Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Reptilicus (1961)

Reptilicus may well be the worst giant monster running amok movie ever made. In its own way it’s certainly one of the most memorable, even if it’s memorable for all the wrong reasons. Despite its epic awfulness it has to be admitted that it’s quite entertaining in a fun bad movie way.

This was a Danish-US co-production. If you’ve ever wondered why the Danes are not famous for their giant monster movies Reptilicus may provide the answer.

We start with a copper-mining operation in Denmark. There is considerable puzzled excitement when the drill bit comes up dripping with blood. And with pieces of flesh adhering to it. The chief of the drilling crew realises immediately that this is a job for scientists. The site is excavated and the tail of a giant reptile is discovered. It is taken back to the aquarium in Copenhagen. The remains had been deep-frozen far beneath the earth. As a result of an unfortunate mistake the tail is allowed to thaw out, and naturally the tail begins to regenerate an entire reptile, which is promptly named Reptilicus.

For some entirely inexplicable reason a general from the United Nations was called in when the reptile tail was unearthed. This proves to be rather fortunate since the regenerated monster reptile is soon running loose in the Danish countryside leaving a trail of mayhem behind it.

While the scientists seem unsure what to do next General Grayon has no such doubts. He’s going to hit Reptilicus with all the firepower at his disposal. This has the result of making Reptilicus rather annoyed. Eventually a flamethrower is employed. This seems to be fairly successful and Reptilicus heads for the open sea to lick his wounds. The wounds were obviously not very severe and Reptilicus is soon sinking ships throughout the Baltic Sea.

General Grayson is convinced that he just needs more firepower although it is pointed out to him that blowing up the monster is likely to produce a whole crop of monsters regenerated from the pieces of the first monster. Eventually of course someone comes up with a simply way of dealing with the monster which could have saved thousands of lives if only they’d thought of it earlier.

This movie commits every sin that a low-budget film can commit. The pacing is too slow, there’s too much padding with travelogue shots of Danish tourist attractions, there’s excessive reliance on badly chosen stock footage, the monster is unexciting and unconvincing, the miniatures are cheap and crude, the special effects are ludicrously clumsy. There’s a shot of a couple of farmers being eaten by Reptilicus that may well be the worst special effect ever put on film.

Samuel Z. Arkoff took one look at this film and decided it was an unreleasable mess. AIP recut the movie and eliminated the scenes of Reptilicus flying across the countryside on the grounds that these scenes looked silly. When you consider how silly the rest of the movie is those scenes must have been truly amazing. I’m not sure if the optical effects (with Reptilicus spitting green slime) were original or were added by AIP. Either way they’re horrifically crude.

The monster itself is very feeble indeed. The most effective scene is the chaos on the opening bridge scene which is the one moment in the film that comes close to being scary. The scene in which the monster gets torched by a flamethrower is accompanied by such screams of agony that you’re probably going to start feeling sorry for poor old Reptilicus.

The acting is remarkably poor even by low-budget monster movie standards.

Producer-director Sidney Pink was a film-maker in the Ed Wood mould. He had considerable ambitions but his talents proved woefully inadequate to the realisation of those ambitions. Journey to the Seventh Planet, his other US-Danish co-production made around the same time as Reptilicus, is an interesting but entertaining failure and is worth seeing. Pink co-wrote the screenplay to Reptilicus with Ib Melchior, with whom he collaborated on the incredibly cheesy but fun The Angry Red Planet. Pink, like Ed Wood, was always hampered by extremely low budgets so it’s hard to know whether he could have made better movies if he’d ever managed to get his hands on some real money.

Shout! Factory and Timeless Media have included Reptilicus in their Movies 4 You - More Sci-Fi Classics release. This offers four movies on a single disc at a ludicrously low price. The transfer of Reptilicus is acceptable. Given the film’s ultra-low budget it probably never looked much better than this.

This is a very bad movie indeed, but it’s so comprehensively and spectacularly bad that one can’t help being fascinated. In its own inept and bungling way Reptilicus really is kind of fun. It’s the sort of movie you have to see for yourself - no description can adequately prepare you for it. Recommended for lovers of heavy duty cheesiness.

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