Eye For Film >> Movies >> The Reptile (1966) Film Review
Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode
After the death of his brother, Harry (Ray Barrett) brings his young wife Valerie (Jennifer Daniel) to live in the deceased's remote cottage. The villagers are almost uniformly hostile and the local barman mutters darkly about how it would be better if they just got rid of the place, but they persevere. Then Harry discovers that his brother is not the only person to have died mysteriously out on the moors. Each victim has been left with two distinctive puncture marks in the throat. This time it's not vampires, but the strange doctor in the big house seems to know more than he should. Can our heroes learn the truth before they meet the same ghastly fate?
This is Hammer Horror through and through, yet distinctly inferior to most of their other works. As Doctor Franklyn, Noel Willman never quite convinces, alternating between distance, aggression and vulnerability with none of the subtlety Christopher Lee brought to similar roles. Jacqueline Pearce (better known as Servalan in Blake's 7) is distinctly miscast as the doctor's charming daughter; she works hard but her naturally authoritative voice and regal bearing make it hard to accept her as a shy girl who may the victim of abuse.
The exotic backstory embodied by the doctor's enigmatic Malaysian servant (Marne Maitland) has to be seen in the context of its time, with uncomfortable racist overtones, but countering this to some extent is a narrative that challenges the ethics of the anthropological pursuit of knowledge where it essentially involves pilfering another culture's sacred secrets. There are, of course, some things (white) man was not meant to know, hence the dark family secret at the core of the story. This provides a thread of classic Gothic drama amid all the melodrama provided by the setting.
The Reptile is interesting for its two complex female characters, particularly Valerie, who at first looks to her husband for protection but ably takes over when the need arises. She neatly bridges the gap between Hammer's classic female roles of helpless innocent and glorious villain, and we can root for her despite the formulaic nature of the story. The eponymous monster, when it finally appears, is laughable to a modern audience, pretty bad rubber mask stuff even by Sixties standards, but along the way there's the usual fun with spooky houses, graveyards and whispered threats. There's also a great turn by John Laurie as OTT exposition device Mad Peter, putting the ham back in Hammer. It's not the studio's finest moment but, for fans, it's still well worth a look.Reviewed on: 21 Oct 2010