Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Blu-Ray review: The Reptile

Directed By John Gilling
Starring: Noel Willman, Jennifer Daniel, Ray Barrett, Jacqueline Pearce

A deadly epidemic is spreading through the remote Cornish village of Clagmoor Heath. As darkness falls its victims arefound foaming at the mouth with savage wounds upon their necks. After his brother becomes another fatality, HarrySpalding travels to Clagmoor to investigate his sibling’s mysterious death. With little help from the superstitious locals,Harry follows a trail of macabre intrigue that leads him to the sinister Dr Franklyn, his strange but beautiful daughterand a truly horrific family secret. Released in 1966, The Reptile is Hammer Horror at its most nightmarish and bizarre.

The Reptile is an underrated classic and it's easy to see why. It used the same sets as Plague of the Zombies (a practice not unique to this movie) and the budget was smaller than most Hammer movies. If you can get over that, there's still much to enjoy.

The movie jumps straight into the action as we witness an unfortunate victim of the title creature. The strange blackened, blistering make-up is still effectively creepy even by today's standards, especially if you have the benefit of a less cynical imagination. With the foaming at the mouth, the scene is quite memorable.

Once again, the Hammer production team looked for and got a cast full of memorable actors to bring the story to life. From the Christopher Lloyd-esque performance of John Laurie (Private Frazer in Dad's Army) to Michael Ripper's return from Plague of the Zombies, as a different character.

There's no gore in this film and neither is there the typical Hammer scream queen with heaving breasts, to distract us from the movie's shortcomings. I think this is why people do notice the issues with the Reptile make-up. Also, the story requires us to fill in some of the blanks, as we're not told everything. This adds interest, in my view. the whole sory is a type of “werewolf in the family” movie. Noel Willman plays Dr Franklin as if he is self-loathing in covering up what his "daughter" has been up to. Jacqueline Pearce shows some of the character that will come out more during her time as Servalan in Blakes 7. she plays the part of Anna with a tinge of pathos and sympathy so that when it is finally revealed that she is the reptile of the title, we see a pathetic creature even though it's nature is to kill. During the climax, Pearce gets a bit of humanity out as she complains of the cold.

The dinner party is the pivotal scene as we get to see Franklin and Anna through the eyes of Valerie and Harry Spalding. Here, Franklin loses his temper with Anna in what looks like a very unreasonable way. Anna betrays her closeness to the time she spent in India through her furious playing of the Sitar. Marne Maitland is superb as the Malay manservance. His performance suggests that he is much more than a manservant. His hold over the fmaily becomes more evident as the film progresses. He is an odd antoganist but I do wonder if he is the antagonist. Similary to way in which Plague of the Zombies appears to criticise the fauz Aristocracy riding around, capturing women for their own pleasure.
The Reptile appears to criticise England 's involvement in India and it's attitude towards local religions. At the very least it makes observations.So is the Malay manservant a bad guy or is he just enacting revenge for Franklin ’s part in England ’s colonisation and his part for going up against an established cult? It doesn't matter as you can read what you want into it which is the strength of the screenplay. In some ways, the Indian influence on Franklin is reminiscent of the Sherlock Holmes story A Sign of Four.

The art department tended to suck up the budget in Hammer movies and this is no exception. We can look back and see that they had a very important part to play in the success of the movies. The Reptile, despite its low budget, shows this in it’s detailed and believable sets.

Like Plague of Zombies, the restoration is superb and well worth spending out on, if you're a fan or discovering this for the first time.

Score: 7/10

The Reptile is out now

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