Goliath and the Masked Rider/Golia e il cavaliere mascheratio/Hercules and the Masked Rider (1963)

‘Could you prepare a love philtre for my fiancee? Make her change her stupid and arrogant behaviour.’

In 16th Century Spain, an evil Duke plans to take the lands of his wealthy neighbour by marriage or by force. A soldier in love with the prospective bride teams up with a gypsy bandit queen to thwart his evil scheme…

Pity poor Goliath! The strongman was only four movies into his screen career when he was relegated to a side character in this lacklustre swashbuckler. Director Piero Pierotti fails to inject any sense of dash or dynamism into this riff on the all-too-familiar exploits of one señor Zorro.

Don Juan (Mimmo Palmara) returns from the wars to find that things have taken a turn for the worse at the hacienda of his lady love, Dona Blanca (José Greci). Her father, Don Francisco (Renato Navarrini), has promised her hand to troublesome neighbour Don Ramiro (Arturo Dominici), who has threatened war. The young lovers can’t control their passion, and Palmara is banished while Dominici takes delight in torture and mayhem with his increasingly disillusioned right-hand man, Captain Belasco (Ettore Manni).

Palmara links up with red-haired bandit queen Estellla (Pilar Cansino) after fighting her henchman Goliath (Alan Steel) to a draw in hand to hand combat. She also has an axe to grind with Dominici, who was responsible for the death of her husband. Palmara dons a scarlet mask and cloak to become Zorro wannabee the Masked Rider, and events develop on entirely predictable lines. There’s even a scene where Palmara and the band intercept Dominici’s courier Don Ruiz (Tullio Altamura), when he’s bringing Greci gifts from the dastardly warlord. Unfortunately, Palmara is no Errol Flynn, and the woods north of Rome ain’t no Sherwood Forest. Yes, the film hits just about every story beat you expect in a way that lacks any significant interest.

So where does legendary muscleman Goliath fit into all this? Well, he is simply one of Cansino’s merry men. He takes part in the small scale battles with Dominici’s guards and has three or four short lines of unimportant dialogue. It’s pretty clear that the character’s been inserted for name value only, probably into a production conceived initially without him. What’s not surprising is that when the film was retitled for a stateside release, Goliath did his routine name change to Hercules.

Perhaps significantly, around the same time, Steel appeared as Maciste (the Italian version of Hercules) in Umberto Lenzi’s ‘Samson and the Slave Queen’ (1963), originally called ‘Zorro contro Maciste’ and was also set in 16th Century Spain! As the two films shared the same producer, Fortunato Misiano, and were shot around some of the same locations, it’s quite probable that Steel was asked to hang around after one film wrapped to appear in the other. Perhaps he was contracted for another couple of day’s work.

Steel, real name Sergio Ciani, had started his Peplum career with a couple of brief showings in films starring the original Hercules, Steve Reeves. His impressive physicality rewarded him with more prominent roles in ‘Samson’ (1960) and ‘Fury of Hercules’ (1962), supporting American actor Brad Harris before he took up the reins of Maciste. After that, he went onto play Samson for real in ‘Sansone contro il corsaro nero’ (1964), Hercules for real in ‘Hercules Against Rome/Ercole contro Roma’ (1964), Maciste again, Samson again, Hercules again, and finally completed the full set as Ursus in ‘The Three Avengers/Gli invincibili tre (1964).

Dominici, who gives the best value here as the sneering villain, is probably familiar to most as the undead Igor in Mario Bava’s ‘La maschera del demonio/Black Sunday’ (1960) but had roles in many Peplum outings, including the original ‘Hercules’ (1957). Perhaps what’s most surprising is to see that director Pierrotti was on script duty with a couple of the mainstays of the Giallo thriller, which was to take Italian cinema by storm in the early 1970s. Writer Ernesto Gastaldi penned many of the best examples of that sub-genre, and Luciano Martino became well-known through his work as a producer with his brother Sergio usually in the director’s chair.

Little more than a lost footnote in the Peplum genre and the exploits of its musclebound heroes. Not worth your time unless you are a die-hard fan.

Goliath and the Barbarians/Il terrore dei barbari/Terror of the Barbarians (1959)

‘Leave that woman alone, you swine!’

