Thursday, November 25, 2010

'The Reptile' is Hammer at its most gothic

The Reptile (1966)
Starring: David Baron, Jennifer Daniel, Noel Williams, Jacqueline Pearce, and Michael Ripper
Director: John Gilling
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

A retired military officer and his wife (Baron and Daniel) inherit a cottage in a small Cornish village after his brother dies under mysterious circumstances. When he moves there with his wife (Daniel), he discovers that there has been a rash of deaths and that all of them can be attributed to a rare poisonous animal found only in far-away India. The obvious perpetrator behind these dastardly deeds is the reclusive doctor of theology (Williams) who has made a career out of studying obscure religions in the Far East and who keeps his daughter a virtual prisoner in their manor house. But throw in a mysterious swarthy fellow, the daughter’s strangely hypnotic effect on her father when she plays the sitar, and things are a little less clear. Will the newly arrived couple’s only ally in the area (Ripper) help them stop the spreading evil before it consumes them all?

“The Reptile” is the most strongly gothic-in-genre of all the Hammer horror flicks. There’s the ogre-like father and the oppressed daughter; there’s the mysterious Outsiders who are bringing a corrupting influence to wholesome British society, and there are curses and victims and victimizers who may not be what they seem. It’s a well-mounted film that contains several moments of genuine chills.

“The Reptile” would have gotten an 8-Star rating if not for the inexplicable over-acting displayed by all the principles in the first half of the movie; inexplicable because the leads in the film director John Gilling helmed immediately prior to this one (“Plague of the Zombies", which even used many of the same sets) was blessed with beautifully restrained performances that made the film even creepier and more believable. It’s even odder because Michael Ripper gives the same type of understated performance he did in “Plague.”)

As the film evolves, the over-blown performances start to fit with the tenor of the going-ons, but they seem so out of place early in the film that it’s an irritant. The movie’s resolution is also a bit weak, with the title creature going down without much of a fight. The combination of the overacting in the first reel and the shaky climax were enough to knock off a Star. Still, it’s an entertaining film if you enjoy Hammer-style movies or gothic tales.


Jinx said...

Oh, that was wonderful, I love The Reptile. I lve Michael Ripper too. He was in the 90s version of Jeeves and Wooster as the Drones Club porter and it took me a ridiculously long time to realise it was him, even though he really looked exactly the same. For shame. Great stuff as always, Steve.

Steve Miller, Writer of Stuff said...

You're one up on me... I never spotted him at all!