You might remember John Gilling from The Plague of the Zombies, a 1966 Hammer horror film; his other offering, TheReptile,was shot around the same time, and its close thematic resonance to Hammer’s vampire films of the same time period certainly stands out. The film, about Harry (Ray Barrett) and Valerie Spalding (Jennifer Daniel) moving into a purportedly cursed house previously owned by Harry’s deceased brother, relies on many of the same elements of the undead bloodsuckers: a creepy manse, an older man hiding a secret, and a neckbiting monster. But this time around its a young woman named Anna (Jacqueline Pearce) turned snake-girl who is summoned to do evil, and Harry and Valerie have to fend for themselves to discover the dangerous secret that has caused multiple deaths about town.
As previously stated, The Reptile is basically a vampire film on every level except for the monster itself, something that Hammer had nearly perfected throughout its early filmography. Here, Gilling directs with quite a slow pacing, allowing the viewer to meet Harry and Valerie as they experience the rather unwelcoming town atmosphere. Curiously, most of the town seems to understand that Harry’s brother’s abode is part of the curse, but they never really accuse Dr. Franklyn (Noel Willman) and his daugher Anna of witchcraft and debauchery. However, the film inches towards its revelations as Harry notices multiple people infected with a neck bite that turns its victims black with venom – something he’s seen in India previously due to snakebite.
The Reptile is a little too poorly paced for its own good, something that keeps it from conjuring up an atmosphere of dread; instead, it often feels like the audience is waiting for the characters to catch up, rather than vice versa, and there aren’t many shocking reveals throughout. There are a couple suspenseful moments as the reptile lies in wait, but ultimately The Reptile relies on its mood more than scares and that proves to be difficult to sustain. Willman, though, gets a chance to shine as an impossibly cranky old man who creates more than a few awkward situations due to his outbursts. He’s a true highlight of the film, as is the beautiful Pearce, who adds a lot of charm and warmth when she’s in human form.
The film is one of Hammer’s weaker entries, though. It’s quite possible its spooks were effective at the time of its release, but the pacing and lack of surprises are serious detriments to its enjoyment. This one certainly slithers under the radar in terms of Hammer’s finest, but it should attract those interested in a somewhat unique change of pace.
The Reptile comes to Blu-ray thanks to Scream Factory, who appear to be using a previously existing transfer released by Anolis on a German Blu-ray. You may note that StudioCanal also released a Blu-ray of the film, albeit with a significantly brighter image than either Scream Factory’s or Anolis’. This reviewer certainly prefers the darker, moodier approach, and StudioCanal’s brightness tended to reveal too much in darker scenes. With that said, this Scream Factory Blu-ray transfer, presented in 1.85:1, looks good with a minimal grain presence, well-defined if less vibrant colors, and a good attention to detail that reveals a bit of softness in wider shots. There’s probably some room for improvement in the transfer but the previously existing version was good enough to not require it, and those who don’t already own either of the two previous Blu-rays should find this acceptable.
Audio on this is a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track and sounds quite good with minimal amounts of hiss and no audio drop-outs. English subtitles are also included.
New extra features are limited on this, but Scream Factory did manage to get an interview with William P. Cartlidge (assistant direct0r), who discusses various aspects of production and some behind-the-scenes stories for about 20 minutes. Also new to this release is an audio commentary with your requisite film historians Steve Haberman, Ted Newsom, and Constantine Nasr. Like Lust for a Vampire, Scream Factory has included the 1.66:1 version of this film as well (purportedly released as such in the UK), although this contains lossy Dolby Digital sound.
Previously available features have also been ported over for this release including a making-of featurette, the World of Hammer episode “Wicked Women,” trailers, TV spots, and still and poster galleries. Reversible cover artwork is also included.
NEW Interview with William P. Cartlidge (HD; 21:39)
NEW Reversible cover artwork
NEW Audio commentary with Steve Haberman, Ted Newsom, and Constantine Nasr
The Serpent’s Tail: The Making of The Reptile (HD; 22:45)
The World of Hammer: “Wicked Women” (HD, not restored; 24:52)
Trailers (HD, not restored; 6:33)
TV spot (HD, not restored; 0:23)
Still gallery (No chapter breaks; 3:48)
Poster and lobby card gallery (No chapter breaks; 4:51)
Anolis Entertainment German Blu-ray
Audio commentary with Dr. Rolf Giesen and Volker Kronz (German)
Video commentary with Dr. Rolf Giesen and Volker Kronz (English)
For those that don’t already own a version of The Reptile on Blu-ray, this Scream Factory Blu-ray is definitely worth a pick-up provided the film itself sounds interesting to you. It’s not one of Hammer’s best, but it’s also not poisonous enough to stay away from.
While The Reptile doesn't suck, it's also not a slithering success for Hammer. But this Scream Factory Blu-ray has a solid (albeit previously available) transfer and some nice features.