Reptilicus (1962) Reptilicus (1962) -****Ĺ

     Sid Pink. You donít hear that name much anymore, but itís definitely one to look out for. His output isnít terribly voluminous, but this guy had a hand in the creation of some the strangest movies of all time. The man was an auteur-- a producer first and foremost, but one who often directed and wrote (or at least developed the plot outlines for) his films-- though he also collaborated with equally warped filmmakers like Ib Melchior and Arch Oboler, also all-but-forgotten names to look out for. But possibly his greatest claim to fame was the energy he poured into devising new visual gimmicks to give his movies some point of distinction from everything else on the screen. He got his start in this department early, serving as associate producer on Obolerís Bwana Devil, Hollywoodís first feature-length 3-D movie. He also helped Melchior dream up the twisted visual aesthetic of The Angry Red Planet. By now, youíve probably figured out that Sid Pink is also the man behind Reptilicus, which would have been far and away the loopiest giant monster rampage film ever, had Noriaki Yuasa and Nisan Takahashi not gotten it into their heads to invent the Gamera series. And true to form, it also has some signature Sid Pink visual gimmickry, including an insane effort to duplicate the look of slow-motion photography without springing for the expense of a slow-motion camera and a few special optical effects that simply beggar description.

     So just how loopy is Reptilicus? Well, try this on for size. First of all, Pink made this movie for American International Pictures, shooting in Copenhagen, Denmark, with an all-Danish cast and a nearly all-Danish crew, presumably in order to keep costs down. You may have a hard time deciding whether or not the dialogue is dubbed; it certainly sounds dubbed, but on the other hand, it also really looks like the actors are speaking English. It turns out that both the impressions of your eyes and those of your ears are correct. Yes, the actors are speaking English, and yes, the dialogue is dubbed. This is because not a single one of the people Pink cast for his movie spoke any English at all! The actors simply memorized their lines phonetically, and delivered them on the set without the slightest idea what they were actually saying. The resulting soundtrack was such a disaster that Pinkís bosses stateside demanded that he hire a new cast back home to loop every single word of dialogue, but even this didnít quite solve the problem. In order to keep their words matched up with the obvious English of the actorsí mouth movements, the people hired to overdub were forced to mimic the extremely bizarre cadence with which the original (non-English-speaking) cast delivered their lines. Secondly, wait Ďtil you see the damn monster. Reptilicus himself is a sort of snakey, dragony thing about 150-200 feet long, with either two or four legs that are scarcely worthy of the name and a pair of equally useless wings a little ways back from his shoulders. (Ever heard of a condition called phocomelia? It means ďseal limbedĒ and it is the technical name for the birth defect that characterized most of the thalidomide babies. Essentially, a person with phocomelia has no arms/legs; the hands/feet pretty much articulate directly with the shoulders/hips. Reptilicus is a phocomeliac.) Heís sort of scaly and slimy and shaggy at the same time, and his best attack is his ability to vomit corrosive green slime for a distance of at least a couple thousand feet.

     And where exactly does such a monster come from? Why, heís some kind of prehistoric beastie, of course, awakened by accident when he was freed from his icy tomb. The icy tomb in question is a frozen stratum of earth deep under the ground in Lapland (the far north of Finland and the adjacent region of Russia, for the geographically challenged among you). As the movie begins, a mining engineer named Svend (who will stubbornly hang around for the full duration of the movie, despite the fact that he has served his entire narrative purpose within the first three minutes) is drilling core samples in the hope of finding copper when his drill brings up something very strange indeed. When the drill is lifted out of the ground, the spaces between the threads of the drill-bit are filled, not with the expected mineral sediment, but with scraps of bloody, leathery meat. Subsequent excavation, under the direction of biologists Otto Martens (Asbjorn Andersen) and Peter Dalby (Poul Wildaker), reveals the presence of a gigantic frozen carcass trapped in the permafrost. Eventually, the scientists manage to free and sever a section of tail about eight feet long. As Martens explains, the truly exciting thing about this discovery is the fact that the frozen carcass is that of a reptile of an unknown species, rather than the woolly mammoths and other mammals that generally find themselves preserved in ice.

