Charles (David Baron) returns to his Cragmore Heath cottage, Larkrise, in the dead of night and is attacked by something that bolts at him from behind a bedroom door. As he’s laid to rest in the small, superstitious village, his soldier brother Harry (Ray Barrett) takes leave to finalise his late sibling’s affairs. In other words, he plans to move himself and his wife Valerie (Jennifer Daniel) into Charles’ cottage without delay.

Harry and Valerie take the train to Cragmore hoping to find out more about the mysterious circumstances in which Charles died and, of course, make his former home their own. What they find when they arrive there is a village that is all but deserted, save for locals who either tell them the place is evil or are reluctant to talk to them at all ("we don’t like strangers here" the landlord of the local pub advises).

Despite everyone’s very apparent reservations, Harry is insistent that they are to move in to Larkrise cottage. Sure enough, when they finally arrive at their new home, they’re delighted with what they find … until they walk through the front door and discover the place has been trashed.

While Harry returns to the pub to challenge the locals over this discovery, Valerie tidies up and is startled by a visit from the wooden Dr Franklyn (Noel Willman). He’s an unfriendly type who’s looking for his daughter Anna (Jacqueline Pearce). They live in the huge house next door, it transpires.

With the help of the ramblings of local nutjob Peter (John Laurie, providing – unsurprisingly – a little light relief), Harry and Valerie begin to suspect something very fishy is afoot in the village, and that it all has something to do with Charles’ untimely death.

When Peter turns up foaming at the mouth in the dead of night, Harry vows to investigate further. Meanwhile, the locals begin dying in similarly elusive circumstances.

As the investigations heat up, Harry is encouraged by Franklyn to pack his bags and leave. But the beautiful Anna begs for him and Valerie to stay, and help her …

Shot back-to-back in 1965 with THE PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES using the same Cornish locations and Bray Studios sets, THE REPTILE was, like its companion piece, intended as a B-movie for Hammer to produce cheaply and release as second on a theatrical double-bill alongside RASPUTIN THE MAD MONK.

Despite coming in under budget (unlike PLAGUE, which went over budget) and originally being eclipsed commercially and critically by the likes of RASPUTIN and DRACULA PRINCE OF DARKNESS, THE REPTILE has stood the test of time to emerge as one of Hammer’s best horror films of the 1960s and the best thing scenarist-turned-director John Gilling ever made for them.

Fast-paced, stylish and genuinely exciting, the film is one of those that perfectly captures what B-movies in their prime used to be: cheaply produced quickies containing exploitative content in the hope of enticing audiences to see them, while simultaneously benefitting from makers and casts who were probably better than the material they were working with, but approached it with sincerity and gusto regardless.

Resultantly, THE REPTILE never comes across as anything less than a heartfelt attempt at thrilling its respected viewer. It succeeds, to this day. The period detail, costumes and lush landscape cinematography are all very welcome, of course. But it’s Gilling’s superbly paced storytelling and sustained tension that truly impress – as well as Pearce’s beguiling performance as the sympathetic monster.

If the creature make-up and FX are a little ropy by today’s standards, it matters not as the set-pieces still excite and the theme of medical-shenanigans-gone-wrong-in-a-Cornish-setting works just as well here, better even, than it does in Gilling’s similarly enjoyable THE PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES.

This blu-ray disc from Optimum/Studio Canal (being released as a 2-disc blu-ray/DVD combo pack) presents the film uncut in its original aspect ratio, in a 1080p HD transfer which has of course been enhanced for 16x9 television sets.

The MPEG4-AVC file contained herein is delectable. Some minor print damage in the opening moments notwithstanding, the print here is in extremely good nick – and, thankfully, the transfer is faithful to its filmic sources. Colours are natural and vivid without trace of over-enhancement. Light grain dances throughout, especially in exterior scenes, keeping excess noise reduction in check, in favour of a natural and pleasingly detailed picture presentation. Interior scenes are given new zest, their atmospheric lighting and rich palettes at times recalling the splendour of heyday Mario Bava.

English audio is presented in LPCM 48k stereo, and offers a solid problem-free playback throughout. Optional English subtitles for the Hard-of-Hearing are well-written and easy to make out at all times.

A colourful animated main menu page is boosted by excerpts from the film’s bombastic score as a montage of clips play out in sepia form. From there, pop-up menus include a scene-selection menu allowing access to the main feature via 12 chapters.

Extras commence with the excellent 22-minute featurette "The Serpent’s Tale". In it, Hammer historians Marcus Hearn, Jonathan Rigby, David Huckvale (discussing the film’s musical cues) and Wayne Kinsey all appear separately to collectively proffer a wealth of interesting trivia surrounding the film – how budgetary restrictions dictated that the titular creature would have to be a singular threat, rather than a group of reptiles as originally planned, etc. Mark Gatiss also turns up with his own thoughts, and expresses recognition with Hearn’s theory that the film could be read as a re-imagining of the werewolf myth. Entertainingly, he also reveals why moments of the film continue to disgust him to this day. Art director Don Mingaye offers a few brief recollections, while Jon Mann speaks about how well-preserved the original print already was when he was handed the task of restoring it to High Definition. This wonderful bonus feature is itself presented in 16x9 HD.

A window-boxed, standard definition episode of the awesome and sorely missed "World of Hammer" TV series focuses on ‘wicked women’. Oliver Reed narrates through this 25-minute gem, which takes in marvellous clips from THE REPTILE, DR JECKYL AND SISTER HYDE, COUNTESS DRACULA and more.

A 2-minute restoration featurette uses a split screen to present ‘before’ and ‘after’ visual comparisons.

Finally we get the film’s original 2-minute theatrical trailer in 16x9.

THE REPTILE is great entertainment, and a deceptively well-made film to boot. It’s one of Hammer’s best horror films of its period, and is served extremely well on this blu-ray disc.

Highly recommended.

Review by Stuart Willis

Released by Studiocanal
Region 2/B
Rated 18
Extras :
see main review