This foursome of flicks I’ve just added to my library spans from 1959 to 1965 and delivers a masked killer, big creatures, and even vampire aliens.
CALTIKI, THE IMMORTAL MONSTER (1959)
There’s some question as to whether horror master Mario Bava actually directed this black and white creature feature or just worked on cinematography. Considering this is just a rip-off of The Blob from a year before, I don’t know that he would willingly take credit for it.
If you love 50s sci-fi horror flicks, this one definitely fits the bill. An archaeological team exploring ruins in Mexico discover a statue of a Mayan deity with a pool of water in front of it. When a big blob pops out of the water, it attaches to the arm of one dude, who they manage to rescue before killing the blob. However, he still has a piece of blob attached to his arm.
As scientists study the specimen, they learn it thrives on radiation. Conveniently, a comet that releases radiation and passes earth like once every 1000 years is on its way.
It turns into a case of multiple big blobs! At the same time, the dude who had the blob stuck on his arm loses his shit and becomes homicidal, creating a secondary threat to our main characters.
There are plenty of mini models of buildings and such being invaded by blobs, but we only really get one scene of a blob devouring a human, and of course the military steps in, sucking the scary right out of the film.
BLOOD AND BLACK LACE (1964)
This is a Mario Bava film that you can’t help thinking was most likely the inspiration for much of Dario Argento’s work that was just around the corner.
Granted, this movie screams 1960s. While I hate the jazzy 60s score, I love the atmospheric horror sets, statues, architecture, and lighting colors Argento would exploit to great effect just a decade later.
Just as Argento loved a good house filled with pretty young women, Bava’s film takes place in a fashion house loaded with models.
They begin getting knocked off by a killer in a faceless mask, fedora, and trench coat, a detective investigates, everyone becomes obsessed with getting their hands on the first victim’s diary, and everyone seems like a suspect.
While most of the murders are fairly basic, there are a delicious number of body reveals, and there is one fantastically orchestrated chase and kill scene in an antique store that is most assuredly the one that motivated Argento to come up with some of his most visually stunning kill sequences ever. This whole movie is worth seeing for that scene alone if you are a fan of giallos.
THE FLESH EATERS (1964)
Despite its title, The Flesh Eaters will probably never get its recognition as a ground-breaker in the icky, flesh-eating bacteria horror subgenre.
The first few minutes immediately made me think of the Stephen King tale “The Raft”, adapted for Creepshow 2. A couple is swimming when a black cloud in the water surrounds them and starts devouring their flesh.
Although black and white, The Flesh Eaters dared to deliver more gore than most horror flicks of its time. It also shows a lot of flesh in a sexy, non-eaten way as well.
Next we meet an alcoholic actress and her female assistant, who hire a handsome pilot for a private flight. The plane is forced down onto a desolate island by bad weather. The group meets a scientist who offers them shelter, and they soon discover skeletons, both fish and human, are washing onto the shore. EEK!
Turns out there’s a flesh-eating bacteria in the water, and the small group will be trapped on the island if they can’t figure out a safe way off the island or how to kill the bacteria. Naturally, the bacteria starts…um…picking people off as drama ensues, and the more it eats the more it grows, until this turns into a giant creature feature by the end. It’s really a total classic.
Important to note is that the new Blu-ray release from Shout Factory includes an alternate cut of the film in standard definition in which a scene that has the scientist merely describing Nazi experiments in the original cut actually shows a sequence of the twisted experiments. It’s a shame it wasn’t spliced into a master HD extended cut instead, because it adds even more to the edginess of the film.
PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES (1965)
Ground-breaking horror director Bava is back, doing the kind of blatant cross-subgenre move here that wouldn’t become trendy until well into the 1990s. The title says it all.
Although some of the scenes on the ship may be reminiscent of Star Trek sets, the overall look of this film is quite striking for the time at which it was released.
It takes place on two separate ships and a planet on which they land after receiving a distress signal from it. The planet is covered with rocks, fog, and red sci-fi light. Awesome.
The crew of one ship discovers that the crew of the other ship has been slaughtered. They bury the dead on the planet…but the dead don’t stay dead.
I’m not usually spooked by spaceship movies because I just can’t relate to the idea of being on a spaceship to begin with, but Bava brings a genuine horror look and feel to outer space, from the creepy scene of the astronauts rising from their graves, to encounters with the somewhat grotesquely morphed victims who have become space vampires.
Due to limitations in budget and filmmaking techniques of the time, this definitely isn’t a high octane action/horror/sci-fi film, but if you appreciate the vibe of sci-fi films from the 1960s, this is a cut above the rest and a good precursor of horrors yet to come. There’s even a laser gun shootout at one point.