Reptile, The (1966)

The Reptile (1966)

Half woman – half snake!

Harry and his wife Valerie travel to Cornwall to investigate the mysterious death of his brother Charles. With the help of a few locals, they believe the death to have been the result of a snake bite and their search to find the cause leads them to Dr Franklyn. Harry discovers that Franklyn’s daughter was abducted by a snake cult when he was researching in Borneo and now possess the ability to transform herself into a snake.

 

After Hammer had begun to run out of ideas for their major franchises (Dracula, Frankenstein and The Mummy were growing stale quickly) and with their remakes of secondary Universal horror films not being as successful (namely The Curse of the Werewolf and The Phantom of the Opera), they turned their attention to stand alone films in the hope that they’d strike gold and hit another winning formula by their own making. Unfortunately, with the trio of films they made in the mid-60s (The Gorgon, The Plague of the Zombies and The Reptile), all Hammer did was virtually replace the traditional Universal monsters with a similar substitute.

So what we have in The Reptile is basically a vampire film in all but an appearance of Van Helsing and Count Dracula. Heck, the creature even leaves two small bite marks in the neck. Although at least when Dracula featured, you’d be guaranteed a gruesome staking somewhere along the line. But Hammer has always been a seal of quality and despite the rather unoriginal premise they hit another winner in The Reptile.

Shot back-to-back with The Plague of the Zombies, The Reptile shares many of the same sets and cast, not to mention director John Gilling. From a business perspective it makes perfect sense. From someone who watched them back-to-back, it’s not ideal as it’s easy to mix the two films up. Not so much an outright horror film but more of a murder mystery at times, The Reptile is a rather timid effort from Hammer that isn’t going to smash any awards for excellence. It’s got a reputation for being a bit of minor Hammer classic but I just don’t see that here. Maybe if there was something slightly original on display here – I mean the film is basically Dracula with a snake-woman. In fact the script is so muddled at time that I’m wondering whether Hammer didn’t just alter one of the planned scripts for the Dracula sequels.

The creature is not well thought out at all. It kills for no apparent reason and does so randomly – it’s not for revenge and it’s not because it needs food. It’s just pot luck (and highly unfortunate) for any of the minor characters who stumble upon it during the duration of the film. The creature itself doesn’t look particularly menacing or scary but given Hammer’s relative lack of experience in conjuring up new monsters and the practical limitations of what they could create with make-up effects, it’s not that bad and the less you see of it, the more intimidating it becomes. In fact the damage that the creature does is more unsettling, with the bodies that it leaves behind looking like ghostly visions of death, drained of their blood. Being a female monster also makes it somewhat unique for the time.

The Reptile is Hammer horror to the bone though. The quaint setting, the varying village characters, the lucid colours, the mood and the music is all as it should be in a Hammer flick. It’s all steady stuff but nothing groundbreaking. Up until the finale, the film moves along rather slowly and although director John Gilling does manage to create some atmosphere with the remote village setting, it’s all wasted because a) we know that the killer is in fact a reptile of some kind (hence the title) and b) the film is too uninteresting for us to even care about anything else. The finale is rather weakly staged and it ends with a bit of a whimper but given the nature of reptiles, it makes perfect sense – it’s just not great material for a rip-roaring film finale. I’m sure if this was made today there’d be all manner of explosions and daft things going on but here the film ends on a rather bum note, a very flat and uninspired conclusion to what has been a rather flat and uninspiring film.

 

If Hammer had tried to do something different instead of obviously re-designing a vampire film, then maybe The Reptile would have worked out. But the similarities are too much and you’d be best off sticking with Count Dracula and his cronies as opposed to this slimy snake. Better yet, the counterpart production, The Plague of the Zombies, is a definite classic not to be missed. I guess all of the effort went into making that one.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

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