Reptilicus: Blood and tundra

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ReptilicusReptilicus directed by Sidney PinkReptilicus directed by Sidney Pink

I never got to see the 1961 monster outing Reptilicus when I was a child, and so have nothing in the way of nostalgic attachment as regards the film. Thus, when I watched the movie for the first time a few nights back, it was with the cold, hard objectivity of an aging baby-boomer adult. The result was an entertaining evening, but one that would have been infinitely more enjoyable had I been watching within the pleasant aura of a fondly remembered youth. Reptilicus is today perhaps best known as the only giant monster movie to have ever come out of Denmark, of all places. As it turns out, the picture is decidedly inferior to the giant monster movies that had been all the rage ever since the U.S. released the granddaddy of all such films, The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (one of this viewer’s all-time faves) in 1953, and Japan released the seminal Gojira the following year. Whereas Beast had featured stunning stop-motion animation from the great Ray Harryhausen, and Gojira had spotlighted director Ishiro Honda and Toho Studios’ artful way with what would soon be an entire subgenre, the “kaiju eiga” film, Reptilicus gives us a monster that is brought to life with very inferior FX (basically, the monster here is a clunkily moving puppet). Still, the picture DOES yet have something to offer to fans of this genre.

In the film, a Danish copper miner working in Lapland, Svend (hunky blonde dude Bent Mejding), manages to drill up the bloody remains of a dinosaur tail that had been buried deep below the frozen tundra. The prehistoric fragment is brought to the Danish Aquarium in Copenhagen, where Professor Martens (Asbjorn Andersen) and his assistant, Dr. Dalby (Poul Wildaker), begin to study it. After an accident of casual stoopidity, the tail gets unfrozen and begins to regenerate and grow. Ultimately, an entire new creature manages to be reborn, which easily escapes from the aquarium and begins to do what giant monsters do best: terrorize the populace and lay waste to the surrounding area! The monstrous threat is combated by not only the professors, but by granite-jawed, growly-voiced American general Mark Grayson (Carl Ottosen) and the entire might of the Danish Army and Navy. But can all their guns, flamethrowers and bombs avail against the menace … especially when that menace can regenerate itself from any pieces that are blown off of it? How do you say “What a conundrum” in Danish?

Reptilicus directed by Sidney Pink“A laughable sub-Japanese monster” is what my beloved Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film calls Reptilicus, and it is indeed very difficult for any viewer to argue with that assessment. Unlike the Beast and Gojira, this monster reveals very little in the way of personality and is decidedly unmenacing, despite the green “acid slime” that it is apt to belch out when annoyed. When the Beast looked directly into the camera, it was chilling; when Gojira appeared in close-up, it was intimidating and awesome. Reptilicus, unfortunately, engenders no such emotions; only giggles. The film itself is only 90 minutes long and yet comes padded with goofy comedy segments (provided mainly by dopey aquarium guard Petersen, played by Dirch Passer; get a load of him as he sticks his hand into the electric eel tank!), a travelogue around Copenhagen (which does admittedly look like a gorgeous city to visit) that might just as well have been put together by the Danish Tourist Board, AND a musical number by real-life chantootsie Birthe Wilke, singing “Tivoli Nights” in a swanky nightclub.

The monster here is not shown until a good 40 minutes into the picture, which delay would have infuriated me no end as a child (in Beast, we get to see the monster after only 10 minutes of screen time). The acting in the film is pretty lousy, and is hardly abetted by producer/director Sidney Pink’s uninspired staging. Besides the lackluster creature FX, there is also some bona fide animation to be had here (the green slime; the sight of one victim being scooped into Reptilicus’ gaping maw) … of a very low-grade order, unfortunately. Perhaps worst of all, we never get a good, solid, establishing shot of the monster in question; I still don’t know if Reptilicus has legs or not, or if it merely slithers along the ground.

Fortunately, there IS some good news to be had here. The film provides the viewer with some nice eye candy in the form of no fewer than three lovely ladies: Martens’ two daughters, Lise (Ann Smyrner) and Karen (Mimi Heinrich), not to mention UNESCO representative Connie (Marla Behrens). The segment in which the fleeing populace of Copenhagen runs over the slowly opening Langebro Bridge, and several fall into the water below, looks absolutely fantastic and realistic; a fairly awesome display! Actually, the entire picture looks terrific, and only the scenes with Reptilicus itself look phony and disappointing. I also liked the film’s final, ominous shot, predictable as it may have been.

Bottom line: This is a fairly likable film, unquestionably subpar when compared to many others of the era, but still perfect fare to watch with your 8-year-old nephew. And if Reptilicus itself doesn’t go into the pantheon of greatest screen monsters of all time, it remains at least the greatest DANISH monster of its era … until, of course, Torben Bille appeared as the monstrous little-person Olaf in the 1973 Danish sleaze classic The Sinful Dwarf. But that’s another story entirely…


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SANDY FERBER, on our staff since April 2014 (but hanging around here since November 2012), is a resident of Queens, New York and a product of that borough's finest institution of higher learning, Queens College. After a "misspent youth" of steady and incessant doses of Conan the Barbarian, Doc Savage and any and all forms of fantasy and sci-fi literature, Sandy has changed little in the four decades since. His favorite author these days is H. Rider Haggard, with whom he feels a strange kinship -- although Sandy is not English or a manored gentleman of the 19th century -- and his favorite reading matter consists of sci-fi, fantasy and horror... but of the period 1850-1960. Sandy is also a devoted buff of classic Hollywood and foreign films, and has reviewed extensively on the IMDb under the handle "ferbs54." Film Forum in Greenwich Village, indeed, is his second home, and Sandy at this time serves as the assistant vice president of the Louie Dumbrowski Fan Club....

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8 comments

  1. To my horror, when I Googled “The Sinful Dwarf” I discovered that you were not being facetious. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0070696/plotsummary?ref_=tt_ov_pl

    • sandy ferber /

      Perhaps next Shocktober, Marion, I will post a full review here of the horror-filled depravity known as “The Sinful Dwarf.” The film is most definitely NOT for the faint of heart….

  2. Hvad en gåde.

    Reptilicus: good B-grade fun with a rubber snake.

    • sandy ferber /

      But the big question for me, Becky, was: Does that rubber snake come equipped with legs or flippers? I really couldn’t tell….

  3. The Mystery Science Theather 3000 reboot has an episode dedicated to Reptilicus. It’s rather cheese-o-licious. Peterson’s overalls-laden-Danish slapstick was risen to cult status.

    • sandy ferber /

      That must have been pretty hilarious, Jason. But my big problem with “MST3K” is that I always want to see those cheezy oddities straight and unadulterated….

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