Returning to Sinister Cinema’s roster of Drive-In Double Features this year is an offering that distinguishes itself by the rarity of the two films in the pairing, and so it is my bounden duty to bring this to your attention. The two films in question are Caltiki, the Immortal Monster (1959) and The Magnetic Monster (1953).
Caltiki is another blob monster movie in the vein of The Blob and X the Unknown. It isn’t in the same league as either of those films, but is not without both interest and charm. It’s an early genre effort from Italy, coming just before the onslaught of gothics that would begin in 1960, and behind the camera are the two men most responsible for those classic horrors: Riccardo Freda as director, and Mario Bava as cinematographer (who also completed the film after Freda left). The story is bizarre. Our blob in question is discovered in an ancient temple in Mexico, and turns out to be the source of a deity’s legend. The heroic scientists describe it as a unicellular creature, an appellation that certainly doesn’t help the audience’s efforts at sustaining disbelief. But never mind. Though the creature is apparently killed by fire in the tomb, a portion of it retained for study survives and breaks free. The climax takes place in the hero’s residence, with the creature, now in several pieces, oozing all over the grounds and down hallways, closing in on the heretofore neglected wife and child. It’s all rather absurd, but well paced and nicely photographed. As well, in the hero’s troubled marriage, we see an element unusual for monster films of this type and era and, despite the Mexican setting, there’s a faint whiff of Italian social malaise from the Dolce Vita days floating about.
The Magnetic Monster is a rather different sort of SF thriller, though it retains the idea of the threat coming from an unthinking, ever-growing force. In this instance, the monster in question isn’t even a unicellular organism. It’s an element, created by a renegade scientist (but of course) that consumes energy and uses that energy to (explosively) double in size. The race is on to destroy it before it threatens the world. Richard Carlson (who would be up against the Creature from the Black Lagoon the following year) is the team-player scientist with the Office of Scientific Investigations who is called in to deal with the threat. The comic highlight occurs early in the film, when the element’s presence causes all the metal and electrical objects in a store to go haywire. The climax consists largely of stock-footage from the 1934 Gold, but is one of those instances where the recycled footage is sufficiently well integrated with the new material that it does succeed in making the movie look more expensive than it is. Though it does require us to buy the idea of a super-secret, super-powerful undersea lab in Newfoundland.
So two flawed, but most entertaining and hard-to-find fifties’ efforts on one disc, complete with concession stand ads and trailers for the likes of It! The Terror From Beyond Space. That’s a pretty nice package. Bear in mind, of course, that these are public domain prints on a DVD-R, so the picture quality won’t be taking your breath away. Said quality is certainly adequate, though, making this release a worthwhile purchase for fans of the era and genre.