The Initiation: 31 Days of Horror

the initiation 31 days of horror

31+ Days of Horror. 33 Horror Movies. 33 Reviews. Hooptober Challenges and Bonus Tasks.
View my 2017 Cinema Shame/Hoop-Tober Watch Pile Shame-a-thon Statement here.

Nature Shame:
Unwatched Arrow Films Blu-ray

Hoop-tober Challenge Checklist:
Decade: 1980’s

 


 

#5. The Initiation

the initiation 31 days of horror

It’s about time! I was worried I’d just ceased to be discriminating.

The Initiation was a blind buy based on the Arrow Films pedigree, but mostly the Daphne Zuniga-ness and in that last respect I was not disappointed. Daphne’s big screen debut satisfies with enough Zuniga for two. But maybe I’ve said too much.

I’ve been down on 1980’s slashers lately so in some respects I back-pocketed that malaise in order to follow through on this Watchpile Shame-a-thon entry. It just seems that they’re all beginning to run together. Not that I don’t enjoy them on some basic level… but I tend to forget everything about them almost instantaneously.

The only recent new-watch 80’s slasher that impressed me was House on Sorority Row. So let that be the bar in that it also happens to share that pledge-themed DNA.

the initiation 1984 31 days of horror

The Story

Kelly (Daphne) suffers from nightmares in which a strange man is burning to death in her childhood home and the stress of her sorority initiation has exacerbated her condition. In an odd, parallel storyline that’s meant to inform our intuition about the identity of the slasher, a bunch of convicts escape from a mental institution. Kelly meanwhile pitches a a term paper idea to her psych TA (James Read aka Murph on Remington Steele) about her nightmares, childhood amnesia, etc.

As part of her initiation, Kelly is forced to steal the keys to her father’s big-ass department store so they can complete the bizarre sorority ritual. This involves somehow scaring the four pledges witless. If I’m being honest the head sorority babe didn’t really think this through. And, as they do, things go wrong and people die when college kids start fornicating and generally being dicks in a huge abandoned department store.

the initation vera miles
Clu Gulager and Vera Miles slumming it in slasherland.

Owing to the fact that producers canned the original director because he was taking too long to film a cheap slasher film, The Initiation bears the burden of feeling both like a TV movie and an arty giallo. Unfortunately its far more of the former and less of the latter. Within the same scene, you’ll get a nifty tracking shot, a few dutch angles and a heap of static two-shots.

On top of this schizophrenia, The Initiation serves up Vera Miles and Clu Gulagher as Kelly’s bourgeois parents. Kudos to Vera for sticking it out through shooting even though she only signed on because she’d been so impressed by Peter Crane (the original director). By the time she arrived for her two days of on-set shooting, Crane had already been fired. That said, if I didn’t know she was Vera Miles, I’d have just thought she stumbled in as a Murder, She Wrote extra.

Once the slashing starts it unfolds in a rather predictable pattern. The static and uninspired camerawork negates much of the tension. The Initiation just doesn’t have any trademark moments to separate it from the rest of the slasher pack. No inventive kills and while the blood flows freely, most of it takes place off camera. The Initiation subscribes to the low-budget theory of showering a problem with blood to make up for the lack of on-screen effects work… like someone’s standing just off-camera with a CostCo-sized ketchup bottle.

the initiation 1984

Audio/Visual notes:

For a cheapy slasher shot in 28 days, The Initiation looks quite good on the Arrow Blu with a healthy color palette and grain. Certain pieces such as misty flashbacks and on-location night scenes, however, appear very grainy. Otherwise everything looks and sounds good.

Final Thoughts:

Let’s not mistake this for a newly-discovered lost masterpiece. It’s a serviceable slasher film with an interesting twist — a twist so surprising that it feels like screenwriting hail mary. I’m not sure the film earns the twist, but it’s plausible enough that you’ll stop to consider it for a few minutes before dismissal.

Daphne Zuniga fan(s) and 80’s slasher aficionados will find this a perfectly passable way to spend 90 minutes, but this cheapie won’t leave much of an impression after its over.

