• The Reptile (Shout! Factory) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Shout! Factory
    Released on: July 30th, 2019.
    Director: John Gilling
    Cast: Ray Barrett, Jennifer Daniel, Jacqueline Pearce Noel Willman, Michael Ripper
    Year: 1966
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    The Reptile – Movie Review:

    Directed for Hammer Films by John Gilling in 1966, The Reptile tells the story of a couple, Harry George Spalding (Ray Barrett) and his wife Valerie (Jennifer Daniel), who moves to the town of Clagmoor Heath when Harry’s recently deceased brother leaves them his home. Harry would like to figure out just what exactly happened to his brother, as the circumstances surrounding his death are foggy to say the least, but nobody in town is talking save for Tom Bailey (Michael Ripper), the pub owner who advises him to sell the place and get out while he can.

    Making strange events even stranger is the presence of their new neighbor, Dr. Franklin (Noel Willman), who hides away in his huge mansion home with his daughter Anna (Jacqueline Pearce) and a strange man referred to as The Malay (Marne Maitland). As it turns out, Franklin has returned with Anna from a trip to Borneo where he was studying a strange tribe of snake people and that when they became unhappy with his presence they turned poor Anna into one of their own. As such, Anna has the tendency to turn into a horrible snake monster now and then. Meanwhile, Harry and Tom start digging up bodies of recently deceased townsfolk and learn that all of the corpses have one thing in common... markings that look like they could be a snake bite.

    This is a fun watch, really well-paced vintage Hammer Horror to be sure. It’s a little on the predictable side but Gilling does a pretty good job here creating both atmosphere and tension at regular intervals throughout the movie. The sets (some of which will look familiar to fans of The Plague Of The Zombies made the same year and also featuring Ripper and Pearce!) are pretty great here too – Franklin keeps a special area under his home that contains a sulfur spring, just what a reptilian woman might need to keep warm during the colder months in England – and visually speaking the movie is pretty impressive. There’s great use of color on display throughout much of the picture and if the makeup effects are understandably a product of their time they are still creative and fun to see.

    As far as the performances go, Ray Barrett and Jennifer Daniel are fine as the two ‘hero’ types but they’re not the ones you really remember. That honor goes to Michael Ripper, who is genuinely really good in this role (a much more substantial one than we’re used to seeing him in) and to beautiful raven haired Jaqueline Pearce as our poor snake woman. Noel Willman is also pretty good as her father, at first his character is a bit off putting, his behavior towards the new home owners nearby unpleasant, but once we understand why, you can at least feel for the guy and his actions make sense in their own way. The cast all do fine work here, and that helps things quite a bit.

    As to the story, well, there are occasional logic gaps and questionable actions on the part of the characters in the movie, but it goes at a good pace and offers up the right mix of drama and monster related mayhem to hold our attention. The period setting, typical of Hammer’s output of this era, seems to fit things rather well (it just wouldn’t work as well if this were set in the mix-sixties). This isn’t on par with the best of Hammer’s output but it’s definitely plenty entertaining and absolutely worth seeing.

    The Reptile – Blu-ray Review:

    Shout! Factory presents The Reptile on Blu-ray in AVC encoded 1080p high definition framed in your choice of 1.66.1 or 1.85.1 widescreen on a 50GB disc, both clearly taken from the same source. Things shape up pretty nicely here as the transfer offers up fantastic color reproduction and strong black levels. Detail is strong throughout and there are no compression issues aren’t really ever a problem. Some shots show better detail and more refined grain than others, but print damage is never really a problem. Skin tones look good and there aren’t any obvious issues with edge enhancement.

    The only audio option offered up is an English language DTS-HD Mono track. Optional subtitles are provided in English only. Audio quality is just fine. The track is clean, clear and nicely balanced. Dialogue is easy to follow and understand and the score sounds quite good as well. No problems with any hiss or distortion to note either.

    Extras start off with a new audio commentary by film historians Steve Haberman, Constantine Nasr and Ted Newsom. These guys do a pretty deep dive into the history of the film, delivering a fairly scene specific talk that begins by comparing the opening scene to Hitchcock’s Psycho. From there, the cinematography and how characters tend to walk out of cooler colors into warmer covers, the quality of the camerawork in the picture and how the deaths in the film are genuinely horrendous. They talk about changes that were made to the script as the movie was made, the quality of the performances in the picture, Michael Ripper’s work in this picture and other Hammer films, Hammer’s partnership with 20th Century Fox and British Pathe Limited and how this picture was part of that distribution deal, the religious symbolism (there’s a pretty audible belch at this part in the commentary – these guys do have a sense of humor), the quality of the sets and decoration in the film, why you remember Pierce’s character the most when the film is over, some of the themes that arise in Hammer’s films in regards to British colonialism and the portrayal of native peoples in their films, the possible influence of Bram Stoker’s The Lair Of The White Worm and lots, lots more. These guys know their Hammer and do a very fine job of dissecting the film and exploring its history.

    Also exclusive to this disc is a new interview with first Assistant Director William P. Cartlidge that runs just over twenty-one-minutes. He talks about how his film career began doing stills, how nepotism landed him work thanks to his father’s association with a large production company, and how James Carreras, a friend of his father’s and a partner in Hammer Films, brought him on board as a third assistant director early in his career, getting along with Michael Carreras and working with him on What A Crazy World, how Michael Carreras brought him on board to work on The Reptile and his initial hesitation to work on a ‘schlock horror movie’ after working on Alfie with Michael Caine that same year, and how he initially wanted to say no to the project based on John Gilling’s reputation and so asked for a ridiculous amount of money he figured Hammer wouldn’t pay him. They did, and the rest is history. He then talks about what it was like on set, working with Gilling, some of the day for night photography in the picture, his thoughts on Anthony Nelson Keys’ work as producer on the film, working with the different actors on the picture and quite a bit more.

    As far as archival extras go, we get The Serpent‘s Tale: The Making Of The Reptile, a featurette that runs roughly twenty-three-minutes in length. Here Hammer Film Historian Marcus Hearn is joined by writers Mark Gatiss, Jonathan Rigby, David Huckvale and Wayne Kinsey as well as and the film’s art director Dom Mingaye for a discussion of the history of this particular entry in the Hammer filmography. This does a fine job of putting the film into context alongside some of the other horror pictures that Hammer was churning out around the same time but also points out how and why this one stands out alongside some of those same movies. It’s a pretty interesting talk and does a fine job of detailing all of this.

    Also included on the disc is the World Of Hammer episode Wicked Women. This one clocks in at approximately twenty-five minutes in length and like the other episodes in the series, it’s mostly made up of clips from various Hammer productions with some narration from the late, great Oliver Reed. It won’t tell experts much that they don’t already know but it’s a nice retrospective that focuses on some of the more dangerous female characters to have appeared throughout the production company’s storied history.

    Aside from that we get a theatrical trailer, a double feature trailer where the film was paired with Rasputin The Mad Monk, a black and white television spot for the Rasputin/Reptile double feature, a promotional photo still gallery, a still gallery of ephemera, menus and chapter selection.

    The Reptile – The Final Word:

    The Reptile may not be the first movie you think of when talking classic Hammer horror pictures but it’s a fun watch to be sure. This Blu-ray release from Shout! Factory has done a very fine job bringing this one to Blu-ray in a nice presentation and with a great selection of extra features to complement the main attraction.

    Click on the images below for full sized The Reptile Blu-ray screen caps!