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Reptile, The (1966)

Courtesy of Canal+ Image UK Ltd

Main image of Reptile, The (1966)
35mm, colour, 91 mins
DirectorJohn Gilling
Production CompaniesHammer Film Productions, Seven Arts
ProducerAnthony Nelson Keys
ScreenplayJohn Elder
PhotographyArthur Grant

Cast: Noel Willman (Dr Franklyn), Ray Barrett (Captain Harry George Spalding), Jennifer Daniel (Valerie Spalding), Jacqueline Pearce (Anna Franklyn), Michael Ripper (Tom Bailey), John Laurie (Mad Peter)

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Harry Spalding arrives at a remote Cornish village where his brother has recently died. Once there, his investigations uncover strange bite marks on the bodies of the town's deceased, which eventually lead him to discover the secret of the 'snake person'.

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The Reptile was one of the key films in Hammer's mid-'60s shift away from the traditional staples of Dracula, Frankenstein and the Mummy. It was released on a double bill with Rasputin - The Mad Monk (d. Don Sharp, 1966), although it was shot back to back with The Plague of the Zombies (d. John Gilling, 1966), which also used Pearce and Ripper in its cast. Like these films, The Reptile's themes and concerns were products of its decade.

The key theme, one explored around the same time by artists like The Beatles, was the influence of Eastern culture and beliefs on England. Here, however, the influence is presented negatively, with the implication that the 'primitive religion' (Dr Franklyn's words) of Borneo has been used to transform a nice English rose into a hideously destructive snake-woman.

The only time this implicitly racist theme is used intelligently is in the relationship between Franklyn and his 'servant'. When the servant strikes Franklyn around the face and commands him to kill Harry, the question as to who is really in control is skilfully presented.

Harry is a foreign influence himself, invading the small Cornish village from the city and inadvertently alienating the majority of the locals. Overall, the film makes a strong defence of traditional English country ways, whether they are threatened by Eastern or urban influences.

The other clue to the film's '60s roots is its quasi-rebellious streak. 'Mad' Peter says that he gained his name because "I find it difficult to grasp some of the things people find important nowadays... like making money". The criticism of consumerism is coupled with Franklyn's position as a doctor of theology - only a few years previously Hammer were presenting characters who were clear-cut stalwarts of religion, but with this film and The Witches (d. Cyril Frankel, 1966), religious figures were becoming increasingly ambiguous (by the end of the 1960s almost all of Hammer's authority figures were presented as corrupt to some degree).

Warner Bros was keenly supporting Hammer at this time, offering 50 per cent to the cost of additional publicity for exhibitors if approved by their exploitation manager. Sadly, The Reptile, like many other films from this period, was not as successful as Dracula Prince of Darkness (d. Terence Fisher, 1965), paving the way for Hammer's return to more traditional horror product in the latter part of the decade.

Paul Moody

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Video Clips
1. Sitar recital (2:38)
2. The lurker upstairs (3:38)
3. Fiery finale (3:07)
Production stills
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Plague of the Zombies, The (1966)
Hinds, Anthony (1922-2013)
Laurie, John (1897-1980)
Hammer Horror