The Reptile
Director: John Gilling

aka, SSSSNAKE. 1973
Director: Bernard L. Kowalski

Director: Robert Sidaway

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

There are films, some so very lame that I don't care ever to see them again, that nevertheless stick in mind months, years, or even decades after having seen them. Versus films I seemed to have liked a lot but can't even a week later remember much about them.

Why some things slip into the long-term memory & others never get past the short-term sometimes feels random rather than to do with quality. But today I am thinking about some films seen in the past, with at least little bits that stick in mind as interesting.

The ReptileSo here are some lingering impressions of films taking up varying amounts of my memory's space, having in common only that they return to mind, whether or not they merit recollection.

A 1960s drive-in cheapie from Hammer that sticks in mind is The Reptile (1966) about a young woman, Anna Franklyn (Jacqueline Pearce), who is cursed by an East Indian cultist, so that she periodically becomes a snake-headed creature with a desire to inject cobra venom into people.

I was just a kid so I couldn't remember if it was really any good but what remained of it in my memory made it seem moody & effective. The more I tried to draw it back to clearer thought, the dumber it seemed it must've been.

Yet it lingered in mind as thrilling & suspenseful to my not-yet-jaded kid-self. I had to see it again to find out more certainly if it had sufficient merits to justify sticking to my memory. And it definitely had at least the nostalgic power of some of the better Hammer cheapies.

It's a gaslit tale that starts right off with a victim, Charles Spalding (David Baron), bitten from the shadows, turning black in the face, frothing at the mouth, & tumbling down a staircase to death. We don't quite see what bit him, & we won't see the creature clearly for over an hour.

In the meantime, Charles heir, his brother George Spalding (Ray Barrett) & his new bride Valery (Jennifer Daniel), move to the village of gloomy, reticent, unfriendly sods, & take up residence in Charles' attractive little cottage across the moor from Dr. Franklyn's manor house.

George befriends the publican Tom Bailey (Michael Ripper), the only chap who'll talk to him, as folks "don't like strangers in these parts." Together they set out to solve the mystery of the horrific deaths.

In a day-for-night sequence that seems merely to be day, they dig up "Mad Peter" (John Laurie, who gives a very antic performance with putty nose before being bitten) then George's brother, finding the enormous cobra bites on each corpse, which no one ever before bothered to notice before burial, blaming the weird deaths stupidly on "the black plague."

Valery is befriended by Anna Spalding, a sweet girl who at first shows no signs of her curse. Still, she was apparently a nutter even before the curse, since it's in her "normal" state that she takes posession of the neighbors' pets & keeps them locked up in her private menagerie (which oddly enough she really loves & doesn't eat them).

Her appealing nature is used by the racistly imagined "oriental villain" from Borneo, though called "The Malay" (Marne Maitland), who not only transformed the girl into a monster but uses her innocent/needy aspect to bait further victims into the cobra's lair.

Her daddy (Noel Willman) is a doctor of divinity who earned the curse upon his daughter before the story begins, while journeying about India & Southeast Asia ferretting out the secret rituals of furtive cults that disliked his nosiness.

The Malay became the family "servant" but when prying eyes were not about, he was obviously their master. The only reason daddy doesn't kill the bastard is because then the curse would never be lifted, though the evidence is it never will be anyway.

Nothing Dr. Franklyn does quite makes any sense unless we assume he's a nutter too. When in the climax he decides to provide a "Gothic romance" style burning of the mansion, he for reasons impenetrable decides Valery should be locked up in the house to burn along with the family.

The total amount of time the Creature is on screen is very brief, but the make-up effect is quite nice if a little too obviously an affixed appliance, apparently without actual eye-holes as Jacqueline Pearce's acting becomes rather blind whenever the gigantic snake eyeballs are present. She's a cool monster for all the limitations of the monster make-up, though a little too easily defeated by a chill.

On the same dvd release was a little documentary, World of Hammer: "Vamp" (1994). Oliver Reed is the narrator for the minimally informative text, as we are guided through a collection of clips of the best vampire moments of many Hammer films. It's one of thirteen half-hour promotional programs.

It does make all these films look a lot better than they were to focus on the mintue or two of kitschy cool stuff, & the run-down of Hammer's many Lady Vampires was especially nice. Seems it would've been a more appropriate featurette included with one of the vampire films instead of a cobra-creature, though the cobra did also leave two puncture wounds in necks.

SssssssWhen I brought Reptile up with fellow horror dorks, before having seen it again myself, I was pretty firmly informed it was not that good, that I'd probably be disappointed. A lot of stuff I liked as a widdo kid turns out to be pretty great classic stuff, but sometimes something truly abysmal made a positive impression.

In this case my fellow fans seemed to have gotten it wrong, as it turned out I did rather like Reptile on adult re-viewing. But I'm pretty sure my fellow filmfans were remembering things askew, & they were actually thinking of an altogether different horror movie, absurdly titled Sssssss; aka, Ssssnake (1973).

That was one I'd seen & utterly forgotten, but did get a chance to see it again on a local television station. While it can easily be dismissed as cheap & awful, & seeing it on free-tv with commercial breaks worsens it, I even so got a kick out of it.

A mad scientist (Strother Martin) with a specialty in herpetology cooks up a potion that turns men into snakes, which he believes will be better suited to survival in the future when environmental damage will make it hard for ordinary men to survive. It's not much of a rationale, but he's a nutter after all.

His first experiment results in his lab assistant (Noble Craig) turned into a half-snake valuable to the nearest carnival owner (Tim O'Connor). who already has a seal boy (Felix Silla) & a two-nosed man (Charlie Fox) in his wonderfully lame carnival.

The wackily upbeat scientist hopes for a more complete transformation in his second try, so hires another doomed young man (Dirk Benedict), for whom his daughter (Heather Menzies) falls.

Enough sympathy is generated for the unfortunate young couple that it really isn't that bad a film, as no-budget junk goes. In deciding on a "climax" that requires of all things a mongoose to overcome the monster, I couldn't tell if the filmmakers knew that was silly.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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