After his hometown is sacked by Barbarians and his father killed, a young warrior vows vengeance and forms a small band of rebels to defend his homeland. When the Barbarians establish a fort in the area, the fight escalates, but things get complicated when he falls in love with the daughter of the fort’s commander and both the lovers struggle with divided loyalties…

More sword and sandal action from Italy with U.S. actor Steve Reeves following up his star-making turn in ‘Hercules’ (1958) and ‘Hercules Unchained’ (1959). Writer and producer Emimmo Salvi teams up with director Carlo Campogalliani to deliver the usual mixture of feats of strength, combat and adventure in a film that never strays too far from the ‘Hercules’ template, although there’s not a whiff of magic or mythology.

The Barbarian hordes led by King Alboino (Bruce Cabot) have swept across the land, looting and plundering without check for generations. Their latest target proves to be the hometown of woodcutter Emiliano (Reeves), who is off in the forest when the hordes descend. By the time he gets back, his father is dead, skewered by shaven-headed, pony-tailed Igor (Livio Lorenzon). Reeves bands the survivors into a guerilla group, who hide out in the hills, although he prefers to hassle the Barbarian troops solo, wearing an animal mask. These successful skirmishes earn him the name ‘Goliath’ and prompt the return of Lorenzon from Cabot’s court and the building of a stockade, commanded by Delfo (Andrea Checchi).

Out in the woods one day, Reeves helps a beautiful woman who has fallen from her horse. The two fall in love, of course, even though he’d probably rather be fighting and chopping wood. Unfortunately for him, it turns out that this dark-eyed beauty is Landa (Chelo Alonso), Checchi’s wild and spirited daughter. Worse is to follow when it’s revealed that Lorenzon plans to kill Checchi and grab both his command and Alonso for himself. So it’s time for Reeves to flex his muscles and ride to the rescue.

This is a very standard Peplum adventure that hits the expected beats and targets with predictable results. The plot is such a formulaic assembly of tried and trusted adventure tropes that nothing is ever in doubt, and each event and plot development is entirely predictable. There’s even a hopelessly contrived sequence where Reeves has to perform some feats of strength (labours, if you will) to avoid execution at Barbarian hands and go free.

Of course, the success or failure of such an enterprise falls heavily on the shoulders of the combat and action choreography and, here, it’s hardly inspirational. Some of the climactic battle footage is even speeded up in a desperate effort to infuse it with some level of excitement and, although there is a pleasing scale lend by the good number of extras, it still comes off as a little flat and under-rehearsed. The film did have budgetary issues, running out of funds entirely at one point. It was only the purchase of the U.S. distribution rights by American International Pictures that allowed production to continue.

The film does have some good points, though, principally thanks to some of the main cast. Alonso was a Cuban actress whose striking, exotic looks saw her take the title role in ‘Queen of the Tartars’ (1960) and play opposite Mark Forest in ‘Son of Samson/Maciste nella valle dei Re’ (1960), again for director Campogalliani. She also had a small role in Sergio Leone’s ‘The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’ (1966). Her performance here as the untamed warrior princess is the best thing about the film. It’s particularly welcome in her scenes with Reeves, who fails to bring a great deal of personal charisma to the screen.

She also performs a couple of sexy dance routines, one around upturned swords, that both help to establish her character and most probably provided some enticing clips for the film’s trailer. Unfortunately for Checchi, her fierce performance was not just a good acting job. In one scene, he slaps her, and, unable to contain herself, the actress slapped him right back. Apparently, she blew several takes that way and had to have her hands tied together! When the cameras stopped rolling, the first thing she did was go over to him and return his latest favour.

Similarly, Lorenzon is an imposing figure and scowls and snarls his way through his villainous role with some relish. He’s ably supported in his black-hearted schemes by Svevo (Arturo Dominici), more familiar now from his work with director Mario Bava in ‘Caltiki, The Immortal Monster’ (1959) and ‘La maschera del demonio/Black Sunday’ (1960). He also appeared in several other muscleman pictures, including another run-in with ‘Goliath at the Conquest of Damascus/Golia alla conquista di Bagdad’ (1965).

