The Reptile (1966)
Cast: Noel Willman, Jennifer Daniel, Ray Barrett, Jacqueline Pearce, Marne Maitland
Director: John Gilling
Nutshell: Racist and Xenophobic shades enhance this sublime slice of vintage Hammer horror where a spate of mysterious deaths points towards something extremely sinister.
Reviewed by: Dr. Ali Khan & Swami Ji
Listen to the Audio Trailer:
The Reptile is one of Hammer’s lesser-known films, but along with its ‘twin’ production The Plague of the Zombies, it is a hidden gem. The film is based on Bram Stoker’s novel ‘The Lair of the White Worm’ and revolves around the sinister Dr. Franklyn.
We find out during the course of the movie that years ago during an expedition to the exotic East, Franklyn managed to antagonize a cult of snake worshippers. While the doctor escaped, the cult retaliated by placing a terrible curse of the doctor’s daughter. What follows is a series of horrifying murders as the remote community in Cornwall falls prey to the mysterious ‘killer’ in their midst.
At the outset a man enters a large house full of “eastern” ornaments and is soon horribly beset by some creature who fangs him in the neck and sends him reeling to his death foaming at the mouth and turning an ashen shade of black in the process; not a pretty picture at all. His brother in London inherits his deceased brother’s country cottage and decides to move there with his wife and also investigate the death of his brother but is met with a cold shoulder by suspicious locals and has to rely in an amiable Inn Keeper for assistance.
They soon encounter the inhabitants of the large manor looming over their cottage nearby who are the distant Dr. Franklyn and his beautiful daughter and a “Paki” like exotic foreign assistant cum housekeeper who prowls around area with very dubious intentions and talks with an affected accent. He is in fact from the Malay and clearly has a vice like grip over Dr. Franklyn as well as his daughter. (Marne Maitland, clearly specialized in playing the “shifty eyed vile foreigner for several Hammer production and impressed with an array of accents).
Slowly but surely the mystery behind the deaths begins to unfold with a thrilling climax revealing the true horror that has gripped the community ever since the “foreigners” started moving in. The couple had been warned by a loopy villager about how 15 or 20 years ago it had been a blissful community but “then they came…. bringing with them their vileness with them” (and in the background the exotic Indian music can be heard sifting through the air). “listen, damn you…. can’t you hear it woman? It means death!” So, there is this premise that “vile foreigners” are arriving on English shores and contaminating “Gods good ways” with their evil. Sounds very much like the line that Donald Trump took to elevate him to the Presidency of the United States and similar to the pro-Brexit theme in the United Kingdom.
The Reptile has a surprisingly uneasy creepiness to it. Some of the deaths involving foaming at the mouth and skins turning black are quite ‘nasty’. It also has some genuinely scary ‘attack’ scenes. Special mention must be made of Hammer’s make up expert, Roy Ashton, who did a marvelous job of creating the ‘Reptile’. Despite its age, the ‘Reptile’ make-up holds up surprisingly well, never looking tacky and fake – as it did in Hammer’s later venture, the Gorgon.
The ‘Reptile’ creature is one of Hammer’s scarier creatures. Brooding and eerie with a good dose of suspense the film is tightly directed and well-acted all round. Jacqueline Pearce is alluring both as daughter Anna and her alter ego! Another quality product from Hammer, this is certainly one of the best ‘snake genre’ films that I have come across.
There are xenophobic shades to the film that were not that uncommon back in the 1960s. Had the film been made today it may well be construed to be somewhat racist and with good reason. There is an inbuilt suspicion of foreigners and their strange and often evil ways and this notion that their arrival on to the pristine shores of Cornwall has led to a moral degeneration that is invasive and insidious. The initial death sequence is set to strains of “eastern” music wafting through the air and each time it is heard, there is a sense of ominous unease.
One of the old villagers accosts the newly arrived couple and warns them about the origin of the deaths that have plagued the region with the visitors brother being the latest victim to succumb to the plague baring bite signs on his neck and then a charred black face with froth emerging from his mouth and nose, supposedly fate suffered by those bitten by an Indian King Cobra…. but a cobra in plush Cornwall?
The Reptile has been restored from its original negative and released on Blu ray and looks better than it has ever looked before with well saturated colours and great detail. However, that said, the Hammer films recently issued by Indicator from restored material looks more impressive still.
The Reptile, which came in under budget remains one of the finest gems within the Hammer Catalog, perhaps less celebrated than some of their more famous Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing films but at least as enjoyable and with all the trademarks that earned Hammer the iconic status that they enjoy today. A satisfying, enjoyable and well crafted Hammer Horror film, among their finest.