If THE REPTILE were akin to any film character, it would have to be the parasitic John Carpenter (played by Willem Dafoe) in Paul Schrader's AUTO FOCUS. In what is perhaps Schrader's greatest artistic success as a director, Dafoe's creepy video pioneer manages to get his kicks because of whom he knows, in this case TV star Bob Crane (Greg Kinnear) - a man never short of women, whose closest friend gets nookie by association.

Because it was made back-to-back with the marvellous PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES, on some of the same settings and with much of the same crew, the period horror THE REPTILE has been given a free pass by overzealous horror film revisionists. In truth, it is a substandard production of moderate appeal. Though it feels like it was made on PLAGUE's scraps - budgetary and imaginative - this is nonetheless a likeable little oddity. A deceptively sly film, THE REPTILE takes a dramatic departure from its companion piece, both in terms of its exotic undercurrent and the mythology it draws on.

Learning of his brother's death, Harry Spalding accepts the house that has been bequeathed to him in Cornwall. Shunned by the superstitious locals, Harry is warned to stay away by the pub landlord, Tom Bailey, in ominous if vague fashion. Undeterred, he moves into the old place with his wife, and tries to get to the bottom of his brother's sudden demise. Encountering an eccentric old man called Mad Peter, Harry learns of strange noises and even stranger goings on in the rural surroundings, confirmed later when he finds Peter foaming at the mouth with black stains all over his face and puncture marks on his neck. As he gets on friendly terms with Tom, the newcomer learns of a "Black Death". After exhuming his brother, Harry is appalled at the similar markings on the corpse. An invitation to the house of sinister Doctor Franklyn, who lives with his swarthy manservant and his troubled daughter Anna takes Harry to the heart of the secret, but the truth might be too much to bear.

A rushed and untidy film, THE REPTILE is far less polished than the Hammer films we might have become accustomed to, but it makes a refreshing break from convention. From the ramshackle beginning, in which the serpent infects the ill-fated Charles Spalding before he falls down a flight of stairs in overly dramatic fashion, the film's enthusiasm is disarming. But when the narrative slows down, the absolute lack of polish, colour and technical excellence becomes too apparent, which forces one to think about the making of the film. This is bad news for a film grounded on the classical rule that films should hide their style, in order for the viewer to get swept seamlessly into the fiction. In a later scene, in which the Spaldings quiz Mad Peter on just what is happening in the strange town, we can almost believe he's trying to remember his lines, due to the length of the pause. It's not easy to recover from such jarring moments. The actors at time look like something from a dress rehearsal, the direction is messy and lacking in precision, and the sets are at times so sparsely populated that 'eeriness' takes a back seat to 'impoverished.'

Lacking the quality we expect from Hammer fare, THE REPTILE thankfully gives us a few things that we might not have expected. Though drawing on the vampire genre, the title creature - which must go into hibernation and shed its skin - is an interesting variation. It's also an underdeveloped notion, given that the film revolves around mystery rather than action. We're inclined to think 'Whodunit' than demand more than a sketchy outline of an Indian cult that Franklyn has fallen foul of. Sadly, THE REPTILE is not a well-paced film: 45 minutes in, and people are still warning Harry and his wife away, the audience knowing little more than at the beginning of the film amid the slow burning narrative and general repetition. In spite of this, the film manages to wrong foot us at the very beginning by having a particular character standing next to the ill-fated Charles, implicating the person in the killing when in fact the real killer is slightly out of frame. This grooms us to accept the final revelation with some real surprise, even if the opening scene trickery is far less ingenuous (and much more dishonest) than the one seen in Argento's Italian horror masterwork, DEEP RED, which shows us something we don't even know we've seen.

Review by Matthew Sanderson

Released by Optimum
Region 2 - PAL
Rated 18
Extras :
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