Saturday, August 3, 2019

THE REPTILE (1966) Blu-ray Review

The Reptile (1966) d. John Gilling (UK) (91 min)

A deadly epidemic is spreading through the remote Cornish village of Clagmoor Heath. As darkness falls, its victims are found foaming at the mouth, their skin discolored, with savage wounds on their necks. After his brother falls prey to the “black death,” Harry Spalding (Ray Barrett) travels with his new wife (Jennifer Daniel) to Clagmoor to investigate his sibling’s mysterious demise. With little help from the unfriendly locals, Harry follows a trail of clues that leads him to the sinister Dr. Franklyn (Noel Willman), the doctor's strange, but beautiful daughter (Jacqueline Pearce) ... and a horrific family secret.

By the mid-1960s, Hammer had exhausted its supply of classic Universal monsters, with vampiric counts, stitched-together reanimated corpses, lycanthropic curses, and bandaged Egyptian shamblers all present and accounted for. However, with a four-picture deal with Seven-Arts on the bargaining table, it was time to inject a much-needed dose of inspiration, so producer Anthony Hinds (under his “John Elder pseudonym) revived this intriguing fable (originally scripted in 1963 but rejected by Universal, ironically enough) of Dr. Franklyn’s child being cursed by the Ourang Sancto, aka the cult of the Snake People, whilst traveling in Borneo.

Shot on the same sets as the Cornwall-set The Plague of the Zombies (also directed by Gilling) and sharing much of that film’s themes and plot points, The Reptile was the last of the four pictures produced with Seven-Arts (Dracula, Prince of Darkness and Rasputin the Mad Monk being the other two) and the only one to come in under budget.

The lizardian spin on the classic shape-shifting narrative yield its share of memorable moments, including Pearce’s frantic, possessed manner during a impromptu sitar concert, her sensual writhing on a bed while Dr. Franklyn’s Malay servant (Marne Maitland) chants and keens, and Franklyn’s horror at discovering her outer layer of skin left nestled within her abandoned nightgown.

As is often the case, our romantic leads Barrett and Daniel (Kiss of the Vampire) are serviceable if less-than-memorable, but the stunning Pearce (later of TV’s Blake’s 7) is thoroughly invested in her dual role of haunted innocent and bloodthirsty monster. She is well-matched by onscreen pater Willman (The Vengeance of She), who manages to create a character both deeply wounded by past misdeeds and doggedly determined to endure the hardship visited upon his cursed offspring.

Michael Ripper adds another delightful barkeep role to his impressive resume of same, though his Tom Bailey is given decidedly more to do here than simply tap the kegs. It is Tom who leads Spalding out to the graveyard to discover his late brother’s cause of death, as well as leading the heroic charge to save our heroes from a fiery doom.

While occasionally uneven in its pacing and the plot’s mysteries are hardly that (we know almost from the outset who/what is murdering the villagers, whereas it takes the onscreen characters nearly an hour to catch up), every time Pearce shows up in or out of Roy Ashton’s impressively envisioned makeup (his last for the studio after nearly a decade of troweling out the greasepaint over 40-odd films), the whole thing takes flight and all is right in the world.


Presented in two aspect ratios – 1.66:1 and 1.85:1

NEW Audio commentary by film historians Steve Haberman, Constantine Nasr and Ted Newsom

NEW Interview with assistant director William P. Cartlidge (22 min)

“The Serpent's Tale: The Making of The Reptile” with Hammer Films historians Marcus Hearn, Jonathan Rigby, David Huckvale, and actor/writer Mark Gatiss (23 min)

World of Hammer – “Wicked Women” (25 min)

Theatrical Trailers

TV Spot

Still Galleries


Ian Simmons of Kicking the Seat and I sat down to talk about the film on the YouTubes as part of our year-long "Son of Hammerland" series!  Check out our conversation HERE

The Reptile is available now on Blu-ray from Shout! Factory and can be ordered HERE:


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