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Reptilicus - Review

A Review by Mike Bogue

2 Stars - Fair

American release: November 1962 (by American International Pictures, a.k.a. AIP)

Denmark release: February 1961

Direction: Sidney Pink and Poul Bang

Screenplay: Sidney Pink and Ib Melchior

Music: Sven Gyldmark

Special Effects: Tom Howard, Ray Mercer & Company

Producer: Sidney Pink

Reptilicus Still. I’m sure most right-thinking kaiju eiga fans are shocked, shocked to see that I’m rating Reptilicus higher than one star.  After all, some believe it may be the worst giant monster movie ever made.

No doubt nostalgia plays a role in my lenient rating; in 1963, I well recall catching Reptilicus at a drive-in movie theatre when I was seven years old.  Then, I thought it was an okay monster flick.  Nowadays I still don’t think it’s a total dud, though I have to admit it rarely comes close to igniting.

Actually, the familiar script plays strictly by the well-established giant-monster-on-the-loose numbers, and is no better and no worse than many others.  We have the stalwart military hero, the gruff but wise old scientist, the beautiful heroine, and various other easily recognized stereotypes.  In addition, we have the monster-that-must-not-be-killed-by-ordinary-means (shades of Beast from 20,000 Fathoms and The Giant Behemoth), and the one-method-to-kill-the-beast-that-might-work.  Adding some interest to the story is the fact that it occurs in Denmark, a novel locale.  This also makes for some pretty thick dubbing; the military hero often sounds as though his speech has been slowed in a time warp.

Of course, the major reason Reptilicus usually takes a drubbing is the monster itself.  However, the beginning of the film is reasonably good; a mining team discovers the tail of an apparent prehistoric monster.  In a nicely imaginative bit, one of the workers looks at the scarlet substance on his hands, says, “Blood!” and then the title Reptilicus springs forth in dripping red letters from the miner’s palms.

Reptilicus Still.

Scientists quickly establish that the tail is actually still alive and, even more incredibly, regenerating itself.  Naturally, the tail grows into a complete Reptilicus that escapes its laboratory captivity and begins wreaking havoc in the Denmark countryside.

The creature itself is a dragon-like serpent with huge, prominent fangs, a pair of apparent wings, and two tiny forelimbs that appear useless.  Problem is, the monster is brought to life via marionette puppetry – or perhaps that should be, brought to half life.  The jaws of the creature’s simply carved head never move, nor do the unconvincing eyes.  The serpent itself writhes and jerks about, and slow-motion camera work is often employed to make the monster seem more “real,” but it just doesn’t come off.

Now in long shots, Reptilicus doesn’t look too bad.  But in close-ups, its artifice is obvious.  (Less charitable reviewers would probably say, “Laughable.”)

The monster shoots out a kind of green acid or poison that presumably kills people, though this is never made clear.  However, in the original, Reptilicus didn’t barf green spittle.  But Reptilicus did fly in the original; stills of the serpent in flight look okay, but distributor AIP nevertheless cut these scenes from the American print.

The creature does get to attack Copenhagen, snaking through miniatures that range in quality from fair to terrible.  Of course, it is also assaulted repeatedly by the military.  The authorities decide they can’t blow the monster up because each individual scale can grow into another Reptilicus.  What to do?  Tranquilize it, of course, then kill the thing while it is sedated.  (Naturally, it’s the military hero who thinks of this – the scientists appear clueless.)

Reptilicus Still.

The film is mercilessly padded at times, such as the totally unnecessary “Copenhagen travelogue” sequence.  This segment ends in a night club/restaurant in which a singer croons a number called “Tivoli Nights,” a tune that almost but not quite reaches the surrealistic heights of Kipp Hamilton’s “Feel in My Heart” from War of the Gargantuas.

Of course, if the special effects had been better, and the monster more carefully designed and articulated, Reptilicus might be a favorite of kaiju fans.  As is, it’s doubtful that many giant monster fans sing its praises – and if they do, they’re probably considered tone-deaf.  But I have to admit I still enjoy this homely little monster opus.  I mean, hey, what’s wrong with singing off-key once in a while?

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