Starring-Ray Barrett, Jennifer Daniel
Scott’s Review #978
Reviewed January 10, 2020
While watching a Hammer horror film production, there are always little treats offered and enjoyed. The budgets are always small which only adds to the mystique and the fun and the wonderment of what can be done. Impressive is how creative they get with a shoestring budget. The Reptile (1966) is a nice offering with enough murder and intrigue to mildly satisfy, though many plot holes and illogical sequences occur. The British class and murky locales are fantastic.
Set in Cornwall, England, events begin in a macabre way when a middle-aged bachelor hears noises coming from a nearby estate. When he investigates, he is bitten by a demonic figure and rapidly develops the “Black Death” which kills him. Many locals succumb to a similar fate. The bachelor’s brother, Harry Spalding (Ray Barrett), inherits his brother’s cottage and moves in despite the warnings of the resident tavern owner, Tom (Michael Ripper), the only one of the townspeople to befriend Harry and his wife, Valerie (Jennifer Daniel).
Meanwhile, the sinister Dr. Franklyn (Noel Willman), the owner of the nearby estate, is the only resident near the cottage and he lives with his daughter Anna (Jacqueline Pearce). The Doctor treats his daughter with contempt as she is attended by a silent servant (Marne Maitland). When Anna asks Valerie for help, this leads Valerie and Harry to the estate where dire events occur, but could this be a trap?
The setting of the coastal town is well created and scenes in cemeteries, par for the course with Hammer productions, add a good vibe. The cottage and the estate are well-manicured, and the film simply feels like a British gem. Since the sets are low budget, the exterior sequences add a great deal to The Reptile. Assumed is that the film was shot with a “day for night” technique, a trick used to simulate a night scene while filming in daylight. This makes for positive cinematography.
The final thirty minutes or so is the best part of the film when Harry and Valerie are invited to dinner at the doctor’s estate. Banished to her bedroom for most of the evening, Anna emerges looking ravishing in an evening dress, but is soon revealed to have been met with a curse and sheds her skin and becomes a frightening reptile. The servant has a hold over Anna and her father, while a sweet black kitten comes into play.
The characters are interesting. Benevolent Harry and Valerie mix well with the dark and cynical Dr. Franklyn, and the servant. Franklyn is irritable and the servant, though he does not speak, is devious and riddled in mystery. Ignoring warnings to flee the town, never to return, the newlyweds refuse, blissful in their new cottage and filled with the promise of fresh life. Their spirit counterbalances their neighbors and when the characters intersect the real fun begins.
The creature is a tad on the corny side and is hardly scary. The makeup, reportedly difficult for actress Jacqueline Pearce to wear looks amateurish. The cover art makes the creature look much better than in the film, but again, the budgetary limitations made things tight. Kudos for the idea for the creature to be a female. It was tough to either root for her or against her though since we know little about why she turns from gorgeous to evil.
From a plot perspective, the viewer is encouraged not to try too hard to figure out how circumstances relate to one another. Why and how did Anna become cursed? Did the servant curse her and why is he there? Is the group of caged animals’ creatures that Anna eats? It is mentioned that Anna needs a hot environment- is the hot molten in the basement to keep her human? These and many other inquiries could be made, but it really doesn’t matter too much.
The Reptile (1966) is worth a watch especially for fans of classic, Gothic horror. With an unfamiliar cast, the project would have been assisted by the additions of Peter Cushing or Christopher Lee, mainstays of Hammer films in either of the central male roles. Still, the film succeeds with unpredictability and the low budget creates a fabulous texture. The main appeal is that it is a good, fun horror film with little expectations.