Trivia Roy Ashton's makeup for the creature included appliances created from a mold taken of real snakeskin.
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The Reptile (1966)
4th Jan 07
Charles Spalding gets a nasty surprise when snooping around his neighbours’ spacious abode, so nasty in fact that he ends up dead within seconds after being bitten by something ghastly that pops out from the shadows.
With his demise shrouded in mystery it comes down the deceased’s brother Harry and wife Valerie to discover the scaly reason for Charles’ demise after inheriting his cottage in a remote Cornish village. The finger of suspicion appears to be pointing to stroppy neighbour Dr. Franklyn and his daughter Anna but how are they involved in murders where the victims turn green and foam at the mouth?
Filmed back-to-back with the same director’s The Plague of Zombies and, as if often the case with Hammer productions, using the same sets and locations and some of the cast, The Reptile was released as a double bill with Rasputin – The Mad Monk in 1966.
The movie marked a change of direction by Hammer to move away from its more traditional horror roots – think the Dracula movies – and whilst not completely successful in terms of matching the vampire’s box office The Reptile still makes for an interesting variation on the norm and one of the more entertaining in their canon of movies.
Writer Anthony Hinds has crafted a nifty little murder mystery that keeps the audience interested throughout by telling enough along the way whilst never completely revealing just what the Hell is going on. There are also some unintentional laughs that add to the fun such as the silent and huffy manner in which the men drinking in the local bar all leave at the same time whenever Harry Spalding drops by, or the vicar who speed-reads each burial service like he has a more pressing engagement to get to.
Director John Gilling’s telling of the story is, however, unremarkable, leaving the cast to do all the work from the decent script and they help elevate the piece above the mediocrity Gilling was turning it into. Jennifer Daniel makes for a spunky female lead as Valerie Spalding coming across as more resourceful than the norm for a Hammer production and isn’t there to just stand there and scream all the time. Ray Barrett as her husband Harry is solid support but just don’t have him run too much. He appears incapable of running without flinging his arms around like he is about to break into a dance rather than rescue his missus from a hissing woman with a bad skin complaint.
Hammer regular Michael Ripper provides good support as bar owner Tom Bailey whom assists the Spalding’s with the little mystery happening right on their own doorstep. Hammer favourite Jacqueline Pearce does well to make Anna work even when in snake form with a mask that still looks pretty effective if a little inflexible all these years on.
Whilst the reptile of the title feeds on kittens and small rabbits and finds the cold a chore, someone in the make-up department forgot a crucial detail about our scaly friends. They don’t have hair. Sure saying she is half-woman and half-snake kind of covers the purpose but if they are going so far as to have her physical appearance look like a reptile and crucially shed skin like one, then surely that nice black hair she has tied up behind her head would suffer a little in the mix.
At the climax everything is explained in a fairly quick and dismissive fashion which undoes some of the hard work put in by the actors. It is also a shame that considering The Reptile is one of the more unique entries in the Hammer cannon, the DVD quality is just passable rather than tarted up spanking fresh. An interesting movie with some mood and tension that deserves to be seen regardless of the odd niggles.
Versions The DVD version reviewed was taken from the Ultimate Hammer Collection Box Set. See our earlier news story for full details of the 21 films included in the set.