The Reptile (1966) Director: John Gilling Cast: Noel Willman, Jennifer Daniel, Jacqueline Pearce
Welcome back to the Vault of Secrets, where, every other week, we’ll be unearthing a classic (or not-so-classic) vintage horror film for your delectation. For tonight’s film, we’re tackling another lesser-known Hammer horror from director John Gilling. This time, it’s The Reptile, starring Noel Willman and Jennifer Daniel (both of whom were also in Hammer’s Kiss of the Vampire), as well as Jacqueline Pearce, whom we last saw in Plague of the Zombies. The version I watched is once again a DVD from the Hammer Collection series.
The Reptile actually has a lot in common with Plague of the Zombies, besides sharing a director and some of the same cast (Once again, Michael Ripper has a larger-than-average role here). They were filmed back-to-back, using several of the same sets, including the house at Oakley Court, which serves up exteriors for the big, dark houses in both movies. The plots are even somewhat similar, with both films involving sinister Englishmen in manor houses, who get involved in religions from exotic locales.
Though The Reptile is the lesser of the two films, for my money, it’s probably more famous than Plague of the Zombies, mostly thanks to the titular monster, which I remember seeing in monster magazines and photo books galore when I was younger. It turns out that the makeup actually looks better in stills than it does in motion, and better in black-and-white than in colour, but even so, it’s pretty recognizable and iconic, no matter how you see it, and has become one of the better-known images from the Hammer horror canon, even if the film itself is not-so-often seen.
Like Plague of the Zombies, The Reptile is a B-level effort from Hammer, lacking any of the star players like Cushing or Lee, but the story has all the classic Gothic elements you could ask for, including (relatively) mad doctors, ominous manner houses, and a village full of unfriendly people who’re distrustful of outsiders. And then, of course, there’s the pretty girl who turns into a creepy monster, so there’s a lot to like and, frankly, even a second-rate Hammer production is still head-and-shoulders above most of the competition.
That’s it for tonight’s installment of the Vault of Secrets! Join us next time when we celebrate the Apocalypse by investigating two of the three official film adaptations of Richard Matheson’s classic apocalyptic vampire novel I Am Legend. (Which two? I’ll give you a hint: neither of them is actually called “I Am Legend“.)