Jules picks up where he left off in October by running through some of the choice horror offerings from the fantastic Hammer back catalogue.
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Starring: Ray Barrett, Jennifer Daniel, Noel William, Jacqueline Pearce, Michael Ripper
Director: John Gilling
After making their name with modern reworkings of classic horrors like vampires, mummies and werewolves, Hammer by the mid-sixties were spreading their wings more and with The Reptile, made their first attempt at creating a nightmare creature all of their own.
To be fair, it’s not a million miles from a straight-up werewolf film, but with enough original touches, not to mention a striking monster design, to set John Gilling’s story out on its own.
What looks like the Black Death is picking of the inhabitants of a rural Cornwall village. One of the victims is the brother of Harry Spalding (Ray Barrett), who comes to take over his cottage with his wife Valerie (Jennifer Daniel), only to find that there is more to his death than it seemed.
Meanwhile across the moor, the sinister Dr Franklyn (Noel William) and his strange daughter Anna (Jacqueline Pearce) are living with a secret, one that will have tragic consequences for them all.
Filmed back to back with its companion film Plague Of The Zombies, it’s not just sets and actors that the two films share. Both stories feature an evil from beyond, something dark and unknown from what was then the mysterious colonies.
The evil in this case is the curse hanging over Anna, doomed to transform into a hideous snake-like creature after abducted into a serpent cult in Borneo, one which included Franklyn’s “servant”, played with deliciously malevolent relish by Marne Maitland.
While not being the leads, it’s Franklyn and his daughter’s relationship that’s at the heart of The Reptile. Noel William brilliantly sells the idea that his character is an abusive father, dominating Anna with ogre-ish behaviour, but nothing could be further from the truth. It’s his love for his daughter that’s keeping him going, trapped in a truly horrific situation as she changes at night.
As Anna, Jaqueline Pearce is simply wonderful, child-like at times, but with a sadness barely hidden under the surface hinting at the tragic fate she has fallen under.
Special mention must be given to Mr Hammer himself, Michael Ripper, who is given much more to do than usual with the role of Tom Bailey, the local innkeeper. He’s magnificent here, turning a supporting role into a quietly heroic one, stealing each scene that he’s in with stoic warmth.
As for the eponymous Reptile, it’s a brilliant design by Roy Ashton, only let down by a slight wonkiness in the eyes to allow the claustrophobic Jacqueline Pearce to see out easier. We can forgive that though, especially as the creature is kept for the most part to the shadows to maximise the impact, leaving only the truly disturbing effects of its bite to fill the screen, its victims instantly turning a hideous blue/black and failing at the mouth. It’s brilliantly nasty stuff and really sets the film apart from others of its ilk.
The Reptile is a small story in many ways, eschewing big ideas to tell one about family and responsibility, but it works wonderfully and is feull of delightfully horrific moments that linger in the mind long after the final credits.
The Writer of this piece was: Jules Boyle
Jules tweets from @Captain_Howdy