It’s also good to see Cabot, who is best remembered these days as Fay Wray’s non-hairy boyfriend in the classic ‘King Kong’ (1933) and graduated to a long list of character parts in the later phase of his career. A supporting gig with John Wayne in ‘Angel and the Badman’ (1946) led to a life-long friendship and roles in many of the Duke’s later pictures, including ‘The War Wagon’ (1967), ‘The Green Berets’ (1968), ‘Chisum’ (1970) and ‘Big Jake’ (1971). His final role was as casino manager Albert R Saxby in the James Bond adventure ‘Diamonds Are Forever’ (1971).

A mildly entertaining slice of muscle man heroics, enlivened by a stronger than usual supporting cast, but there’s little to make it stand out from the crowd.

Hercules and the Tyrants of Babylon/Ercole contro i tiranni di Babilonia (1964)

Hercules and the Tyrants of Babylon (1964)‘I have heard tales of this legendary hero who is usually involved in superhuman undertakings far away.’

The rulers of Babylon are angry when the demi-god, Hercules continually disrupts their slaving expeditions. Although they don’t know it, they have unwittingly kidnapped the Queen of the Hellenes, and the muscleman is on a mission to liberate her from their evil clutches…

The 17th ‘official’ Hercules film that came out of Italy in the wake of the international success enjoyed by Steve Reeves in the title role. It was a loose, disconnected series of features with many different producers and several studios cashing in on the sudden craze. This time around the muscleman appears in the form of American actor Rock Stevens whose brief sojourn on the Tiber was to be followed by far greater success back in his homeland.

The ancient kingdom of Babylon is under the rule of a triumvirate; oldest brother, Assur (Tullio Altamura), bald warrior, Salmanassar (Livio Lorenzon) and their beautiful sister, Taneal (Helga Liné). Much in the manner of Shakespeare’s ‘King Lear’, their dead father has left the kingdom to all three of them to rule together and, although they don’t agree on much, they do agree on one thing: the kingdom needs slaves and lots of them. So, they are less than pleased when news comes back that their hunting expeditions are being broken up by one man (Stevens). Incredulous, they send top warrior (and Liné’s bedwarmer) Behar (Franco Balducci) to deal with it. Unfortunately for him, Stevens easily defeats the raiding party using an assortment of paper-maché rocks and his paper-maché club.

Meanwhile, our evil siblings get a state visit from Malik, King of Assyria (Mario Petri) who offers a fortune in gold for all their female slaves. Apparently, they are needed to repopulate his kingdom, but the trio doesn’t believe him. Liné gets him to her apartments for a private interview (not difficult, what guy wouldn’t?) and slips some truth serum into his wine. Then the secret’s out: Esperia, the Queen of the Hellenes (Anna Maria Polani) is doing slave duty below stairs, and he plans to force her into marriage so that he can add her kingdom to his own. Meanwhile, Stevens is on his way to Babylon (courtesy of a highly unlikely piece of business with a carrier pigeon), and everyone has cottoned on to his true identity as the legendary Hercules.

This is a rather feeble and generic Peplum adventure taken from the end of the cycle when Hercules and his heroic contemporaries had racked up over 50 big-screen adventures between them in the space of about seven years and, inevitably, the formula was wearing pretty thin. The main variation was the presence, or not, of any fantastical or mythological elements, and this comes down in the latter category, despite some half-hearted attempts to pay lip-service to the supernatural. Liné’s character is referred to as a sorceress, but it’s very half-hearted. All she really does is slip Petri that mickey and fool around with a ring at the climax, which seems to do precisely nothing.

Still, there are some things for the aficionados of the genre to enjoy. Our regal siblings spend as much time and effort trying to outwit each other as they do tackling the threat posed by Stevens. Their murderous plots and counterplots are reminiscent of the Roman court intrigues in Robert Graves classic novel ‘I, Claudius’ and, of course, George R R Martin’s much-later ‘Game of Thrones.’ This is the film’s most enjoyable aspect, although it does take the conflict out of our hero’s hands somewhat. Stevens doesn’t really have to deal with the villains; in a world where almost everyone double-crosses everyone else, he can pretty much leave them all to get on with it!