30Hz Movie Rating:

 


Availability:  

The Arrow Films Blu-ray for The Initiation (1984) can be purchased from any respectable media retailer near you! And by that I mean that Amazon has it. So you’re good.

the initiation arrow blu-ray
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2017 Cinema Shame/Hoop-Tober Watchpile Shame-a-thon

#1. Caltiki The Immortal Monster (1959) / #2. The Devil Doll (1936) / #3. The Velvet Vampire (1971) / #4. Mill of the Stone Women (1960) / #5. The Initiation (1984)

 

2016 Cinema Shame/Hoop-Tober Watchpile Shame-a-thon

#1. Vampyros Lesbos / #2. A Chinese Ghost Story / #3. The Haunting of Morella / #4. Delirium (1972) / #5. A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin / #6. She-Wolf of London / #7. Son of Frankenstein / #8. Killerfish / #9. The Bride of Re-Animator / #10. A Bay of Blood / #11. The Seventh Victim / #12. The Fly (1958) / #13. The Fly (1986) / #14. Deep Red / #15. Dracula’s Daughter / #16. Day of the Animals / #17. The Unknown / #18. Kuroneko / #19. Komodo / #20. Tremors / #21. Tremors 2 / #22. A Nightmare on Elm Street / #23. A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge / #24. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors / #25. Tenebrae / #26. Salem’s Lot / #27. Veerana / #28. House of Wax / #29. The Bird with the Crystal Plumage / #30. Dead and Buried / #31 Ghost and Mr. Chicken

Mill of the Stone Women: 31 Days of Horror

mill of the stone women 31 days of horror

31+ Days of Horror. 33 Horror Movies. 33 Reviews. Hooptober Challenges and Bonus Tasks.
View my 2017 Cinema Shame/Hoop-Tober Watch Pile Shame-a-thon Statement here.

Nature of Mill of the Stone Women Shame:
Unwatched Double Dip! Mondo DVD & Subkultur Blu-ray

Hoop-tober Challenge Checklist:
Decade: 1960’s
Country of Origin: Italy



 

#4. Mill of the Stone Women

mill of the stone women japanese poster

So far my picks for this year’s Shame-a-thon have been top notch entertainment. Four movies. Four keepers. I hope I’m not frontloading this marathon because that would make for a grueling final few weeks of horror movie viewing.

I purchased a DVD copy of Mill of the Stone Women from Mondo Macabro during one of their sales. Shortly thereafter, Mondo offered a great deal on the then OOP Subkultur Blu-ray. In addition to the improved transfer, the Subkultur disc offered a few different features to *totally* justify that unwatched double dip. Totally.

The Italian gothic shocker Mill of the Stone Women keeps the trend of top notch horror flicks going strong with a Hammer-style dose of brooding restraint and Grand Guignol. Allow me to pause one second here for a word from our sponsor.

stop hammer time

Released the same year as Black Sunday, Mill of the Stone Women actually outgrossed Mario Bava’s classic in Italy. In the years since, Black Sunday has become an essential genre staple and Giorgio Ferroni’s film slipped into relative obscurity.

Released on August 30th, 1960, Mill of the Stone women became the first color film released in Italy, which is a useful anecdote for pub trivia and the offhand dropping of impressive film nuggets. But Mill offers even more fun oddities for posterity. In the opening credits, the film gives story credit to a book called Flemish Tales by Pieter van Weigen. As far as anyone knows, no such book exists.

mill of the stone women 31 days of summer

The Story

Borrowing themes from House of Wax (1953), Mill of the Stone Women amplifies the horrific mental imagery of corpses imprisoned in a museum-like setting. A Dutch professor of fine arts and self-proclaimed “doctor” uses the blood from ill-fated women to repeatedly revive his terminally ill daughter. The victims become the centerpieces of his macabre, moving art installation.

In House of Wax, Vincent Price’s madman revives his corpses through painstaking recreation of lifelike detail. Attendees are meant to see a proximity of humanity in the wax figures. Professor Val on the other hand, turns his corpses into a legitimate, representational horror show, like Peter Pan’s Flight at Disney World gone horribly horribly wrong. The bodies are formed into horrific vignettes, rather than a reconstitution of their former selves or famous historical figures.

