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
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.
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
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.)
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?