Reptilicus (1961)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2015-07-04 22:39

Reptilicus (1961)
Studio: Scream Factory
Release date: June 16th, 2015

Reviewed by: Brett Gallman

The movie:

Conventional monster movie wisdom holds that an effective filmmaker shouldn’t reveal his hand too soon in order to build some semblance of suspense. Audiences may come to see giant creatures stomping through cities, but, deep down, they want to be teased at least a little bit. Reptilicus is a film that tests this notion by stretching it to an extreme: for about half of its 81 minute run-time, its titular monster rests in the background, waiting to resurrect from virtual extinction. It doesn’t seem like the worst idea—after all, the approach leaves plenty of time to develop characters and exploit the intrigue surrounding what seems like another cool monster from the creature feature era. Sometimes, however, good intentions go awry and simply misfire: Reptilicus is one of those times, and history at least has an explanation for how this one went wrong.

A curious Danish-American co-production, Reptilicus endured a tumultuous double production: one was helmed by Danish director Poul Bang, the other by American Sidney Pink. When US distributor AIP deemed the latter effort to be unwatchable, their reworking of the film resulted in the director suing the studio, only to recant after seeing it. Don’t take that as an endorsement, though, as the final product feels (appropriately enough) like a relic from an age that had already calcified by 1961.

With such a stock plot, Reptilicus sounds like it could have been released at any point during the creature-feature boom of the previous decade: during a routine drilling, a group of miners uncovers the preserved remains of a giant reptile’s tail. Upon being transported to a research facility, it’s supposed to remain on ice, but a careless janitor accidentally thaws it out and allows the creature to regenerate in full. Cue the scientists and military men, who debate how to best deal with a monster that appears to be completely indestructible.

As far as giant monsters go, Reptilicus himself is hardly to blame for the film’s shortcomings. Sporting a distinctive design and that killer regenerative ability, it’s not a bad creature in concept; however, the penny-pinching execution hinders it from ever becoming iconic despite its status as Denmark’s only giant monster. An obvious and damn near static puppet often terrorizing models and made to look tremendous via forced perspective and slow motion, Reptilicus winds up being more laughable than frightening (or even cool). Also, the cool laser breath promised by the poster art? Replaced in the actual movie by animated green slime that often covers the frame, thus obscuring whatever the hell happens to the unfortunate souls being vomited upon (I prefer to think they’re all melted, if only because that’s more interesting than just about anything you do see in Reptilicus).

The film is not without its highlights, even if they are sparse. Dirch Passler is a hoot as the bumbling janitor and is truly the most memorable human here. Most everyone else can be sorted into science or military camps, with the former being headed by a kindly but frail old man and the latter being represented by the sort of no-nonsense, square-jawed types typical of these films. The women serve mostly in supporting roles to dote on the men, though one notably speaks up during an attempt to destroy Reptilicus by pointing out how futile it is thanks to its ability to repair itself.

That conceit carries a lot of weight since it leads to one of the film’s more indelible images and provides a legitimate debate: where most films of this ilk might have its characters debate whether or not to kill the monster or preserve it for scientific purposes, everyone here pretty much agrees that Reptilicus has to be put down. The problem is settling on a method that doesn’t involve blowing it—and the entire country—to shit.

If this all sounds a bit too much like Gojira, rest assured that Reptilicus is most certainly cribbing from the concerns of that film (naturally, a hot-headed general really wants to go nuclear, while the scientist prefers are more level-headed approach). Considering the number of films that have already tread on this ground (and this is not to mention the American creature features that predated Gojira), this effort feels very late to the game and does little to separate itself outside of a fun sequence that feels like it was mandated by Denmark’s tourism department.

If nothing else, Reptilicus is ultimately a platonic ideal of sorts for the sort of cornball monster movies of this era: from its obvious dubbing to a monstrous rampage on recognizable national landmarks, it covers most of the bases, including copious amounts of cheap model work and patchwork stock footage.

Fittingly arriving at the tail end of this boom, Reptilicus is one of the last dispatches from an era just before the proper kaiju renaissance. A year later, Toho would unlock a winning formula with King Kong vs. Godzilla, leaving Reptilicus firmly trounced in the dust, left to persist only as a cult curiosity 50 years later.

The disc:

Such a fate makes it a prime candidate for the Scream Factory treatment, of course, which in this case involves a nicely restored HD widescreen transfer (the previous release was full frame) that does its best with some sometimes rough elements due to some of the film’s cheap effects shots. It’s an otherwise fine presentation, though, with a vivid color palette, a nice grain structure, and a PCM mono track. A trailer, a stills gallery, and a radio spot serve as the extras on a double feature release that also includes fellow knock-off Tentacles.

With this release, Scream has achieved a true rarity: a twin bill where Ovidio Assonitis’s killer squid opus is the superior offering. Poor Reptilicus appears here as it almost always has been, as an also-ran in the shadow of another film.
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