Director: John Gilling
Cast: Noel Willman, Jennifer Daniel, Ray Barrett, Jacqueline Pearce, Michael Ripper
Length: 90 min
Rating: FSK: 16
Label: Anolis Entertainment
Release Date: September 11, 2015
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1,66:1
Audio: German DTS HD-MA 2.0 Mono, English DTS HD-MA 2.0 Stereo
Subtitles: German (optional)
- Audio Commentary with Dr. Rolf Giesen and Volker Kronz
- Video commentary with Dr. Rolf Giesen and Volker Kronz (in English)
- “The Serpent’s Tale”: Making of The Reptile featurette
- British Trailer
- American TV commercials
- German press book
- Image Gallery
- 32-page booklet written by Dr. Rolf Giesen and Uwe Sommerlad (exclusively in Mediabook)
Increasingly, German company Anolis Entertainment is making their Hammer blu-ray releases English-friendly. This is good news, as their releases tend to be among the most comprehensive in the industry in terms of extra features and technical presentation. After some superlative Hammer releases in 2015, including The Evil of Frankenstein and Plague of the Zombies, Anolis now tackles The Reptile (1966), with predictable excellence.
Hammer made a number of lower-profile horror films in the 60s, which are every bit as imaginative and worth seeking out as their more famous Dracula and Frankenstein counterparts. One of the best of these is John Gilling’s The Reptile, which was shot back to back with Gilling’s Plague of the Zombies, using many of the same sets and at least two of the same actors.
What’s particularly interesting about The Reptile is that it features a female monster—not a beautiful female monster like the luscious Carmilla Karnstein, but a beautiful woman who transforms into a loathsome snake-like creature. Such horrifying monsters are typically men’s domain, so The Reptile offers a refreshing twist, standing firmly in the tradition of films like The She-Creature (1956), Blood of Dracula (1957), The Wasp Woman (1959), and Hammer’s own The Gorgon (1964).
The plot of The Reptile concerns a Cornish village which is being terrorized by a series of mysterious murders. When the brother of one of the victims (Ray Barrett), along with his wife (Jennifer Daniel), arrive to investigate, it’s not long before their suspicions fall on Dr. Franklyn (Noel Willman), a sinister theologian who studies obscure religions of the far East. While on a research expedition to Borneo, he and his beautiful daughter (Jacqueline Pearce) are cursed by practitioners of a mysterious snake cult, and now Pearce periodically transforms into a hissing snake beast, much like Oliver Reed’s lycanthropic transformations in Curse of the Werewolf.Unlike Curse of the Werewolf, The Reptile never delves too deeply into the existential or even emotional angst of being transformed into a monster through no fault of your own. In fact Pearce’s is a peripheral character. This is not “her” film. She is not even the main villain. That honor falls on Willman who plays her brooding father. To that extent, the film’s patriarchal context does become rather obvious.
The film moves at a nice pace and is fluently written by Anthony Hinds, one of the chief architects of Hammer’s Gothics. The titular monster is kept mostly out of sight until the end, which prolongs our anticipation and keeps us focused on uncovering the mystery behind the murders. Only at the end is the film let down by a clumsy piece of exposition, where the main villain pontificates on what he’s doing and why he’s doing it. Why do movie villains have a need to be understood?
Atmospheric sets and production design are exemplary and full of period detail, and Hammer aficionados will enjoy the familiarity of some of the sets from other films. Special mention needs to be made of Don Banks’ exotic score—surely one of the very best he has written.The ubiquitous Michael Ripper also deserves special mention—this wouldn’t be a Hammer film without his reassuring presence. Here, much more than in Plague of the Zombies, he really comes into his own as a major player in advancing the plot. He is obviously a very fine character actor when given the chance to do his thing. The rest of the actors are very well cast in their respective roles, and the striking Jacqueline Pearce has just the right kind of dark look for the part of the cursed daughter. What’s remarkable—though not remarkable for Hammer—is how even the smallest parts are filled out by top British character actors, such as George Woodbridge and Charles Lloyd Pack.
Anolis has accessed the same Studio Canal HD master of The Reptile which was released in the UK in 2012, and the same critique applies to this release as did to that one. The opening two shots of the pre-credit sequence, as well as the opening credit sequence are obviously mastered from an inferior print—which is very grainy and lacks detail—but the rest of the film looks very fine indeed. Colors are beautifully saturated and have an earthy, vintage look. Detail and image depth look fine as well, as does the contrast. There are no signs of egregious noise filtering or edge sharpening, and the natural film grain is evenly distributed. Overall, Studio Canal did a very fine job with this one.
For this release, we are given two tracks: a German mono dub and the original English stereo track. Both tracks do the job adequately, but the English track has more body and sounds less boxy—especially noticeable in the more vehement sections of Don Banks’ score. Dialog is clear and easy to follow and any obvious age-related anomalies have been nicely cleaned up. The disk defaults to the German track, but it’s easy to switch to English. Optional German subtitles are provided.
For extra features, we are given a full length audio commentary with Dr. Rolf Giesen and Volker Kronz, which is in German only. However, the two commentators also provide a separate 33-minute video commentary in English. It’s a scholarly trip through, not only the making of The Reptile, but the cultural context in which it was made, the possible origins of the story, what influences inform the film, and how the film may have influenced other films. The commentators possess a wealth of knowledge, which makes this an interesting listen. This video commentary is exclusive to this release.
Next, Marcus Hearn’s 28-minute featurette The Serpent’s Tale: Making of The Reptile has been ported over from the UK release. The excellence of Hearn’s Hammer featurettes is well established at this point, and this one is no exception. It features interviews with Marcus himself, and experts Jonathan Rigby, Mark Gatiss, David Huckvale, and Wayne Kinsey. Also interviewed are Hammer’s Art Director Don Mingaye and actress Jacqueline Pearce. The featurette includes a short section on Studio Canal’s restoration of The Reptile.
Also included are an original British Trailer (2:28 min), American TV commercials, German press book, Image gallery, and a 32-page booklet written by Dr. Rolf Giesen and Uwe Sommerlad (exclusively in the Mediabook).
The Reptile is definitely worth seeking out for fans of vintage horror. It may be short on the sheer star power of Christopher Lee or Peter Cushing, but the cast is excellent and John Gilling’s stylish, no-nonsense direction makes for an exciting Gothic viewing experience. If you are looking for a good BD release of this film, Anolis provides a good alternative to Studio Canal’s, and includes some exclusive extra features that are worth any cinephile’s time. Highly recommended.