For as much fun as the 1958 sci-fi horror movie The Blob can be -- our very own JB is a huge fan -- I would be hard pressed to say that any of it is actually scary. It's goofy and colorful and has a lot of spirit in its best moments, but even the filmmakers seem to know that it's nearly impossible to make a mass of strawberry jelly terrifying. Well, leave it to the Italians to make a movie very much like The Blob but to make it more atmospheric, more violent, and, yes, scarier. Director Riccardo Freda's 1959 effort Caltiki the Immortal Monster (though referring to Freda as the director may be overstating things; more on that in a minute) drains the color from The Blob for a feature shot in shadowy black and white. It drains the fun, too. While it is a creepier movie and more effective at scaring an audience, anything in Caltiki that doesn't involve the monster is less entertaining than The Blob. I guess you just have to decide what matters more.
The most noteworthy aspect of Caltiki, a movie not on my radar until Arrow's new Blu-ray release, is that it may or may not be the first feature directed by the godfather of Italian horror, the great Mario Bava. Hired as the film's cinematographer, Bava eventually replaced director Riccardo Freda, who left the movie at some point during the production, reportedly to allow Bava the chance to step up and direct. How much of the movie Bava is responsible for remains in question; Freda has said it's only a few days' worth of footage, while Bava has suggested that he directed all of the special effects scenes, gore sequences and a number of other shots that were grabbed to marry his footage with the stuff Freda shot. That collaboration is, in and of itself, interesting enough to make Caltiki worth checking out for students of Italian horror, but the movie really does carry a lot of Bava's fingerprints. Like Black Sunday, it's reminiscent of a number of its American counterparts but darker, edgier and gorier. There are moments in Caltiki that feel like the direct inspiration for "The Raft" sequence in Creepshow 2 in the way that Bava/Freda show just how quickly the shapeless creature dissolves tissue to the bone. It's creepy in 2017; in 1959, it had to be the stuff of nightmares.
There are a lot of rough edges to Caltiki, just as there are rough edges to the majority of sci-fi horror movies of the 1950s: the story moves in fits and starts, the slow spots tend to drag and the performances are inconsistent across the cast. But the stuff that works is good enough to make the film stand out, especially as a direct point of comparison to what the Americans were doing around the exact same time with The Blob. Bava's role in the production may make the movie mostly a historical footnote, it deserves more attention than that. But if that's the best it can do, well, it's a pretty cool footnote.