The haunting visages of the women create a prolonged, underlying sense of unease. The dead-eyes of dolls, the smoky complexions of burned or disfigured women. These images linger and fester just beneath the surface even when they’re not on screen. The psychological horror of Mill of the Stone Women isn’t easily put into words — but it is effective, often more so than the Hammer films which it is clearly emulating.

mill of the stone women 31 days of horror

Though the film relies heavily on seasoned tropes of the genre — coffins, corpses, screaming vixens, mad science — the elements are woven and integrated so that they don’t play like a “how to do horror on a budget” playbook. It’s not that you don’t see the seams of Mill of the Stone Women, it’s that they don’t amount to anything that feels traditional. The film casts a certain enveloping spell. It’s not terror, per se, but an investment in the face-value quality of the horrific imagery.

It’s a skill the great horror filmmakers of the 1950’s and 1960’s had to have in their bag of tricks in order to convey more horror than they were necessarily able to show on screen. That which was felt became more potent than that which was seen. Watch The Innocents, Black Sunday or Carnival of Souls if you need to revisit some concrete examples. Mill of the Stone Women is unique because none of its magic was lost when color shed some light on the darker corners of the film. Less was often more in terms of graphic content and color, but Ferroni’s film plays with the texture of a black and white film — and I mean this in the best possible sense.

mill of the stone women 31 days of summer

Audio/Visual notes:

After a quick comparison of the Mondo DVD and the German Subkultur Blu-ray, there’s not a huge amount of gain in the crispness of the image — but rather the vibrancy of color on a largely grey palette. Note the above image. That yellow really pops on the Subkultur, but doesn’t have the same visual impact on the DVD. If you love Mill of the Stone Women, seek out the Subkultur, but you won’t be disappointed with the Mondo DVD. But good luck tracking down a reasonably priced copy of either.

Final Thoughts:

I’m going to stop just short of saying that I loved Mill of the Stone Women, but I am compelled to watch it again no more than 24 hours after my first viewing. That’s saying something as I’m always inclined to move on to the next new unwatched conquest. It’s just got a quality that belongs to a certain era of horror filmmaking. It’s called effective restraint and patience. Ferroni stared down “plodding” and “pedantic” and weathered poor contemporary reviews to produce a brand timeless terror that likely plays better for classic film fans in 2017 than it did to contemporary audiences in 1960.

30Hz Movie Rating:

 

 


Availability:  

The OOP Mondo Macabro DVD can still be purchased for a hefty price at Amazon. The German Subkultur Blu-ray also seems to be OOP. Your best solution for watching Mill of the Stone Women right now seems to be Youtube.

mill of the stone women subkultur
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2017 Cinema Shame/Hoop-Tober Watchpile Shame-a-thon

#1. Caltiki The Immortal Monster (1959) / #2. The Devil Doll (1936) / #3. The Velvet Vampire (1971) / #4. Mill of the Stone Women (1960)

 

2016 Cinema Shame/Hoop-Tober Watchpile Shame-a-thon

#1. Vampyros Lesbos / #2. A Chinese Ghost Story / #3. The Haunting of Morella / #4. Delirium (1972) / #5. A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin / #6. She-Wolf of London / #7. Son of Frankenstein / #8. Killerfish / #9. The Bride of Re-Animator / #10. A Bay of Blood / #11. The Seventh Victim / #12. The Fly (1958) / #13. The Fly (1986) / #14. Deep Red / #15. Dracula’s Daughter / #16. Day of the Animals / #17. The Unknown / #18. Kuroneko / #19. Komodo / #20. Tremors / #21. Tremors 2 / #22. A Nightmare on Elm Street / #23. A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge / #24. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors / #25. Tenebrae / #26. Salem’s Lot / #27. Veerana / #28. House of Wax / #29. The Bird with the Crystal Plumage / #30. Dead and Buried / #31 Ghost and Mr. Chicken

The Velvet Vampire: 31 Days of Horror

velvet vampire 31 days of horror

31+ Days of Horror. 33 Horror Movies. 33 Reviews. Hooptober Challenges and Bonus Tasks.
View my 2017 Cinema Shame/Hoop-Tober Watch Pile Shame-a-thon Statement here.