There’s also a ‘tribute’ to Stanley Kubrick’s ‘Spartacus’ (1960) when the nasty Lorenzon devises a way to identify the hidden Queen amongst the female slave population. He has all of them tied to stakes out in the sun and gives them no food or water. After a while, Polani can’t take what’s happening to her sisters in bondage and declares herself, only for all the others to make the same declaration. Rather than carry on with the torture, Lorenzon simply shrugs his shoulders, admits defeat and sends them all back to the slave quarters. On the debit side, a lot of the climactic footage is lifted from Robert Aldrich’s biblical epic ‘Sodom and Gomorrah’ (1962) and other crowd footage was probably sourced from there, or other projects.

After starting his career on television in the US, Stevens went to Italy and made a quartet of Peplum pictures, of which this was the first. Returning home, he reverted to his birth name of Peter Lupus for professional purposes. A regular gig as Willy Armitage on the iconic network show ‘Mission: Impossible’ followed. The show ran for seven seasons, and despite producers attempting to replace him midway through with Sam Elliott, he stayed with the show until it ended in 1973. Afterwards, he found getting work difficult but he did resurface as Nordberg on Leslie Neilsen’s much-loved (if quickly cancelled) comedy half-hour ‘Police Squad!’ Of course, when the show was resurrected as the ‘Naked Gun’ film franchise, his role was taken by O J Simpson.

Director Domenico Paolella was a journeyman in Italian cinema, like many his output slavishly following the trends of the time. After a start in documentary filmmaking, by the 1960s, he was delivering pirate movies and swashbucklers before moving into the Peplum arena with ‘Maciste contro lo sceicco/Maciste Against The Sheik’ (1962). Once that cycle had run its course, he moved into Eurospys with the hopelessly muddled ‘Agente S 03: Operazione Atlantide’/‘Operation Atlantis’ (1965), made a couple of Spaghetti Westerns and ecclesiastical dramas which were, perhaps unfairly, marketed as part of the brief and rather bizarre ‘nunsploitation’ craze. He did reassemble much of this cast, including an under-used Arturo Dominici, for an another underwhelming Peplum ‘Goliath at the Conquest of Baghdad/Golia alla conquista di Bagdad/Goliath at the Conquest of Damascus’ (1965).

Liné should be a familiar face to fans of cult cinema, appearing in dozens of genre pictures in the 1960s and 70s, sometimes in roles unworthy of her abilities. At times, she was relegated to surprisingly minor roles, but, by her account, she accepted everything she was offered because she needed the money, even working as far afield as Mexico. She’s probably most recognisable to most from the title role of Amando de Ossorio’s ‘The Loreley’s Grasp/La garras de Lorelei’ (1972), but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. She starred in several of the better Eurospys including ‘Operation Poker’ (1965) and ‘Special Agent Lady Chaplin’ (1966), the two films featuring super villain ‘Kriminal’, and in ‘Nightmare Castle’ (1965) with Barbara Steele. She also appeared in Gialli such as ‘So Sweet…So Perverse’ (1969) and ‘My Dear Killer’ (1972), made pictures with Euro-horror star Paul Naschy and even played opposite the Man in the Silver Mask in ‘Santo vs. Doctor Death/Santo contra el doctor Muerte’ (1973).

Despite some points of interest, this is a distinctly minor chapter in the adventures of Hercules, and probably only really for hardcore fans and completists.

Hercules Against Moloch/The Conquest of Mycenae/Ercole contro Moloc/Hercules Attacks (1963)

Hercules Against Moloch/The Conquest of Mycenae/Ercole contro Moloc/Hercules Attacks (1963)‘You have inherited a king’s throne because your father has passed on. I killed himself myself in battle.’

The kingdom is in the grip of a horrendous drought, and the Queen of Mycenae demands ever-increasing levels of tribute from her subjects, including pretty young virgins to be sacrificed to the god Moloch. Is there no-one who can lead the people in rebellion against her tyrannical rule?

The Hercules movie that isn’t. Of course, 1960s American audiences were used to the exploits of every Italian muscle man being relabelled with the big man’s name on stateside release, be they Goliath, Samson, Ursus or Maciste. However, this one is an even bigger confidence trick. All we have here is a hero who casually adopts the ‘Hercules’ name when on an undercover mission in the enemy camp. Sure, he’s strong and heroic, but he’s not even pretending to be the legendary Greek demi-god. What a complete swizz.