     A funny thing happens while Martens and Dalby are studying the tail, though. Through a mechanism too contrived to bother explaining, the tail is accidentally thawed out. Normally, this would mean the very rapid decomposition of the soft tissues, and thus the pissing away of much of the findís importance. But for some reason, this does not happen. Instead, far from rotting away, the tissues of the tail section return to life and begin regenerating. Given the extremely aberrant nature of this development, the scientistsí decision to place the tail in a nutrient bath in the hope of accelerating the process is, perhaps, understandable. After all, whoíd have thought that the tail would grow a whole new animal, and that that animal would break loose, eat Dr. Dalby, and proceed to destroy Copenhagen?

     But that is exactly what happens. The monster escapes from the laboratory where it was being kept (doing a considerable amount of damage in the process) and then makes its way to the sea. Along the way, it is intercepted by the Danish army (which, oddly enough, is being commanded by an American brigadier general-- the least exalted kind of general there is), and proves all but immune to its machine guns and 105mm howitzers. But fortunately, somebody had the presence of mind to bring a flamethrower, and fire turns out to be something that Reptilicus doesnít like one little bit. After getting hosed down with burning gasoline, the monster high-tails it into the water to escape.

     The only problem is that, because the beast has already demonstrated formidable powers of regeneration, itís clearly only a matter of time before it recovers from its burns and comes back ashore to wreak havoc. So Mark Grayson, the American general, sends the Danish navy (?!) out with submarine chasers to depth-charge the bastard to death. Hmmm... now where have I seen this before? Was it Godzilla: King of the Monsters? Was it Gorgo? Was it Varan the Unbelievable? Was it all of the above? And how much good did it do to depth-charge the monsters in those movies? Yeah , thatís what I thought. And in this case, depth charges are likely to be actively counterproductive, in that the possibility exists that a direct hit might blast a hunk of tissue off of the monsterís body, a hunk of tissue that could be expected to grow into another monster. Fortunately, Dr. Martens brings that possibility to Graysonís attention, but by then, itís much too late-- one of the charges has already severed one of Reptilicusís feet.

     At this point Reptilicus settles into a Godzilla-like career of destroying passing ships for no apparent reason. Then, it decides to come ashore again to pulverize Copenhagen. I love this scene. I swear to you, Iíve never seen so many extras fleeing down the street to the tune of such overwrought music in my entire B-movie-watching life. And to make it that much better, there are innumerable shots in which the fleeing innocents are covered over by badly-animated dollops of Reptilicusís lime-green, acidic vomit. Not only that, there are even a couple of shots in which Reptilicus grabs and eats somebody, an effect that is accomplished by means of splicing in an obvious still photo of the victim, cropped to fit in the part of the screen between the monsterís jaws and then animated! All this and the destruction of a beautiful model Copenhagen, whose buildings look quite realistic until Reptilicus touches them and they bend and wobble... what more could you ask for?

     Well,okay, you could ask for outrageous bad acting, but guess what... Reptilicus has that too! Carl Ottosen (or perhaps more to the point, the man who overdubbed his dialogue) is particularly impressive as General Mark Grayson. His performance literally becomes more wooden with each successive line. By the end of the film, heís pure stuttering bombast, in the same league as the worst voice acting from dubbed anime or kaiju eiga. None of the other actors (or dubbers) are quite as ridiculous as Ottosen (or his voice-over guy), but none of them are exactly good, either.

     The last point I want to make about Reptilicus concerns my absolute certainty that the makers of War of the Gargantuas/Furankenshutain no Kaiju: Sanda tai Gaira saw it at least half a dozen times before beginning work on their own movie. Both films feature monsters grown from a severed body-part of another monster. In both films, the efforts to destroy the monsters hinge on the problem of doing so without scattering about fragments of living tissue for fear of creating hundreds or even thousands of new monsters. Though the creatures in the two movies have radically different body plans, both Reptilicus and the Gargantuas have that same curious combination of scaliness, shagginess, and sliminess. Finally, both movies are inexplicably interrupted by the performances of god-awful female lounge singers. At least in Reptilicus there is some semblance of an excuse for this jarring interlude, in that it happens during General Graysonís night out on the town with Dr. Martensís new American assistant (see if you can watch this scene and the lead-up to it without getting the impression that the Copenhagen Board of Tourism ponied up at least half of the money for this flick); the corresponding scene in War of the Gargantuas is a complete non-sequitur.

 

 

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