Review: Reptilicus

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DVD. Fabulous Films

In the wake of Godzilla and The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, everyone wanted their own giant monster movie. These imitations and knock-offs have often proved, in the long run, to be a lot of fun, if only because the slightly shabbier monsters therein have a curious personality of their own. Think The Giant Behemoth, Gorgo, Dinosaurus and assorted others that emerged between the mid 1950s and 1960s. Denmark’s offering was Reptilicus, made – in two versions – in 1961.

The Danish version of Reptilicus was directed by Poul Bang, and remains unreleased outside its native country. The English version, should concurrently with more or less the same cast, was helmed by Sidney Pink, who had a brief but interesting career making unusual; science fiction films (Angry Red Planet, Journey to the Seventh Planet, The Twonky). By all accounts, this is the inferior version, but it’s the most widely seen. Shot in English, but then dubbed anyway by American International Pictures (who thought the original accents were too thick), the resulting film feels decidedly odd – the lip-syncing is fine, but the performances seem stilted – unsurprising, as the actors were not using their native language and the dubbing had to match their uncertain mouth movements. I have no issue with dubbed movies – I grew up on them – but here, it feels rather weird and unnatural, even more so than the most wildly unsynced mouth flapping in a Hong Kong martial arts film.

The film opens with a chunk of formerly frozen prehistoric Reptilicus being pulled out of the ground by a mining drill in Lapland. Soon, scientists are n the scene to unearth the rest of the creature’s tail for further examination. When the specimen is accidentally defrosted, they discover that it is not only alive, but actually regenerating. Despite estimating that the full creature would be 90 feet tall and therefore presumably a slight risk to society, the scientists – supported by a grumpy American army general (Mark Ottosen) and glamorous scientist Connie Miller (Marlies Behrens) – use electricity and nutrients to accelerate the growth. Inevitably, the fully grown Reptilicus then escapes the lab and goes on a bit of a rampage, managing to eat a cartoon figure and somehow spitting green fire before sloping off to the sea, where the army and the scientists rather foolishly continue their attack (you can’t help but think that if they had just let him go, a lot of destruction could have been avoided.

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The basic requirement of any giant monster movie is a giant monster, the sooner the better. On this basis, Reptilicus struggles to deliver. At one point, the General and his chums head off for a tour of Copenhagen that goes n for rather too long – presumably having one eye on international sales, the Danish producers thought that they would do their bit for the local tourist trade and so the film dissolves into a plodding travelogue, ending up at the Tivoli amusement park where were are treated to an entirely unnecessary nightclub musical number. I wonder if anyone has ever chosen a holiday destination based on seeing it demolished in a cheap monster movie? Seems unlikely. Checking my watch at this time, I noted that the film had been on half an hour without so much as a sniff of monster action, which seemed unacceptable.

Also wasting screen time is Dirch Passer as Petersen, the film’s mugging, gormless comic relief. He’s introduced with such fanfare that you assume he will play a major role in the film, but aside from a couple of painfully unfunny set pieces, he simply lurks as a pointless background character – perhaps even the writers ran out of things for him to do, once a dreadfully telegraphed skit with an electric eel was out of the way.

Eventually, after about 40 minutes, we get to see a fully revived Reptilicus – or at least as much of him as the producers could afford. Legs apparently cost extra, and so he remains a rather static character throughout his screen time, simply waving his arms and head about in the manner of a poorly controlled puppet – which is, of course, what he is. Reptilicus is an odd looking creature – a bit moth-eaten and scrawny, very much the bottom of the movie monster barrel. And yet he has a curious appeal because he looks so tatty – there’s a naïve charm abut the monster that you can’t help but warm to.

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Unfortunately, his rampages are a touch lacklustre, as are the efforts to destroy him (the fact that bombs can’t be used because the scattered pieces would then regenerate into multiple monsters is interesting, but the film tries to have its cake and eat it, still throwing in extensive and ineffectual scenes of heavy weaponry being used before going for a somewhat flat ending). Without us seeing him actually rampage through the city, Reptilicus never manages to create the sense of threat found in his rivals like Gorgo, the Beast or Behemoth.

Reptilicus is entertaining enough if you require a bit of undemanding viewing, but it is definitely the lesser film of the 50s / 60s giant monster movies.

DAVID FLINT

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