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The Reptile (1966)

It's easy to discount The Reptile as being the most hackneyed and cliché-ridden of all the Hammer Gothics - but that's only because it takes the natural progression of such films to almost its logical conclusion.

Because it is so much of a full-blown Gothic horror in every sense of the word, The Reptile takes on every ingredient of the films which went before it, and mixes them together into a film so special that even when it's shown on the TV, the listings guides don't take the piss out of it.

It really has got everything. For a start it's set in Cornwall - there's a small village beset by what appears to be an evil curse, and a huge manor house owned by a dodgy doctor. In the first reel a man is bitten to death by an unseen monster in full view of the doc, so you know he's in it up to his eyeballs. No "whodunnit" this one, I can tell you.

With foam frothing from his lips and his face turning black, the poor unfortunate who dared to enter the manor suffers what has to be one of the worst deaths ever committed to celluloid by Hammer - for some reason this seems more realistic and frightening than the usual neck gougings, head removals and stake-plungings that go on in these films.

The dead bloke is hastily committed to the ground by the frightened locals, who fear he has contracted "the black death". Enter the chap's brother and his saucy new wife - who have inherited the dead bloke's cottage and plan to live there.

On entering the pub (after leaving his wife outside, because birds weren't allowed in pubs in those days), our hero is given the most fantastic "silent treatment" any hated stranger has ever received in such a film, before or since. It's even better than the "You made me miss my darts" scene in American Werewolf In London. After clearing the pub with his impertinent questions, our hero eventually gets the landlord to speak to him.

Just a few words here about Michael Ripper (the landlord) and his amazing comedy beard - what were they thinking of? Perhaps the original idea was to make The Reptile laugh itself to death by unleashing the full force of this bizarre piece of faace fungus upon it. In the end the English weather won out. Sad, really.

Full comedy value of the pub emptying antics is achieved when our hero comes into the pub again later on, and the same things happens. But anyway, I digress. As well as the manor, the fog-shrouded moors, the creature, the comedy beard and the hatred of strangers, the village also contains "Mad Peter", who also gets it in the neck, and an evil-looking Indian type (you can't trust these wallahs you know - especially not when they're a very white-looking person who's been blacked up for the part. Surely there were some Indian actors around in the late 60s? This blatant "It Ain't Half Hot Mum" racism was repeated in The Ghoul in 1975, too, when they really should have known better)

Everything fairly gallops along until our hero suffers the same fate as his brother - luckily his very capable wife knows what to do when faced with snakebite (she's a bit of a gem all round, really) and he survives long enough to sort everything out - the manor house (of course) getting consumed by flames at the end.

If you ever needed to watch a film to remind yourself why you love this shite, then this is the one. It's superb.

Director: John Gilling Writer(s): Anthony Hinds

Cast: Noel Willman - Dr. Franklyn, Jennifer Daniel - Valerie Spalding, Ray Barrett - Harry Spalding, Jacqueline Pearce - Anna Franklyn, Michael Ripper - Tom Bailey, John Laurie - Mad Peter, Marne Maitland - Malay, David Baron - Charles Spalding, Charles Lloyd Pack - Vicar, Harold Goldblatt - Solicitor, George Woodbridge - Old Garnsey

 

Last updated: February 26, 2010

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