Nature of The Velvet Vampire Shame:
Unwatched Scream Factory LE Blu-ray

Hoop-tober Challenge Checklist:
Decade: 1970’s



 

#3. The Velvet Vampire

velvet vampire poster

Euro-trash vampirism makes me weak in my horror-loving knees. Stylized photography. Vibrant colors (usually red, obviously) foregrounded against a muted color palette. Heightened vampiric subtexts. Nudity and sexuality depicted as power, domination over mortal weakness.

Directed by Roger Corman disciple Stephanie Rothman, The Velvet Vampire, only emulated the Euro-styled vampire film. Rothman had written a follow-up to her successful film Student Nurses called Student Teachers, but the producer shifted the focus of the film to capitalize on the success of the European vampire film Daughters of Darkness.

1971 turned out to be a banner year for films of this particular model. In addition to The Velvet Vampire and Daughters of Darkness, Jess Franco released his masterpiece of erotic vampirism, Vampyros Lesbos. Rothman’s film, however, flopped at the box office. She believes this was due to the American audience’s inability to compartmentalize the film as either a traditional horror film or a full-on piece of exploitation.

the velvet vampire 31 days of horror

 

The Story

Doe-eyed Lee Ritter (Michael Blodgett) and his vapid (“vapid” is really putting it quite nicely) wife, Susan (Sherry Miles) join the beautiful and mysterious Diane LeFanu (Celeste Yarnall) at her desert estate. Diane, meanwhile, begins to put the moves on both of them. The couple begins having shared, foreboding psychedelic visions. Diane’s emotional sorcery leads them both to transgression.

Sidenote: The name Diane LeFanu is a reference to Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, author of the vampire novella Carmilla that pre-dated Bram Stoker’s novel by 26 years.

The non-existent narrative benefits the more European aspects of the production. The story provides the blank canvas for striking imagery and hypnotic dream sequences. Celeste Yarnall makes the most of this space and all but consummates her love affair with the entranced viewer.

the velvet vampire

That the American audience failed to embrace The Velvet Vampire is not surprising. While Yarnall’s vamp dominates the film with stoic sexuality, the ultimate motivations for her actions serve to diminish her menace and strengthen the character as flesh and blood rather than a self-serving monster. By adding grey to the black and white relationship between the vampire and its prey, Rothman complicated the emotional balance of the film — a development that undermined standard audience expectations.

The film’s sexuality also likely contributed to misapprehensions about Rothman’s intent. European sensibilities would have been far more accustomed to casual nudity as an aesthetic choice. Diane LeFanu uses sex to torment and control her unwilling guests. They are both repelled and obsessed by their host. The lack of graphic sex — despite the rampant sexuality — might have further confused an audience signed up for traditional Corman-brand low-budget trash.

Indeed, the performances of houseguests Blodgett and Miles belong in the realm of moldy and forgotten exploitation. Both turn in off-putting performances that nearly sink the film entirely during the first thirty minutes. Miles, especially, shrieks and recoils with a purposeful commitment akin to reading the TV Guide for enjoyment. The actress reacts the same to every scenario. Getting bitten by a snake? Walking in on her husband having sex with a vampire? Burnt toast? The emotion is called “open-mouthed dullard.”

the velvet vampire 31 days of horror

Audio/Visual notes:

The Scream Factory Blu-ray looks quite good. Colors seem to have been pumped up relative to the DVD and the grain seems entirely consistent with most low-budget films of the era. A few minor blemishes remain — it’s clear that Shout! cared enough to release this cult favorite, but expected only minor returns (if any) on its investment. An ever-present low-volume static rumble mars the soundtrack as a testament to this half-finished restoration job. Fans of the film should not complain, however, as The Velvet Vampire looks as good as it ever will, and a minor hum on the soundtrack won’t deter anyone’s overall enjoyment.

Final Thoughts:

Keep in mind my weakness for this style of horror and gauge the film accordingly. Like my prior Cinema Shame/Hoop-Tober review of The Devil Doll, I enjoyed the film’s twists on the formula. While much of Rothman’s film follows the guidebook to Euro-trash vampirism, it’s clear she made this movie with a certain amount of sympathy for her vampiric anti-heroine. Celeste Yarnall’s Diane lives and breathes in ways that the on-screen humans do not. Some artificial art-house transgressions and unfortunate performances detract from the overall package, but The Velvet Vampire has earned a place as a rough and underseen gem of cult cinema.

