REPTILICUS ** Denmark 1961 Dir: Sidney W. Pink (English version). 81 mins
Monsters – even giant ones – can be comforting friends to watch on Saturday matinees. Stuff yourself with ridiculously over salted popcorn and a soft drink, stare wide eyed as some beast smashes a city to ruin. You watch the adults run, you see the military fire weapons with no effect. Then some lantern jawed male hero, coupled with a lovely but taciturn female scientist, reporter or simply local gal, saves the day with an obscure fact or idea. The solution is fired into, sprayed onto, lured to, and ending the beast’s existence. The order of the nuclear family is hereby preserved. Did I just describe the basic premise of every giant monster film from the fifties and sixties? That’s not the point of these films that brings me to REPTILICUS (1961).
Danish miner Svend Viltorft digs up a section of a giant reptile’s tail from the frozen grounds in Lapland. The core sample is opened to reveal fleshy material and blood. The section is flown to the Denmark’s Aquarium in Copenhagen, where it is preserved in a cold room. Of course, careless handling ensues and the section begins to thaw, and to regenerate.
Professor Otto Martens, who is in charge of the aquarium, dubs the reptilian species “Reptilicus,” as it grows like starfish. The regenerated tail section grows to full size, and Reptilicus goes on a predictable rampage around the Danish countryside and subsequently the streets of Copenhagen. The monster is rendered unconscious, ending not with a bang, but a whimper. Those sneaky film makers leave the film open-ended. One of Reptilicus’ legs, which had been blown off earlier by the Danish Navy’s depth charges, is left on the sea floor for a possible return.
The American international release has the unique distinction of being made in two versions, shot at the same time, using the same set, with minor acting changes. The original Danish language version was directed by Poul Bang and released in Denmark on February 25, 1961. The American version, the English language version I viewed, was directed by American producer-director Sidney W. Pink. The film was deemed by American International Pictures to be unreleasable. Danish-American screenwriter, Ib Melchior, who gave us splendid fifties paranoia in THE ANGRY RED PLANET (1959) and the superb (for the time) THE TIME TRAVELERS (1964) was brought in to extensively re-work REPTILICUS (1961) for North American consumption. He also later penned Mario Bava’s English version of the atmospheric PLANET OF VAMPIRES (1965), and his short story of the space family Robinson became a comic book series and later uncredited basis for the Irwin Allen television series LOST IN SPACE.
So, how, with this strong writer, the resources of more of an exploitation studio such as American International Pictures (more accustomed to drive in fare for the teenagers and rock and roll beach films) did REPTILICUS to bomb so badly? The film is regularly made fun of by many people and groups close to Plan Nine from Outer Space proportions for it is the effects, even for the time, of tinted spiders, flying brains, giant ants; all were superior in scope and impact. This was the time of titles like GORGO (1961) and THE GIANT BEHEMOTH (1959) and others rising from the ocean floor or the earth to destroy. Each was originally produced in the UK by a different American studio in order to cash in on the success of GOJIRA (1954) and the other Toho Studios monsters. You couple these comparisons with poor acting and stock situations and you get a losing combination. If it’s not different from what is out there, then it will get lost. Hence, the fate of REPTIIICUS (1961). The other films did what this one does, only better, faster, and with more style, especially the original GOJIRA (1954), not the re-edit GODZILLA KING OF THE MONSTERS (1956).
REPTILICUS (1961) tries hard to scare with destruction sequences, weapons battles, and innocent people having their homes flattened while firing a green ray for its mouth. The positive is that one gets to check out Copenhagen in the early sixties. Looked like a fun place. The unfortunate thing is that we see the city in the picture as a mere interlude, complete with a tour and songs that seem to be filler.
REPTILICUS (1961) is the poor giant monster that gets left out in the cold. Or somewhere warm so it could not regenerate. This film was made for Danish folks to see their buildings and statues being destroyed, which is the therapeutic reason for these films. Still, in a world where THE GIANT CLAW (1957) and THE BLACK SCORPION (1957) came first, that may not be a fair bench mark. Denmark’s only giant monster film needed a different fate.
Review by Terry Sherwood