I know this will sound outrageous, but in the long run I rather like best “the other” Hammer movies rather than the classic Dracula & Frankenstein flicks. Maybe it’s because the Dracula and Frankenstein movies I have seen so often that in the long run I know them by heart, while the less-well-known Hammer films still bring an element of surprise.
So, I’m going through the Hammer catalog, checking out the less well known flicks. After 1962’s Captain Clegg, two nights ago I spent ninety minutes with The Reptile, from 1966 (that in Italy was distributed as “La Morte Arriva Strisciando” … Death Comes Crawling).
The plot in three words: in a British country village, a string of mysterious deaths seem to point at a surge of the Black Death, but actually a sinister “doctor” Franklyn and his beautiful daughter are at the heart of the mystery.
The Reptile does not feature any big name from the Hammer cast, but we get quite a few of the regular supporting cast, starting with Michael Ripper in one of his usual support roles (as a publican, in this case); and of course we get newcomer Jacqueline Pearce as Anna Franklyn, that because of a Malay snake cult curse, has a tendency to turn into a snake woman.
And this is more or less all there is about it.
This is a slow-burning tragedy, and the film actually feels a lot longer than the 90 minutes it lasts, and by showing us a glimpse of the monster in the first minutes, well before the titles in fact, the director manages to build up the tension and the mystery, making a pretty lightweight plot work incredibly well.
The mix of horror, suspense and exoticism works, and we are also treated to a nice bit of sitar-playing (this being 1966, the sitar had not yet become widely popular via the Beatles).
Jacqueline Pearce is wonderful, and also is an actress cast for her beauty and then hidden beneath an ugly mask. Pearce suffered from claustrophobia, and the experience with the mask made her vow never again to work in a movie that required her to wear such make-up.
The movie was made back-to-back with Plague of Zombies, and shares sets, locations and some costumes with that other movie, that is likely to be next on my list of re-watches.