Monday, May 24, 2010
I’m a big fan of the Hammer horror cycle that began in the mid-50s and ran until the early 70s, so I’ve accumulated most of their films on DVD, but I’ve mostly re-watched the ones I already knew. This weekend, I finally got around to the 1966 movie The Reptile.
Harry Spalding and his wife move into his brother’s old house in a remote part of Cornwall, after the mysterious death of the brother. The movie is set in an indeterminate time, like a lot of Hammer films, but it is probably the 19th century. The village is, to say the least, hostile to outsiders, with the pub clearing of all patrons every time Harry walks in, and only Tom the publican will talk to Harry, although I don’t understand why, since Harry is killing his business. Harry learns there have been many strange deaths in the area.
Harry and wife also meet their neighbor from across the swamp, Dr. Franklin, and his strange daughter, and their stranger daughter. Despite the fact that Dr. Franklin couldn’t be worse toward the Spauldings if he beat them on sight, they begin to socialize with him. English manners, I suppose. Perhaps manners also explains why everyone just walks into someone else’s house without knocking when they come to it, or maybe it’s because everyone doesn’t own guns with which to shoot intruders over there.
Tom and Harry, Dick nowhere to be found, begin to investigate the deaths, and find the bodies have fang marks and display the same signs as a cobra bite. In due time, the secret is revealed: Dr. Franklin somehow offended a Borneo devil cult, who then turned his daughter into a snake woman, who sheds her skin and becomes a poisonous reptile. Pretty much the same thing happened to my cousin Benoit. Obviously, they have to put a stop to this.
Hammer was always tops at producing the right atmosphere for Gothic horror films, and The Reptile is no exception. The film has a creepiness that belies its low budget (It was shot back-to-back with Plague of the Zombies, with whom it shares sets and a partial cast). The makeup for the daughter-turned-snake-creature is simple but very effective. There are some plot holes, mainly the implication that the girl is dangerous only when she sheds her skin once a year, but the story indicates she switches back and forth more like a werewolf. The biggest thing missing is an appearance by one or both of Hammer’s stalwarts, Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. Their absence drops the story a bit, but it does give Hammer stock company veteran Michael Ripper a chance at a larger part, and that is welcome.
Final judgment is The Reptile is a fine addition to the Hammer canon, and if you share y love for the studio’s output, you will want to give it a try.
One odd note: The version of The Reptile I own is one of Anchor Bay’s double-feature titles, which includes The Four-Sided Triangle. The only problem is, The Reptile was released matched with The Lost Continent, which is shown on the spine of the DVD case, although the front art shows the correct two films. The twofer of The Reptile/The Lost Continent seems to be a very real item that according to Anchor Bay and other internet sources never existed. Spoooooooooky.