In The Spooklight: REPTILICUS!
Just saw MONSTERS this week, and we’ve got SKYLINE coming up soon, so I’ve got giant monsters on the mind. This column first appeared in the HWA NEWSLETTER in November 2008, on the silly Danish film REPTILICUS from 1962.
—Michael Arruda, 11/4/10
IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: REPTILICUS (1962)
By Michael Arruda
It’s so bad it’s good.
There aren’t a lot of genres where this statement is true. Horror films are one of them.
Sometimes the brain can recognize everything wrong with a movie, but the heart is somehow won over.
REPTILICUS (1962), that rarity of rarities, a giant monster movie not from Japan but from— Denmark?— for example, is a god-awful movie, weak every which way you slice it, but somehow, when all is said and done, and you’ve finished watching it, the flick is, dare I say it, charming?
Let’s examine this strange phenomenon.
For starters, REPTILICUS sports your standard giant monster movie plot. The frozen tail of a giant prehistoric beast is unearthed and then accidentally thawed out by scientists. The biological term regeneration is pressed to its limits as the entire creature regenerates from just its tail. It then escapes from the laboratory and goes on a rampage, terrorizing Denmark.
The special effects are ridiculously poor. The “fire” spit out by the giant reptile is obviously scratched into the film a la someone’s backyard film project. And the monster itself is about as real looking as something you’d find in the discount toy aisle at Wal Mart.
Yet, somehow, this all works to the movie’s advantage. The look of the title creature, Reptilicus, is unique. Hey, I have to give credit where credit is due. You just don’t see too many movie monsters looking like Reptilicus, and I suppose the look of the creature is part of the movie’s charm.
Reptilicus looks less like a dinosaur and more like a dragon—albeit a dragon with just a long neck and no body. Where is the creature’s body? It’s hardly ever seen, as most shots simply show the neck and head moving from behind buildings. The monster is obviously a puppet, and looks like something created by the late Jim Henson’s evil twin.
And when we do see the body, it rolls along the ground like a giant wind-up toy.
And then there’s that wild sound that Reptilicus makes, like a car in serious need of transmission fluid. The creature also sports wings, and rumor has it that in some prints it even flies!
The dialogue and the acting are so bad you’ll be laughing out loud.
In all seriousness, the movie does include a terrific stunt, as panicked bicyclists plunge from a drawbridge into the sea while fleeing from the rampaging puppet monster. Supposedly, real bicyclists were paid to ride off the bridge into the water.
The movie also has a great over-the-top dramatic music score.
So, why is a movie like this worth the time of any serious horror writer? The obvious reason is that it never hurts to see what NOT to do. But I think a better reason is sometimes, you just have to let loose and have fun and watch something so bad it’s good.
What’s interesting here, is that REPTILICUS is a movie that obviously doesn’t work the way it was intended. Director Sidney Pink didn’t set out to make a bad movie. Still, REPTILICUS is a bad movie—a bad movie that works, just not in the way it was intended to work. It works because in spite of it blatant flaws, it’s entertaining.
REPTILICUS is not a movie you’d want to study, but as a student of the horror genre, it is one you’d want to see, at least once. This way you’ll understand why GODZILLA and KING KONG are part of our popular culture, while REPTILICUS is just a maniacal dragon puppet with wings.
© Copyright 2008 by Michael Arruda