30Hz Movie Rating:

 

 


Availability:  

Shout Factory released a limited run of The Velvet Vampire on Blu-ray. It appears the Blu-ray is now OOP and selling for upwards of $40. The film can still be found on a Shout Factory 4-film DVD called Vampires, Mummies, and Monsters.


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shout factory logo

 

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2017 Cinema Shame/Hoop-Tober Watchpile Shame-a-thon

#1. Caltiki The Immortal Monster (1959) / #2. The Devil Doll (1936) / #3. The Velvet Vampire (1971)

 

2016 Cinema Shame/Hoop-Tober Watchpile Shame-a-thon

#1. Vampyros Lesbos / #2. A Chinese Ghost Story / #3. The Haunting of Morella / #4. Delirium (1972) / #5. A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin / #6. She-Wolf of London / #7. Son of Frankenstein / #8. Killerfish / #9. The Bride of Re-Animator / #10. A Bay of Blood / #11. The Seventh Victim / #12. The Fly (1958) / #13. The Fly (1986) / #14. Deep Red / #15. Dracula’s Daughter / #16. Day of the Animals / #17. The Unknown / #18. Kuroneko / #19. Komodo / #20. Tremors / #21. Tremors 2 / #22. A Nightmare on Elm Street / #23. A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge / #24. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors / #25. Tenebrae / #26. Salem’s Lot / #27. Veerana / #28. House of Wax / #29. The Bird with the Crystal Plumage / #30. Dead and Buried / #31 Ghost and Mr. Chicken

The Devil Doll: 31 Days of Horror

devil doll 31 days of horror

31+ Days of Horror. 33 Horror Movies. 33 Reviews. Hooptober Challenges and Bonus Tasks.
View my 2017 Cinema Shame/Hoop-Tober Watch Pile Shame-a-thon Statement here.

Nature of The Devil Doll Shame:
Unwatched Tod Browning

Hoop-tober Challenge Checklist:
Decade: 1930’s
Before 1970’s
Directors 6: Tod Browning



 

#2. The Devil Doll

 

devil doll 31 days of horror

 

Finding an unseen Browning wasn’t much of a chore. Finding an unseen Browning in the watchpile proved to be a little more difficult. I stumbled across The Devil Doll in this Hollywood Legends of Horror Collection. I’d watched the other films in the set, but apparently skipped The Devil Doll. It’s on the same disc as Mad Love starring Peter Lorre, a film to which I’d also give a high recommendation. TCM often plays it during October, so keep your eyes spicy peeled on the calendar. (It’s playing on October 31st, by the way, and The Devil Doll makes an appearance on October 28th.)

Based on the book Burn Witch Burn! by Abraham Merritt, Browning’s The Devil Doll concerns a convict by the name of Paul Lavond (Lionel Barrymore) wrongly accused of robbing a bank and murdering a night watchman. 17 years after his conviction, he escapes with a mad scientist whose work entails creating a formula to reduce people to 1/6th their original size. No one ever calls him “mad” — but trust me, he’s a traditional lunatic. Likewise, most everyone else in this picture. The scientist dies shortly after their escape and his assistant (the scene-stealing Rafaela Ottiano) urges Lavond to continue his work. After some consideration, Lavond agrees, but with the intention of using the formula to exact revenge on the men and former business partners who’d framed him for the original crime.

Lavond’s plan is thus: Dress as an old woman who makes dolls. The She-Barrymore sends these little 1/6th doll people out to kill his enemies and ultimately clear his name. Of course once he clears his name, he’s got that whole weird crossdressing dollmaker thing to explain, but maybe we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. Or maybe not.

Tod Browning’s commercial career peaked with Dracula (1931) and he went on to direct the notorious Freaks (1932) a year later. Freaks nearly ruined his career. His post-Freaks career consists of contrition and studio projects of varying value and ambition. I would suggest, having now seen The Devil Doll, that this film represents perhaps his most ambitious and most interesting studio film.

Adapted to the screen by Erich von Stroheim (!) and Guy Endore, The Devil Doll displays a remarkable amount of personal melancholy on behalf of the beleaguered director. MGM only made The Devil Doll because they needed to honor the contract signed by Browning in the wake of Dracula‘s success. As Freaks was the first film made under this contract, it goes without saying that MGM immediately regretted the investment.

devil doll 31 days of horror
She-Barrymore and Maureen O’Sullivan in The Devil Doll (1936).