The city of Mycenae has risen from the ashes after perishing in a fiery inferno. On that day of destruction, the young, pregnant Queen Demeter (Rosalba Neri) promises the dying King to turn the people back to the worship of the Earth Goddess. Fast forward a couple of decades, however, and she’s still got them sacrificing young virgins to the evil deity Moloch, who lives in the caves underneath the city. This so-called god is really her grown up son (Pietro Marascalchi) who is so hideous that he needs to hide in the shadows and wear a metal wolf mask to hide his ugliness! He wiles away the long hours strangling the sacrificial girls or using them as live targets when he fancies a bit of practice with bow and arrow. Everyone has to have a hobby, I suppose.

Hercules Against Moloch/The Conquest of Mycenae/Ercole contro Moloc/Hercules Attacks (1963)

‘Hello, girls!’

The neighbouring cities are planning to get together in open rebellion, but the leaders of one fo them tips their hand too early and bring down the wrath of Neri’s army. Their King is killed, and the Princess Deianira (Jany Clair) is taken prisoner. Fortunately, Mycenean good guy, lieutenant Euneos (Michel Lemoine) takes more than a passing interest in her welfare. Meanwhile, forces from nearby Tiryns are riding to their rescue, led by the heroic Prince Glauco (Gordon Scott). But they arrive too late so Scott formulates a plan to attack Mycenae from both inside and out, taking the role of one of the slaves offered in tribute to Neri so that he can infiltrate the city.

On arrival, he catches the eye of the imperious monarch immediately, probably because he’s calling himself Hercules and every evil queen in history can’t resist falling for the muscles of the big man. She offers him a job as captain of part of her royal guard with probable fringe benefits to follow. Unfortunately, things go awry almost immediately when he stops chief lackey General Penthius (Arturo Dominici) having his way with Neri’s goody-two-shoes stepdaughter, the Princess Medea (Alessandro Panaro). Thrown into the dungeon and the inevitable gig at gladiator school, it’s up to Scott form and alliance with Lemoine, foment a rebellion among the populace and find a way to get the city gates open to let in the cavalry.

Hercules Against Moloch/The Conquest of Mycenae/Ercole contro Moloc/Hercules Attacks (1963)

‘I’ve had enough of this wowdy webel sniggewing behaviour.’

This is very much an undistinguished ‘sword and sandal’ picture that has only a few points of interest to note. At first glance, it appears there is some budget here, which gives a decent scale to the climactic battle scenes. However, most of this footage is taken from director Giorgio Ferroni’s previous film ‘The Trojan War/La guerra di Troia’ (1961). The swordplay involving the principals is energetic and well-choreographed, though, with Scott convincing in both the action scenes and the quieter moments. Neri also makes for a deliciously evil queen, both as a young woman in the opening scenes and as a more mature version two decades later, which, considering she was only in her mid-twenties at the time of filming, indicates her talent as an actress. But both the leading roles are one-dimensional, and the script doesn’t give either performer much material to work with.

What’s most curious, though, is the last twenty minutes of the film. Up until then, things have been pretty grounded. Yes, there’s been talk of the Earth Goddess on the one hand, and Marascalchi being the embodiment of Moloch on the other, but no real indication that it’s any more than talk or local superstition. Then the Goddess seems to take a hand, sending a lightning bolt down to strike the sacrificial knife of high priest Asterion (Nerio Bernardi) that he’s about to use on Panaro in the public square. Maybe that could be written off as an amazingly lucky coincidence, but, then again, there’s what happens in the final act in the dusty catacombs beneath the city when Scott goes to confront Marascalchi.

Hercules Against Moloch/The Conquest of Mycenae/Ercole contro Moloc/Hercules Attacks (1963)

‘Hit it, baby!’

Despite hating feminine beauty because of his deformity, the living god does keep a harem of young lovelies in his man cave. They seem to be under a spell of some sort, and their job is apparently just to play the drums! Anyway, when the forces of good invade their domain in the final scenes, these beauties revealed to be supernatural creatures of some sort, bringing down the roof by running about a bit and making coloured smoke appear. Weird. Especially as we never see them again afterwards. Marascalchi seems to have powers as well, making the floor collapse beneath some soldiers that are threatening him with spears. However, he seems to forget all about these abilities when he fights with Scott. The two clash with conventional weapons and then take part in an extended wrestling match. Scott even manages to hit him over the head with a table. Twice! It’s all a bit confusing really…

