Reptilicus (1961) d. Sidney W. Pink (Denmark/USA)
A copper drilling expedition “somewhere in the forbidding tundra mountains of Lapland, above the Arctic Circle” unearths the bloody remains of a prehistoric organism. The massive frozen fossil is brought to Copenhagen for study, but when it is accidentally thawed out, the scientific collective is amazed to discover that the drill wound is beginning to heal itself. In other words, the slab of flesh is alive! The eggheads theorize the creature is akin to a starfish, and that from its severed limb it will regrow an entirely new organism. So they do what anyone would do: Name it “Reptilicus,” build a big tank, toss it in, and wait to see what it grows up to be. Unfortunately, the results are a green-skinned, acid-spewing dragonian menace that proceeds to break out of its institutional fetters, bobbing and weaving its way across the Danish countryside.
Producer/director Pink co-wrote this standard monster-on-the-loose programmer with Ib Melchior (Angry Red Planet, Robinson Crusoe on Mars), and then headed off to Denmark to shoot with an all-local cast and crew. There was clearly a lot of cooperation shown to Pink, with extravagant military exercises staged for the camera’s benefit and huge scenes of terrified mobs fleeing the monster by jumping over raised bridges.
Like many foreign films designed for international markets, actors would shoot alternating takes, one in their native tongue and one in English. (All of the latter scenes were later overdubbed in the studio, but it’s clear the Danish actors are doing their able best to speak the lines as written, even if the result is a little on the stiff side.)
However, it is for its lackluster monster scenes, shoddy rear projection, and not-so-special effects that the film is best remembered and rightly so. (Clips of the film would occasionally show up on The Monkees television series, which is where this writer first encountered it.) Similar to The Giant Claw’s buzzard puppet, this misguided marionette monster is clearly being jerked around on wires while its flapjaw puppet mouth works overtime. The animated glowing green acid slime was added by Melchior for the U.S. release (more on that in a second), as was the did-I-just-see-that moment where a cut-out cartoon of a victim is shown being picked up and sent sliding down the monster’s throat.
There’s not really much to be said about the performances, as they are no better or worse than their American counterparts from the 50-60s sci-fi/horror heyday. As U.S. General Mark Grayson, Carl Ottosen is all authoritarian bluster, directing his troops to blow the beast up before being reminded that if he does so, there will be hundreds of little Reptilicus pieces lying all over the Danish countryside, each growing into a brand new monster.
There are a couple stuffy scientists (Poul Wildaker, Asbjorn Andersen), one of whom has the requisite lovely and resourceful daughter (Mimi Heinrich), and there is the requisite handsome young scientist (Bent Mejding) with whom she can fall in love. (Andersen's character also has a second daughter, Lise, played by Ann Smyrner, presumably as backup in case another handsome, slightly older scientist happens along.) Danish songbird Berthe Wilke appears as herself in a nightclub scene where she regales us with “Tivoli Nights.”
Finally, we have the inevitable comic relief in the form of Peterson (Dirch Passer), a bumpkin in flannel and overalls whose first appearance pretty much screams “incompetent boob poised to ruin everything.” Shockingly, he is not the one who accidentally allows the tail piece to thaw and subsequently awaken – it is one of the scientists who falls asleep while working late – which begs the question as to why Peterson’s character is even in the film since he never actually does anything heroic, inadvertently problematic, or remotely amusing. According to Bill Warren’s colossal tome Keep Watching the Skies!, Passer had many more “comic” scenes in the Danish version and even performed a song dedicated to the monster, entitled “Tilicus,” with some children. Sorry you missed that, aren’t you?
On that note, comparable to Gojira and Godzilla, King of the Monsters, two separate films were ultimately produced, with production manager Poul Bang handling the Danish version. Scenes featuring the monster in flight were cut for the American release, so you can only imagine how bad those must have been. (I mean, AIP cutting monster footage??? Seriously, stop and consider that one for a second.)
Believe it or not, there were even more scenes showcasing the tourist values of Denmark in the hometown version as opposed to the five-minute travelogue that graces the AIP print. (This likely accounts for that version’s slightly longer running time of 90 minutes.) Finally, the role of Dr. Connie Miller, played by Marla Behrens in the American version, was played by a completely different actress, Bodil Miller!
Shout! Factory’s release isn’t packed with supplemental material, but it does include a fine array of poster art and production/publicity stills in a photo gallery, as well as a theatrical trailer and radio spot.
With its wildly implausible but unique origin story and zany creature effects, entertainment value will be directly proportional to each viewer’s individual tolerance for cheesy monster movies. This one earned itself a slot at Kitley’s Krypt’s annual Turkey Day Marathon back in 2010, and a fine time was had by all. What higher recommendation can we offer?
|This pic again. Just because.|
Reptilicus is available now on Blu-ray (paired with another Turkey Day veteran, Tentacles) from Shout! Factory and can be ordered HERE: