This is one of the big ones, folks. If you've ever heard of the movie before--and if you're a regular reader who somehow hasn't, then I'm stunned--you already know what I mean. I'm talking about a movie that can count among its peers The Giant Claw and The Killer Shrews: A monster movie whose monster is absolutely ridiculous and brought to life via the most embarrassing effects you can imagine.
Well, okay, to be fair Reptilicus isn't all that ridiculous a monster in concept. (And there's actually some neat aspects to its origin that would later be recycled by other movies, usually to greater effect) It's basically a serpentine dragon re-purposed as a "dinosaur." It's possible that design could have worked with an actual budget or even just a competent effects artist who knew how to use a low budget. However, that is most definitely not what was delivered.
The film begins with a narrator, who will only crop up occasionally and will later turn out to be one of our main characters, explaining that it all started innocently enough in the Lapland of Denmark. A crew of prospectors drilling for copper in the permafrost--which apparently is actually one of the methods of extracting copper, but sounds ridiculous--when their chief, Svend Viltorft (Bent Mejding), notices blood on his hands after handling the drill bit. He calls over the crew and digs into the gunk on the drill bit and extracts what looks like the liver or lung of a cow. "It's a piece of skin," he remarks, "like leather!"
If you say so, Svend.
The next piece he pulls out is a bit of bone. "Fossil bones," Svend observes. Look, don't try to figure out how the bones could be fossilized if the flesh over them was still intact enough to be bloody. Like most things in this film, you'll just hurt yourself. At any rate, Svend recognizes that this is well above his pay grade and he goes to call in some experts, not noticing that the hunk of "skin" he discarded is pulsating.
The experts that arrive are Professor Otto Martens (Asbjorn Andersen) and Dr. Peter Dalby (Povl Woldike) from the Danish Aquarium. I'm pretty sure that neither scientist is a paleontologist, of course, but this a movie--all scientists are well-versed in all fields. Martens hypothesizes that the drill hit the carcass of a creature long frozen in the ice and the friction thawed it. But what really intrigues the two scientists is that the samples suggest a reptile, when most frozen prehistoric animals are usually mammals like woolly mammoths.
The two scientists return to Copenhagen and we are left to assume they brought a hunk of the mystery creature back with them, since we next see Martens being dropped off at the aquarium by his daughter Lise* (Ann Smyrner) so that he can visit the team studying it. Hilariously, we first watch a sequence that stresses why you must be conscious of the different film stocks needed for exterior and interor filming, as he waks in from a brightly lit lobby to a dark room only illuminated by the lights from various tanks of animals. Martens, ever the professional, taps on the glass of a tank holding two sea turtles to say hello. Presumably the turtles are already plotting how to bite his fingers off.
[* There are three notable women characters in the film: Lise Martens, her sister, and a third woman who is a scientist. Lise and the scientist are both attractive blondes and I am utterly incapable of telling you which is which. It's like a Fox News anchor audition]
In the "lab," which is really just a hideous office with a walk-in freezer on one side of it, Dalby is puzzling over the bones that Svend has provided. Martens bemoans the fact that reconstruction seems impossible. "It's not that there aren't enough bones: there's too many!" That...that is not a problem that any paleontologist has ever had. (Okay, to be fair, it turns out Martens means they can't be sure all the bones are from the same animal--but I still think the average paleontologist would kill to have too many bones from the same dig site) Still, it can't help Dalby's mood that Martens' other daughter, Karen (Mimi Heinrich) arrives waving around a telegram--Svend will be arriving in one hour with more bones. Martens tells Karen to pick Svend up, and when she asks how to recognize him, her father mystifyingly replies, "Since when do I have to tell you how to find a man?"
And speaking of bones, when Karen fetches Svend and brings him back to the lab so Martens and Dalby can show him the frozen tail fragment they've recovered, it doesn't take long before she and Lise are begging to take Svend to see the sights. As fascinating as the scientists' assertions that the tail belongs to one of the biggest prehistoric animals ever discovered and has incredibly strong bones, Svend is incredibly willing to go along with wherever two eager young women want to take him. As Martens gives them leave to go, Dalby comments to Martens, "I envy that young man." Dude! Yet Martens' bewildering reply to his colleague insinuating he wants to have a threeway with his daughters is to chuckle and reply that Svend will surely be busy. Dude, come on!
Incidentally, Reptilicus, like Gorgo and Konga, had a novelization written that included softcore sex scenes. If one of those scenes wasn't Sven getting it on with the Martens sisters, then that is a missed opportunity.
And then, suddenly, the film introduces its monster. No, not Reptilicus, this is something far more terrifying: Peterson (Dirch Passer), the Odious Comic Relief!
|STARE INTO THE OVERALL CLAD FACE OF HORROR!|
Miraculously, it's not Peterson's fault that things go pearshaped. Later that night, only Peterson and Dalby are still in the lab. Peterson checks the thermostat, but Dalby tells him to go on home since Dalby will be finishing up soon himself. So it's Dalby who goes into the freezer to cut off a piece of tail to examine--fun fact, frozen dinosaur flesh is indistinguishable from Turkish Delight--and then leaves the door open and falls asleep at his desk.
So when Martens and his daughters return in the morning, they find the tail has thawed out and turned into an obvious felt prop. (It's also in a completely different position than it was when frozen) Martens wants to blame Peterson (YES!) but Dalby takes responsibility (Boo!) and thus gets to hear the lecture about ruining a priceless discovery. Except, Martens is interrupted in his lecture about how the tail is going to rot away by Lise noticing that the wound on the tail where the drill pierced it looks different--like it's healing. Martens quickly confirms that the tail is, wonder of wonders, regenerating!
Look, before you ask why they wouldn't have noticed regeneration in any of the smaller samples that surely unthawed in the examination process--just don't think about it.
Our next scene is some good old 1960s sexism, as Martens interviews Connie Miller (Marla Behrens), apparently for a position at the aquarium. I'd say it's not that kind of position, but the way Martens interviews her it could go either way. She's some kind of scientist, which baffles Martens because she's a beautiful woman. When Miller, rightly, expresses annoyance with her qualifications being downplayed because she has a vagina, Martens claims he meant no disrespect--before getting one last bit of sexual harassment in by saying he just couldn't help enjoying her beauty.
I mentioned that Miller is absolutely indistinguishable from his daughter, right?
Martens makes a comment about Miller being an American (which is your only clue that she's supposed to be, thanks to the dubbing) and then advises another UN representative will be arriving shortly. Said representative turns out to be Brigadier General Mark Grayson (Carl Ottosen), who is both our infrequent narrator and the film's most inadvertantly hilarious character. The man is about 30% nostril and 40% flop sweat. He's also almost instantly churlish, partly due to his claim that he doesn't know why he's here. My guess is somebody really, really disliked him.
|"Big nostrils? Is that the best you can do? How about, 'Keep that guy away from my cocaine!' "|
Dalby introduces Grayson to his liasion in Royal Danish Guard, Captain Brandt (Ole Wisborg), as Martens explains they haven't named the creature yet. "How about Reptilicus martensius?" suggests one reporter. Martens merely chuckles and, ignoring the stupidity of the name, replies, "Reptilicus will do just fine." Suddenly, "Graboid" doesn't sound so silly, does it?
The reporters are then taken to the viewing port for the giant tank that contains the nutrient fluid that Reptilicus is being soaked in. As a pretty good indicator of the miniature effects to follow, the "tank" is very clearly a sink. At any rate, this cues a series of Spinning Headlines! the world over about the "PREHISTORIC MONSTER GROWING IN HUGE TANK." Well, yeah, you'd think. Though, sadly these days, I'm sure it'd be buried in a special interest section so the front page could be devoted to how it snowed in New England so Global Warming is a lie.
At any rate, Reptilicus refuses to be terribly exciting for a while. Peterson treats us to some Komedy! when, while playing with a microscope he's cleaning--which wouldn't seem to fall under the responsibilities of a night watchman--he decides to look at the cheese from his sandwich under it. Cut to a shot of water fleas (?!) as viewed through the microscope. Peterson naturally loses his apetite, while I decide I'm never eating cheese in Denmark. Martens lectures into a tape recorder that Reptilicus is covered in tough, bony scales--yet the fact the creature is also covered in mangy fur won't be addressed at all until much later--and appears to be secreting a strange liquid from newly developed glands in its mouth that is acidic in nature. One would think the fact that the creature they are growing is clearly venomous might necessitate additional precautions. I mean, from the tail the creature could be either a large herbivore or a large carnivore, but venom tends to only be utilized by predators. I mean, even an herbivore that size would be dangerous, but still!
Things briefly threaten to get interesting when, after Peterson sticks his hand in the electrical eel tank to "comically" flail around and kick his leg around while refusing to fucking die--he hears movement from Reptilicus in the growth tank. He sounds the fire alarm, but Martens writes the movement off as nothing but a fetal reflex action. Now, you'd think that the fact the creaure has already demonstrated a significant range of movement might inspire someone to post some sort of watch outside the tank so someone could regularly have eyes on the creature. You'd be mistaken, naturally. In fact, everyone just condescendingly laughs at Peterson--and I am very annoyed at having to feel offended for Peterson instead of by him.
Grayson goes back to his desk and flares his nostrils in boredom and annoyance, until Brandt suggests the unpleasant bastard just leave the aquarium for a while. So Grayson takes Miller on a tour of Copenhagen, which for some reason necessitates a return of his infrequent narration. This section of the film was apparently paid for by the Danish Tourism Board, who must have grossly overestimated how much interest this film would inspire in visiting Denmark.
Sadly, unlike Frankenstein Meets The Space Monster, this travelogue footage is not accompanied by awesome rock and roll music. Instead, it's Grayson and Miller narrating everything. "It's The Little Mermaid!" "So many bicycles!" We find out that Brandt will be joining them for dinner--hopefully another threeway set-up for the lurid paperback version--at Tivoli.
Tivoli Gardens was a popular tourist destination in Denmark, and apparently even an influence on Walt Disney for his parks. Here, it's the source of much weeping as the film stops for a few minutes for a nightclub musical act, as Birthe Wilke (herself) croons, "Tivoli Nights." It's like Jesus Franco directed a kaiju film. Though I will give the film that "Tivoli Nights" is nowhere as painful as "The Words Get Stuck In My Throat" from War of the Gargantuas, but at least that film had the decency to have its giant monster menace try to eat the singer who assaulted our eardrums.
|"...and Richard M. Nixon on drums!"|
Next, a thunderstorm rolls in outside the aquarium at night--and given that the establishing shot of the aquarium in the rain might be the worst miniature I have ever seen, we can finally begin to feel secure that we will finally be getting some monster action. Inside the aquarium, Dalby and Peterson are the only people on duty--because that's a good idea--and the storm knocks out the power. Dalby goes to check the phones, also down, and hears Reptilicus moving around inside the tank. Dalby goes to investigate and, after seeing the shadowy figure of the creature looming upwards through the window, grabs a revolver and orders Peterson to fetch the police. (No, not any of the military officials who were supposed to be watching the creature, just the civilian police)
Peterson makes it to the police station, and after some mildly unfunny banter between him and the officer in charge (Kjeld Petersen, who was actually the other half of a comedy duo with Dirch Passer, so it's like Lou Costello was just sent to ask Bud Abbott for help--only less funny), Peterson mentions that the creature has escaped and Dalby sent him. It's only after this is mentioned that the police officer dials someone else. Note that Peterson describes Reptilicus breaking out and leaving a "big hole" behind, but it's only during his conversation with the officer that we see brief but woeful shot of the Reptilicus puppet looming up behind the model of the aquarium to indicate its escape.
Well, it's far too late for poor Dr. Dalby. When Grayson and crew arrive at the aquarium, all that's left of the scientist are his smashed glasses. Fitting that the dope who reawakened Reptilicus should be its first meal. While it is disappointing that Peterson was not also eaten, we mercifully will not be seeing him again after this point. At any rate, Brandt reports to Grayson that tracks were found leading to the sea. Grayson orders the headquarters of the Anti-Reptilicus Initiative set up at the barraks of the Royal Guard. Quickly a War Room is set up there, with essential personnel and little maps with toy military vehicles on them. (Sadly, there is no toy Reptilicus, that I could see)
For some reason, Grayson has decided that Svend (?!) is essential personnel. So essential, in fact, that when a Reptilicus sighting is reported near a farm, Svend is the one driving Grayson's jeep to the site! The poor farmer is found standing next to the severed head of one of his cows. Apparently, Reptilicus devoured 14 of the farmer's cows, destroyed his barn, and then headed over a nearby hill. Grayson has his men spread out to search for the creature--and one jeep spots a puppet tail disappearing around a miniature building.