Scott made his film debut in ‘Tarzan’s Hidden Jungle’ (1955) as the replacement for Lex Barker in the long-running series about the exploits of Edgar Rice Burrough’s Lord Greystoke. Five more appearances in the part followed, including ‘Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure’ (1959), which remains one of the best of the Ape Man’s outings and also included a young Sean Connery in a significant supporting role. When his time in the jungle was up, Scott moved straight into Italian muscleman pictures with ‘Maciste contro il vampiro’ (1961) which was also known as ‘Goliath and the Vampires’ or ‘Samson vs the Vampires’ – take your pick. He’d starred in almost a dozen similar projects before he made it to Neri’s basement to face off against Marascalchi. Toward the end of his career, he finally got to play Hercules for real in the pilot for an aborted TV series that was later released to theatres as ‘Hercules and the Princess of Troy’ (1965).

Hercules Against Moloch/The Conquest of Mycenae/Ercole contro Moloc/Hercules Attacks (1963)

‘Your monstrous ugliness breeds monstrous hatred. Good! I can use your hate.’

Neri became a mainstay of cult cinema in the 1960s and beyond, with starring roles in many horror pictures and Giallo films after several featured supporting roles in the Eurospy genre. She’s probably best remembered as ‘Lady Frankenstein’ (1972) or for Silvio Amadio’s ‘Amuck!’ (1972), but she always brought a quality of performance and natural screen presence to her roles, even if many of them were not deserving of her talents. Director Ferroni made some feature films in the 1940s but did a lot of documentary filmmaking before making a comeback with the visually impressive and strangely fascinating ‘Mill of the Stone Women’ (1960). Unfortunately, it seems that he never fulfiled the promise he displayed with that film, and it’s disappointing to see his name attached to a product like this.

The film was picked up for American distribution by Walter Manley productions but placing the blame for the cheating title at their door would be a mistake. The film’s original, Italian release title was ‘Ercole contro Moloc’ which literally translates as ‘Hercules Against Moloch’. The American print at least has the decency to place that in brackets after ‘The Conquest of Mycenae’ title, which, although it could be regarded as a bit of a spoiler, is far more accurate at least. However, little care was taken with the English dubbing; dialogue doesn’t match mouth movements in any respect and the voice acting is of a very poor quality. Panaro’s lines are delivered in a frightfully posh English accent that makes it sound like she’s been to a very exclusive finishing school and spends her days at garden parties thrashing the servants. It’s hilarious, of course, but it doesn’t help with serious investment in the story.

A minor footnote in the history of the Peplum film and precious little to do with Hercules.

Caltiki the Immortal Monster (1959)

Caltiki the Immortal Monster (1959)‘The ancients thought it was evil due to the amount of radioactive damage it precipitated at that time.’

Two archaeologists stumble across an underground cavern while exploring the ruins of a Mexican pyramid. It contains a shrine to the Mayan goddess Caltiki and seems to be a significant find, but only one of the scientists makes it back to camp and he is in shock. Their colleagues investigate and find that not everything in the caves is dead…

Low-budget Italian science-fiction horror film from director Riccardo Freda (billed here as Robert Hamton), but completed by cinematographer Mario Bava, who was shortly to gain international recognition as a director himself with ‘The Mask of Satan/Black Sunday’ (1960). Apparently, that was a project given to him because of his efforts at bringing this picture in, although I have heard the same thing said about the rescue act he performed on ‘The Giant of Marathon’ (1959) after director Jacques Tourneur left that production.

Things are not going well for archaeologist John Merivale. His latest expedition to the Mexican pyramids has had no luck in explaining the sudden migration of the Mayans from their homes in the southern lowlands in the postclassic period. What’s more, wife Didi Perego (billed as Didi Sullivan) is getting quite fed up; it’s not exactly her idea of a second honeymoon. Meanwhile supposed best friend, and serious player, Gérard Herter is bored with partner Daniela Rocca and has his sights on Perego. Then colleague Arturo Dominici staggers back into camp, half out of his mind and babbling something about Caltiki. Merivale mounts a rescue expedition to bring back Dominici’s missing partner but only finds his camera instead. This does provide everyone with the opportunity to watch what is probably horror’s first-ever ‘found footage’ but provides no real clues as to what’s going on.

