Title: The Reptile
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Writer: Anthony Hinds
Director: John Gilling
Producer: Anthony Nelson Keys
Starring: Noel Willman, Jennifer Daniel, Ray Barrett, Michael Ripper
Released: April 6th, 1966
Hammer Studios is certainly most well-known for their interpretations of the Dracula, Frankenstein, and Werewolf franchises, but it would behoove you to also look deeper into their library for classics like this one! This film is one that I didn’t discover until a few years ago, but it quickly has become one of my favorites. Oh, it’s not the best of Hammer films, but it does have a couple of performances that really help it to rise above mediocrity. Lets get down to the plot!
The movie begins with a man, Charles Spalding, wandering around the countryside. He then retreats to his home only to find a note on the table. He then sets out to the residence across the moors. He knocks but no one answers, so he wanders inside. He walks down a hallway, and as he turns around, a man, Dr. Franklyn (Noel Willman) shouts to him, warning him to get away. All of a sudden, something leaps out of the shadows and attacks him savagely. He falls down the stairs, and begins to have a seizure of some kind. As the man who warned him looks on in horror, another man steps out of the shadows, and disposes of the body on the moors.
The next scene shows us Harry and Valerie Spalding (Ray Barrett & Jennifer Daniel), as they are talking to a lawyer about his dead brothers (the man who was attacked in the fist scene) holdings. He informs them that his brother died without much wealth, but he did have a house in a rural town. They then take a train ride, and then walk to the village. At the local pub, Tom Bailey (Michael Ripper) is tending bar, but when Harry walks in, the patrons leave immediately. Tom Tells Harry where the house is located, and then they head out to the residence. As they open the front door, they see that the house has been ransacked. Harry returns to the pub later that day, and questions the patrons about the house. Again, they all leave, and Harry talks to Tom about what’s going on in this small village. As Harry makes his way home, he’s attacked by Mad Peter (John Laurie). Harry quickly realizes that Mad Peter is more of a foolish man, than a dangerous one. After some confusion, Harry invites Peter over for dinner, and to get some answers from him about his brother’s death.
As they finish dinner, Harry asks Peter but his brother. Peter explains that he really isn’t “mad”, just that he doesn’t live by the same rules that govern most men. As they talk more, Peter explains that this village is evil, and that terrible things happen here. He tells him that someone killed his brother, and not some mysterious hear failure, as he was led to believe. Peter then hears some music nearby, freaks out,t hen leaves in a hurry. During the night, Harry is awakened by some noises downstairs. When he investigates, he finds Peter at his doorstep, on death’s door. He mentions the name Franklyn, and Harry rushes across the moors to get the good doctor. Dr. Franklyn doesn’t seem to care about Peter, but Harry urges him to come and see him. Dr. Franklyn then tells Harry he’s a doctor of theology, not medicine, but agrees to come anyway. By the time they get there, Pater is already dead though (image above), and Dr. Franklyn tells them that he’ll handle the arrangements.
Valerie is visited the next day by Anna Franklyn, who seems a bit spooky, but nice all the same. Their little conversation is interrupted though, and Dr. Franklyn is furious at Anna for leaving the house. She did manage to invite the Spalding’s to dinner though, and later, we see that dinner date. Anna is not present, and Dr. Franklyn explains that she’s being punished for her earlier transgression. She joins them after dinner, and plays some music for them. The tune is almost hypnotic, and Anna seems to be getting into it, that is until her father erupts in anger, and smashes her instrument. Harry and Valerie leave in a rush, and head home.
Tom and Harry then formulate a plan to not only discover who or what is behind these killings, but also how to stop The Reptile!
OK, here are my thoughts:
Alright, I’ll be the first to admit that the lead roles in this film aren’t the strongest in Hammer’s catalog. They’re not bad mind you, just not up to the Cushing and Lee standard. There are still two bright spots. First, Jacqueline Pearce is fantastic, and not only does she make a convincing “troubled daughter” but she’s also a beautiful woman! She really lights up a room when she appears on-screen. The other great role is played by Hammer stalwart, Michael Ripper. He really gets to shine in this one, and has a huge role compared to his usual minor parts. He has a strong presence from start to finish. John Laurie (Mad Peter) was indeed a very good addition to this movie as well. His eccentric personality was absolutely superb!
The music score was pretty good, starting off with the opening scene/credits. A thunderous clashing of cymbals, and loud roaring wind section, lead us into this creepy classic. The sets, as with the overwhelming majority of Hammer films, were absolutely amazing. The house, the bubbling pit of oozing death in the basement, and the foggy moors, all set an incredible mood for this film. Definitely check this one out, it’s more than worth your time!
I like The Reptile, I think it’s a bit on the underrated side. It’s noteworth for featuring a young Jacqueline Pearce who, as you say, in this film really doesn’t play a villain so much as a tragic, cursed figure. I have the movie on VHS but haven’t had a chance to watch it in several years (my VCR is busted). I should pick it up on DVD one of these days.
Check Youtube or DailyMotion, it’s definitely on one of them right now. Pearce really lights up the screen!