Visually, the film’s a bit of a marvel for 1936. The matte effects used to place the “dolls” within the scene and action appear rather seamless. Critics at the time likened the achievement of these effects to that of King Kong and The Invisible Man.

The element that elevates the film beyond standard 30’s horror fare is the relationship between Barrymore’s Lavond and his estranged daughter, played by the always radiant Maureen O’Sullivan. Lionel often had a tendency to overplay these emotional scenes in lesser films, but in The Devil Doll he’s restrained, acting as an extension of the director’s vision for the film as a familial melodrama wrapped in commercial horror. And he’s doing this under a bad wig and old lady rags.

 

Audio/Visual notes:

The DVD image could definitely use some clean-up, and its a shame that his film hasn’t been treated with more kindness throughout the years. Warner Archive has re-released this set in recent years, but I haven’t seen the new discs to know if anything’s been done to improve this original.

Final Thoughts:

I’ve read that filmmaker Guy Maddin considers this a highly influential film, and I can see the relevance to Maddin’s experimental oeuvre that presents an off-kiler narrative with earnest emotion beneath the apparent madness. After my first watch of The Devil Doll, I wasn’t quite sure what I’d just watched. The film mingles so many disparate genre elements that it all seemed, well confused. I let the film roll, starting over again at the beginning. The Devil Doll points us in certain genre-defined directions. I settled in for a routine experience throughout the second half of the film, but witnessed anything but routine. After re-watching the opening twenty minutes or so, I came to appreciate how Browning manipulated his audience and then unleashed something curiously sentimental. In a movie about little people running amuck.

30Hz Movie Rating:

 

 


Availability:  

Warner Archive re-released the Hollywood Legends of Horror Collection late last year.


amazon-buy-button

warner archive logo

 

 

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2017 Cinema Shame/Hoop-Tober Watchpile Shame-a-thon

#1. Caltiki The Immortal Monster (1959) / #2. The Devil Doll (1936)

 

2016 Cinema Shame/Hoop-Tober Watchpile Shame-a-thon

#1. Vampyros Lesbos / #2. A Chinese Ghost Story / #3. The Haunting of Morella / #4. Delirium (1972) / #5. A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin / #6. She-Wolf of London / #7. Son of Frankenstein / #8. Killerfish / #9. The Bride of Re-Animator / #10. A Bay of Blood / #11. The Seventh Victim / #12. The Fly (1958) / #13. The Fly (1986) / #14. Deep Red / #15. Dracula’s Daughter / #16. Day of the Animals / #17. The Unknown / #18. Kuroneko / #19. Komodo / #20. Tremors / #21. Tremors 2 / #22. A Nightmare on Elm Street / #23. A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge / #24. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors / #25. Tenebrae / #26. Salem’s Lot / #27. Veerana / #28. House of Wax / #29. The Bird with the Crystal Plumage / #30. Dead and Buried / #31 Ghost and Mr. Chicken

Caltiki the Immortal Monster: 31 Days of Horror

caltiki 31 days of horror

31+ Days of Horror. 33 Horror Movies. 33 Reviews. Hooptober Challenges and Bonus Tasks.
View my 2017 Cinema Shame/Hoop-Tober Watch Pile Shame-a-thon Statement here.

Nature of Caltiki the Immortal Monster Shame:
Unwatched Arrow Blu-ray

Hoop-tober Challenge Checklist:
Decade: 1950’s
Before 1970’s



 

#1. Caltiki the Immortal Monster

 

caltiki 31 days of horror

 

So I’m creeping off the starting gates in the 2017. One might suggest I’m creeping into this Cinema Shame/Hoop-Tober challenge like a slightly animated infinity scarf permeating a 1/10th scale model Italian chateau.

caltiki 31 days of horror

I blind bought the Arrow Blu-ray package for Caltiki the Immortal Monster because I couldn’t resist the allure of a 1959 sci-fi monster movie with special effects by a young Mario Bava in a spiffy Arrow package. (Bava shares directorial credit with Riccardo Freda.) Mostly I wondered “Why exactly?” But those “why exactly” wonders often provide more than enough impetus for a viewing.

