‘What strange power made her half woman – half snake?’
The Reptile is a 1965 [released 1966] British horror feature film directed by John Gilling (back-to-back with The Plague of the Zombies) from a screenplay by John Elder [Anthony Hinds]. The Hammer Film production stars Noel Willman, Jennifer Daniel, Ray Barrett and Jacqueline Pearce.
At the turn of the 20th century in the fictional village of Clagmoor Heath in Cornwall locals are dying from what is deemed to be the “Black Death”.
Harry Spalding (Ray Barrett) inherits his late brother’s cottage and arrives with his new bride, Valerie (Jennifer Daniel). The inhabitants of the village keep clear of the newly arrived couple, and only the publican, Tom Bailey (Michael Ripper), befriends them. Bailey explains that the hostility exhibited by local people is the result of many mysterious deaths in the community.
The sinister Doctor Franklyn (Noel Willman), the owner of the nearby Well House, is the only resident in the vicinity of the cottage, and he lives with his daughter Anna (Jacqueline Pearce). The Doctor treats his daughter with cruel contempt, and she is attended by a silent Malay servant (Marne Maitland).
Hoping to learn something about the deaths, Harry invites the local eccentric, Mad Peter (John Laurie), home for dinner. After warning them that their lives are in danger, Mad Peter quickly departs only to return later that evening foaming at the mouth, with his face blackened and swollen. He dies within a few minutes. The Spaldings attempt to alert Doctor Franklyn, but Franklyn arrogantly states that Peter’s death is not his concern…
“In her few appearances as herself, Pearce offers a gloriously sensual performance which, together with Gilling’s controlled direction and alluring imagery, constitutes the highlight of the uneven, but cinematically seductive, picture.” The Aurum Film Encyclopedia: Horror
“The usual veiled warnings and something nasty up at the manor house, quite neatly done in this case.” Howard Maxford, The A – Z of Horror Films, Batsford, 1996
” …The Reptile’s production team obviously realised that when you’re lumbered with making a horror movie that has no distinctive stars, no attention-grabbing new concept, and a special effects budget that doesn’t stretch much beyond one questionable monster suit, your best bet is to fall back on more old fashioned virtues. Y’know – like tight scripting, solid acting, and that old chestnut… atmosphere.” Breakfast in the Ruins
“Pessimistic doom hangs over this Hammer film […] Standard monster stuff, but well done. John Stanley, Creature Features
“It was a shrewd move on John Gilling’s part […] to make the majority of the creature’s appearances sudden and shadowy. Unfortunately, no such reticence would be shown by poster designers and stills photographers. Jacqueline Pearce, in another splendidly intense performance, transcends the make-up by investing the Reptile with an aptly sinuous grace…” Jonathan Rigby, English Gothic, Reynold & Hearn, 2004 (third edition)
“The make-up from Roy Ashton is excellent, and John Gilling directs John Elder’s script with pace and fire. Jacqueline Pearce is cold and distant here…” Andy Boot, Fragments of Fear, Creation Books, 1996
” …it is one of the company’s most underrated fantasies. It was a rare attempt by Hammer to create a “new” monster and a female one at that…”Tom Johnson and Deborah Del Vecchio, Hammer Films: An Exhaustive Filmography, McFarland, 1996
“Taut and tense Hammer offering directed with considerable style by John Gilling and benefitting from excellent performances, make-up and art direction.” Alan Frank, The Horror Film Handbook, Batsford, 1982
“Muted in terms of on-screen action and horror, and ending conventionally with a cathartic fire, this movie may lack the blood and cleavage of Hammer’s better known works, but fine performances and beautifully nuanced direction mark it as a quality production all round. The effectively rainy, ambient backdrop proves perfect for a steadily unfolding plot full of strange deaths and gloomy exhumations.” Steven West, The Shrieking Sixties: British Horror Films 1960 – 1969
“This isn’t a film simply about the gothic horror of the situation presented but is instead an interesting look at the dark and evil nature brought about by the unperturbed paternal love. The mystery and the goings on to do indeed surround the Franklyn’s but there’s really no doubt that all the action that ensues is down to the Doctor protecting his daughter.” The Spooky Isles
“Shades of Kurt Neumann’s The Fly (1958) here‚ and another stellar production from Hammer Films. Jacqueline Pearce is very good as the ill-fated girl.” The Terror Trap
“As he did with The Plague of the Zombies, director John Gilling creates a memorable chiller within the confines of a second-feature status and a limited budget…” Gary A. Smith, Uneasy Dreams, McFarland, 2000
Scream Factory released Hammer’s The Reptile (1965) on Blu-ray on July 30, 2019.
Presented in two aspect ratios – 1.66:1 and 1.85:1
New audio commentary by film historians Steve Haberman, Constantine Nasr and Ted Newsom
New interview with first assistant director William P. Cartlidge
The Serpent’s Tale – The Making of The Reptile
World of Hammer – Wicked Women
Cast and characters:
Noel Willman … Doctor Franklyn
Jennifer Daniel … Valerie Spalding
Ray Barrett … Harry George Spalding
Jacqueline Pearce … Anna Franklyn
Michael Ripper … Tom Bailey
John Laurie … Mad Peter
Marne Maitland … The Malay
David Baron … Charles Edward Spalding
Charles Lloyd Pack … The Vicar
Harold Goldblatt … The Solicitor
George Woodbridge … Old Garnsey
Jim O’Brady … Pub Patron (uncredited)
Ernie Rice … Man in Pub (uncredited)
The Reptile began filming on 13th September 1965 and finished on 22nd October 1965. The Cornish village set was the same one created for The Plague of the Zombies at Bray Studios. Oakley Court was used for the shots of the exterior of the manor.
Image credits: Wrong Side of the Art!