Returning to the cavern, shit gets real when they wake up vengeful god Caltiki, who rises from the depths of an underground pool. Considering they’d worked out that the water was the reason their Geiger Counter had been doing cartwheels, sending one man down there in a diving suit does seem like an interesting decision. Especially when it turns out that the bottom is strewn with the skeletons of sacrificial victims, and they’re all decked out in priceless jewels! After all, we know no good’s going to come of robbing the dead, don’t we?

Caltiki the Immortal Monster (1959)

‘I’ve no idea, I’ll just consult my Mayan textbook.’

In a later twist, we find out that the Mayans knew all about radioactivity too! Now, I know they had a funky calendar and were advanced for their time, but I think that might be going a bit far. Herter gets infected by the beast before Merivale runs it over with a truck and it burns up in the resulting fireball. Unfortunately, back in civilisation, Herter goes all ‘Quatermass Xperiment’ (1955), and a visiting comet turns up at a very inconvenient time…

Freda and Bava were great friends who had worked together previously on Italy’s first post-war horror film ‘I Vampiri’ (1957). When Freda left the project because the producers withheld some of the promised budget, it was Bava who completed it, something he was to do on several other pictures in the next couple of years without receiving any screen credit. Apparently, this lack of recognition annoyed Freda, and he concocted a plan to help Bava on his way to be a director in his own right, something the great man was too shy to do himself. Freda took the directing job on this film fully intending to walk out and leave the suits at the Galatea Studio with no choice but to let Bava direct the rest of the picture. Whether this is true or not, Freda did quit and Bava did finish the film, although it’s not entirely clear how much of it each of them shot. It’s difficult to be sure as Freda was as much a visual stylist as Bava. Still, the general opinion is that most of the scenes involving the actors were Freda’s work and Bava handled the parts of the project that involved the SFX and, considering there are more than a hundred FX shots in the film, that is an awful lot of the finished product.

How are the SFX? Well, considering the vintage of the film and how little money was available, they’re pretty good. For a start, the film was shot just outside Rome, but the Mexican ruins are mighty convincing, especially considering they are images painted on sheets of glass that were placed in front of the camera. Similarly, the big telescope seen in the observatory is cut out of a magazine! Bava filmed the actors through a small hole in one side of the picture so they would appear in the same shot. Yes, that sounds awful, and it’s not incredibly convincing, but I’ve seen an awful lot worse and, as a budget solution, it’s hard to beat.

Caltiki the Immortal Monster (1959)

‘God, I need a shower!’

The monsters are heroically portrayed by rags covered in rotting cow innards. Mostly these were manipulated like hand puppets but, in scenes where full-size versions were required, unfortunate members of the crew were inside. You see, the film was shot in the height of summer and decomposing tripe doesn’t react all that well in such circumstances. The smell must have been unbelievable.

Not surprisingly, this also proved to be quite a challenge for the cast, especially Herter who had to get up close and personal with the creatures on more than one occasion. For the most part, though, the monsters move around Bava’s miniature sets, and these models are pretty effective. However, the late encounters with flame throwers and toy tanks are somewhat less impressive.

What does drag the film down is the human side of things. The marital discord between Merivale and Perego is severely underdeveloped, and there are too many talky scenes with little life or vitality. This film was Merivale’s only leading role, and he lacks the dash and charisma to make anything of it, although the script gives few of the cast anything to work with.

Caltiki the Immortal Monster (1959)

‘It’s not one of your better culinary efforts, dear.’

The exception is Herter, who chews the scenery to great effect. His performance may not be subtle, but it’s what the story requires to keep the audience engaged. In an interesting side note, it was an open secret that actress Rocca was the mistress of the head of Galatea at the time. When his wife eventually found out, she withdrew her financial backing and the studio folded!

Rather pleasingly, Bava credits Elle Bi as his scientific advisor on the film. This was actually the first credit for the director’s teenage son, Lamberto, who went onto a long career as a director of horror films himself, notably ‘Demons’ (1985) and its sequel. Apparently, the friendship between Bava and Freda cooled as the years passed. Both became eager to credit the other with creative responsibility for this film. Whether this was because of the quality of the project is unrecorded.

A reasonably enjoyable science-fiction b-picture; elevated by some excellent technical work but somewhat hampered by a script and performances which never really come to life.