Directed by: John Gilling
Written by: Anthony Hinds
Starring: Ray Barrett, Jenniferl Daniel, Noel Willman, Jacqueline Pearce & Michael Ripper
Reviewed by: Brett H.
Consistency is the word I come up with when I think of Britain's Hammer Studios. Amidst a myriad of accredited aces, Hammer has churned out few horror movies, if any, I would classify as anything below a rental. Films such as Plague of the Zombies and Horror of Dracula don't come along every day and any one expecting such time in and time out would be foolish, but if you rent or buy a Hammer horror, their logo is a seal of quality. With stellar all-stars Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and Terence Fisher leading the charge and towing a supporting cast of familiar faces and behind the scenes talent, genre buffs know that even though the films may dawdle, there will be a rewarding shot, quote or scene to remember. This leads us to The Reptile, a mid-sixties effort that isn't exactly scurrying colorfully on the radar like its more popular gothic franchise brethren or one-offs like Curse of the Werewolf. Not a lot has been said about this minor sixties effort and I'm eager to find out if this one can slither its way into regular horror rotation.
Starting off on the right foot, a seemingly confused man holding a piece of paper enters a strange house and heads down the hall to a door when a dreaded warning cry calls out for him not to go into a room he's headed for. As quick as can be, a monster emerges from the shadows and bites the man, sending him falling down a flight of stairs, frothing at the mouth and face blackened. His brother and sister-in-law, Harry (Ray Barrett) and Valerie Spalding (Jennifer Daniel) are summoned to inherit his estate and get to the bottom of their loved ones death; the last time they saw him he was in perfect health, albeit a slightly weak heart. With the help of tavern owner Tom (Michael Ripper), the lone local willing to be of assistance, they discover their brother isn't the only one in the area to die mysteriously in the night and he surely won't be the left. Together, they uncover the hideous family secret of The Reptile!
The Reptile is a pleasant step up from the average Hammer film and modest as its intentions may be, still conjures up enough suspicion, suspense and fright to rise against its relatively unexplored reputation. Whereas Hammer franchise horror is often an underachiever in terms of binding a relevant, worthy story to compliment its iconic character and big stars, Reptile succeeds without any crutches, just its ever building narrative and ghastly looking creature. The well structured plot is congruous to the innumerable stereotypes of classic age horror out there, but like so many of them, the slow build makes the murders, foreshadowing and creature appearances momentous. Is it remarkable? Far from it, but it is so distinctly Hammer that it's hard to not enjoy and watch alongside a classic in a strange, contrasting double bill.
The use of snakes had made a slight appearance in 1964's Hammer favorite, The Gorgon, but rather than a scalp full of the creatures, the featured monster is a half-snake, half-woman beast that morphs back and forth between amphibian and human. Modern fans may scoff at the admittedly silly costumes and effects of monster films from days of yore, but the fiend here is effective. The aftermath of its attacks are quite shocking (and reminiscent of Plague of the Zombies, also directed by John Gilling) and themes of odd, foreign religion, neck bites, grave exhuming, remorse, secrecy and madness are explored throughout.
In other words, The Reptile is like a sedimentary rock of a film, giving every fan of the various subgenres a subtle layer of this and big a layer of that and somehow making it all come together as one good film. Fittingly, Anchor Bay's DVD was an early one from way back in 1999, and it definitely shows as the format has advanced a lot since then. Nonetheless, picture quality is good with more detail than a VHS ever could provide and its 1.85:1 ratio is enhanced for 16 x 9 televisions. The audio is more robust than a normal mono track, going the extra mile to be output in 2.0 and the special feature's include a trailer, TV spots and an episode of World of Hammer, Vamp. The Reptile is a jack of all trades that is a Hammer fan's dream. While many fans gloss over this release in favor of cheaper, more illustrious titles, those who'll shed their skin and go the distance collecting all titles from the birth to death of the original incarnation of Hammer will get their money's worth. Buy it!
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