Saturday, 13 October 2012

Halloween Movie 3. The Reptile (1966)

The Reptile is one of Hammer's odder ventures. By the mid-Sixties the studio, which had done so well from reviving Dracula, The Wolfman, Frankenstein, and the Mummy, mid-Sixties Hammer was struggling a bit. But they had to keep churning 'em out for their American distributors, so producer Anthony Hinds (under the name John Elder) bashed out this low-budget drama about colonial curses.

This is one of those films in which a sensible chap takes his new bride to a country cottage in a neighbourhood where people die horribly for no readily apparent reason  It's not difficult to figure out what's going on, but the nature of the horror is interesting. In a way it inverts the conventional vampire theme, with the monster of the title arguably as great a victim as any of the hapless folk found frothing in the foliage. There's a distinct touch of Conan Doyle about some plot developments, and an interesting subtext about Victorian attitudes to women as well as a more obvious comment about the dark side of colonialism coming back to bite Britannia on the bottom (or very nearly).

The cast is rather good, too. The statuesque knockout Jacqueline Pearce might seem miscast as the put-upn Victorian daughter, but she has real presence and imbues a tricky role with pathos. It's a pity she only did two Hammers (she was also in Plague of the Zombies, which was made back-to-back using the same location). The supporting cast is reassuringly solid - anything with Michael Ripper issuing dire warnings is fine by me, and John Laurie (Private Fraser from Dad's Army) does his level best to make everyone feel totally doomed. Arguably the absence of the two big-name Brit horror stars makes this a well-balanced film, as Hammer was sometimes inclined to use Cushing, in particular, on roles that didn't make much of his talents.

Anyway, let's all clutch our necks and collapse down a flight of stairs. It's either that, or smash the sitar.


Oscar Solis said...

I've only seen this one once. It was pretty good. It would make a pretty good double feature when paired with Hammer's "The Gorgon" (which, I have to say, has atmosphere to bear).

valdemar said...

I watched 'The Gorgon' recently, and while enjoyable enough, I think it is definitely second-string Hammer. Cushing, Lee and Patrick Troughton give it a bit more status than it might otherwise merit.

Oscar Solis said...

I would definitely agree with you about the second string comment. It's like The Reptile and The Gorgon are B pictures within an already low budget system (Hammer films weren't blessed with huge budgets to begin with).

The neat thing about Hammer's films were that the powers that be already had an inkling what the product would make and would tailor the budgets so that a profit could be made, unlike the bloated films of today where executives okay a budget of a couple of hundred and hope that an audience exists. It seems most of the movies today, while box office hits, rarely go into profit (as a result of studio accounting or overspending).

When I see that only 17 million was spent on Hammer's The Woman in Black you have to applaud the frugality of the powers that be for not allowing themselves to follow the trend of spending a hundred or so million. The result was probably a very nice profit (although I bet they could have made it for even less, regardless what executives might think).

Sorry for veering away from the subject at hand.

Oscar Solis said...

"unlike the bloated films of today where executives okay a budget of a couple of hundred"

I forgot to add the words "million dollars".

valdemar said...

That's a very good point. Hammer - thanks to guaranteed US distribution - helped keep the British film industry alive by spending relatively little money. They always made films look rich thanks to relatively inexpensive features like velvet curtains and fancy candelabra.