I snuck this one in on the first day of viewing (September 16th) while the wife indulged in a documentary on ballet dancers — which was oddly, based on the few minutes I watched, more horrific that Caltiki the Immortal Monster. (And she’s the one that says she doesn’t watch horror!) The expedient runtime, therefore, made Caltiki the ideal opening volley in the Cinema Shame/Hoop-Tober Watchpile Shame-a-thon 2017. Consider the cannons fired.

caltiki 31 days of horror

As special effects coordinator, Mario Bava does remarkable work in transforming a limp rag into an all consuming monster millions of in the offing. Caltiki reportedly offed the Mayans so it’s good at the offing business. This reworking of 1958’s The Blob via Universal’s The Mummy, transports the viewer to Mexico/Central America where scientists have travelled to study reasons for the demise of the Mayan civilization. (So the Blob with a sombrero, mostly. I kid.)

While exploring a cave featuring an entrance to a unique lake/reservoir, one of the scientists disappears and another returns, raving and ranting himself to death. In the 1950’s, we were certainly desensitized to scientists literally dying  from the things they’d witnessed. There just seemed to be a lot of that going around.

A return trip to the cave claims one more explorer and a piece of another but our fearless band of trespassers manages to isolate a piece of the monster to take back for study. The pulsing rag of a monster devours flesh, consumes psyches and feeds on radiation — all the qualities you need for a ripping monster movie.

Audio/Visual notes:

As I’ve never seen Caltiki the Immortal Monster before this Blu-ray release, I can’t speak to the original state of the film, but the version presented here by Arrow films shows remarkable detail and clarity for a 1950’s Italian production. If anything, the disc’s clarity calls attention to the scale models used for scenes after Caltiki grows to tidal wave size. Depending upon your viewing mentality this might prove to be a Bava-licious treat or it might take you right out of the film. However, if you’ve singled out something as relatively obscure as Caltiki for viewing, it’s my guess that you belong to the former group. You’ll also be well served to view the film with commentary because it offers some nice details about the production.

caltiki 31 days of horror
When scarves attack.

Final Thoughts:

Comparing Caltiki directly to The Blob, which predated this film by a year, you’ll notice a couple scenes of relative and surprising shock value. When Caltiki devours its first victim and then reveals a bloody, pulpy skeleton, like discarded chicken bones, it took me by surprise to see such grue in what up until that point had been a pretty run-of-the-mill 1950’s monster flick.

Definitely worth a viewing for fans of Bava and 1950’s horror. It’s interesting to view the film as a bridge directly to the 1960’s when horror films began to take more bloody liberties. Caltiki offers some wonderful old-fashioned chiaroscuro and considered composition. It’s a well-shot movie considering its genre origins. Caltiki serves up exotic variations on established horror films and tropes. Bava works SFX magic during the film’s final ten minutes.

 

30Hz Movie Rating:

30hzrating31-2

 

 


Availability:  

The recent Arrow Films Blu-ray release is widely available, an essential acquisition for classic monster fans and/or Bava completists.

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2017 Cinema Shame/Hoop-Tober Watchpile Shame-a-thon

#1. Caltiki The Immortal Monster

 

2016 Cinema Shame/Hoop-Tober Watchpile Shame-a-thon

#1. Vampyros Lesbos / #2. A Chinese Ghost Story / #3. The Haunting of Morella / #4. Delirium (1972) / #5. A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin / #6. She-Wolf of London / #7. Son of Frankenstein / #8. Killerfish / #9. The Bride of Re-Animator / #10. A Bay of Blood / #11. The Seventh Victim / #12. The Fly (1958) / #13. The Fly (1986) / #14. Deep Red / #15. Dracula’s Daughter / #16. Day of the Animals / #17. The Unknown / #18. Kuroneko / #19. Komodo / #20. Tremors / #21. Tremors 2 / #22. A Nightmare on Elm Street / #23. A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge / #24. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors / #25. Tenebrae / #26. Salem’s Lot / #27. Veerana / #28. House of Wax / #29. The Bird with the Crystal Plumage / #30. Dead and Buried / #31 Ghost and Mr. Chicken

A bl-g about classic and not-so-classic movies, music and nostalgia by James David Patrick