The mystery of the Mayans is one which may bever be solved: why did they leave their homes after centuries of prosperity never to return, with their cities decaying behind them? Perhaps this party of scientists will find the answer, led by Dr John Fielding (John Merivale), whose wife is accompanying him on this expedition along with a group of researchers under his guidance. But one of those researchers, Max Gunther (Gérard Herter), has designs on Fieliding's wife Ellen (Didi Perego) and nurses his feelings of jealousy towards the happy couple. Not something that would erupt into anything major, but add a destructive Mayan deity into the mix, and...
If Caltiki is recalled for anything nowadays, it's that it was the first film to be directed by Mario Bava, although here he simply receives a cinematographer credit, and that 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, with the result that many have fond memories of this having put the wind up them when they were younger. An Italian production with both eyes on the American market, it was significantly more violent than much of what was coming out of Hollywood of the day.
Nothing that would turn many heads nowadays, naturally, but it did get gleefully gory in its monochrome fashion during select passages where the monster of the title attacked. Apparently inspired either by the success of the Steve McQueen vehicle The Blob or the British science fiction shocker The Quatermass Xperiment, or maybe both, that creature of devastation is not actually a god, or even a devil, but a hitherto unknown animal that resembles an out of control and staggeringly massive amoeba. Of course, it chiefly looks massive due to some very pleasing model work, which takes in miniature sets and vehicles, all grist to the mill of being consumed or otherwise smashed by the ever-advancing thing.
Humanity's first contact with it since the Mayans fled its insatiable appetite is when after too much time wasting with the scientists' personal relationships and an exotic dancer (not that she disrobes) the expedition finds a pool inside one of the ruins, under the statue of the god Caltiki. One of their number dons his diving suit and ventures down into the depths and is delighted to discover a stash of gold left by the Mayans from centuries before. They will be millionaires, he points out excitedly, then goes back down to fetch some more valuables and realises that there's not much point in being a millionaire if you're dead, as the blob makes its presence felt and devours him.
Poor old Max has a stroke of bad luck as well, when the monster grabs hold of his hand in the pandemonium and fixes itself to his arm. Fast thinking Fielding chops the arm free with an axe, then works out that the best way to vanquish the threat is to drive an exploding truck of gasoline at it. You'd think well, that was a short film and that's the end of it, but we still have about an hour to go and our expedition heads back up to America where Max can recuperate and Fielding can experiment on his piece of blob. That's right, he was stupid enough to take some with him, but it does mean after a shaky start that the film begins to pick up a head of steam, with Max going murderously crazy and the blob fragment feeding off the cosmic radiation from a passing comet. And you can guess how that turns out, with a genuinely enjoyable, if improbably contrived, finale. The Bava influence is there in the fine visuals, although his best efforts were yet to come. Music by Roberto Nicolosi and Roman Vlad.
Italian director/writer/cinematographer and one of the few Italian genre film-makers who influenced, rather than imitated. Worked as a cinematographer until the late 1950s, during which time he gained a reputation as a hugely talented director of photography, particularly in the use of optical effects.
Bava made his feature debut in 1960 with Black Sunday/The Mask of Satan, a richly-shot black and white Gothic gem. From then on Bava worked in various genres – spaghetti western, sci-fi, action, peplum, sex – but it was in the horror genre that Bava made his legacy. His sumptuously filmed, tightly plotted giallo thrillers (Blood and Black Lace, Hatchet for the Honeymoon, Bay of Blood) and supernatural horrors (Lisa and the Devil, Baron Blood, Kill, Baby...Kill!) influenced an entire generation of Italian film-makers (and beyond) – never had horror looked so good. Bava’s penultimate picture was the harrowing thriller Rabid Dogs, while his last film, Shock, was one his very scariest. Died of a heart attack in 1980.