that’s what the filmmakers used–oily fabric and cow entrails) and eats off the flesh, instantly spitting out sinewy, bony remains.
I am so glad I saw this as an adult, because as much as I loved scary movies as a kid, I don’t think mini-me would be able to handle this one. Vargas the diver’s face emerges, just a skull with terror frozen on its face, and when Herter goes back to nab the bag of jewelry, the blob eats his arm. Merivale manages to fight it back with an axe and then with fire, but Herter is damaged beyond repair. Poisoned by Caltiki juice, he soon transforms into a maniacal, murderous jerk and creep, sneering and growling and generally giving the blob a run for its villainy. Initially it seems greed has awakened Caltiki but we later learn that the same meteor giving it life now also passed centuries ago, enabling it to munch on the Mayans. This means that the little bloblet samples peeled off Herter’s arm like chewing gum, samples that now sit in jars and under microscopes will balloon exponentially and wipe us all out. You laugh, but seeing this thing expand, divide and squeeze its giant acidic body through every crack and crevice is truly disturbing.
Throw in a love triangle, a violent maniac, a race to destroy all the samples, a spectacular car crash, and Merivale’s wife (Didi Perego) and son left alone with nowhere to escape and you have more suspenseful tension than you can probably handle, and that nicely fits into a short run time. Reading up on Caltiki I learned that director Riccardo Freda used this film to push his protege and cinematographer Mario Bava into gaining more experience and responsibility, and Bava did a great job, peppering the movie with all kinds of gore and gothic bits, gave us fine photography of ruins, forests and labs, and recreated his father’s home (complete with matching miniature furniture) for Merivale’s doomed villa. There’s never a dull moment, though some are laughable (Daniela Rocca explaining a tray of sandwiches she’s taking to the fugitive Herter as her “midnight snack”), but it’s all part of the fun. The climactic battle between Caltiki and the Mexican Army, while Merivale attempts to rescue his family is a perfect end to the story of the creature that spans ancient and atomic ages. Delightfully gruesome, epic, mythic and scary.