Grayson orders tanks and heavy guns into position. Hilariously this is not stock footage, but rather the Danish military were incredibly eager to participate in the making of the film. Reptilicus then rears up over the top of some trees, in slow motion, so we can marvel at the the majesty of this terrifying prehistoric beast!
|"Look upon my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"|
In fact, after the military opens fire on it, Reptilicus demonstrates that the American distributors added some even worse effects. Remember the line about the creature having glands that secrete some kind of acid? That line was added to explain why Reptilicus will, apropos of nothing, suddenly vomit glowing green slime. It's an animated effect obviously added to the film by AIP, presumably because aside from just being a large creature running loose in a populated area, Reptilicus didn't seem threatening enough. It's also incredibly obvious that the effect was added in post-post, as on the rare occasion that Reptilicus actually hits anything with his slime spit, there is merely an animation of the slime covering the footage of its target. And, sometimes, we see its victims again right after, completely unharmed!
Reptilicus spits some slime and then casually retreats. Naturally, those armored scales make him impervious to light artillery because this is a monster movie. Grayson has an idea, though, which involves cutting Reptilicus off before it can get to the beach. Amazingly, his idea does not involve making sure the surrounding area's civilian population is evacuated, because before Grayson can head the creature off it attacks a farmhouse where a family is sitting down to a meal. While the mother cowers in a corner with the two young boys as the house is crushed, the father rushes outside! What he intended to accomplish by abandoning his family is a mystery, but he only succeeds in becoming the film's most astonishingly awful effect--also added by AIP, hilariously--when he is transformed into a transparent cardboard cutout and swallowed by Reptilicus. Mere pictures cannot get across how ludicrously awful this effect is.
|"Mother always told me I'd end up like this!"|
Back at the war room, Martens is apparently briefing everyone on their enemy. Grayson is holding the expected photograph of a sauropod (I'm guessing Brontosaurus) and gestures at the photograph before saying, "Then Reptilicus is a cross between one of these...and an amphibious reptile." Wait, what? Martens then further explains that, "Nature went through a long period of experimentation some 70 million years ago," which sounds as though he is describing his own daughters' college years. Heyo! He then asserts that Reptilicus was one of Nature's attempts to bridge the gap between reptile and mammal. Wait, what?!
I realize that this is expecting way too much from this kind of film, but "70 million years ago" means that Reptilicus comes from the Cretaceous period, of the Mesozioc Era. Mammal-like reptiles were first appearing as far back as the Permian Period of the Paleozoic Era, so nearly 250-300 million years ago, and the bridge was well and truly crossed by the Triassic Period at the beginning of the Mesozoic. So, Martens is suggesting Mother Nature decided to try re-bridging the gap well after she'd already done it successfully.
At any rate, Martens also assures Grayson that while Reptilicus is amphibious it will have to come up to breathe on occasion and thus can't hide forever. Grayson isn't much encouraged by that and has the Danish Navy sent out to patrol the coastal waters with underwater cameras used by the aquarium to study sea life, as Martens suggests the creature will stay close to what it considers its territory.
Cut to the war room after a week of fruitless searching. Svend and Grayson are alone in the office. and after Svend stretches Grayson tells him, "You might as well go home, there's nothing more you can do here." Now, most everyone watching the film is wondering what the hell Svend was still doing there at all. We get our answer when Svend refuses by saying, "I'll stay with you," in an overly affectionate tone and Grayson jokingly calls him stubborn. "Other people are stubborn," Svend replies, "I'm firm."
Grayson and Sven are boning. There is literally no other explanation.
At any rate, any hot man-on-man desktop action is interrupted by an urgent report that a destroyer has spotted Reptilicus. (I don't need to tell you that the effect to indicate the destroyer's POV of Reptilicus on the ocean floor is terrible and impossible to make sense of, right?) Grayson, apparently having slept through the parts of briefing that explained how Reptilicus was regrown from a relatively small chunk of its tail, orders the creature bombed with depth charges. Martens, at the aquarium, hears the bombing--which must be very near the shore, then--and suffers a non-fatal heart attack while trying to convince a boat to go out to the ships to stop them.
Meanwhile, Miller rushes into the war room. Grayson tries to wave her off, but she finally gets his attention and slowly and deliberately explains that Reptilicus can regenerate from a small amount of tissue. If a depth charge should strike the creature and blow off any part of it, they would never be able to find it underwater. Cue Grayson's flop sweat and flaring nostrils as he realizes just how hard he's screwed the pooch. Naturally, Grayson radios the navy to break off their attack too late. Cut to a shot of the Reptilicus puppet on the bottom of the ocean, so limp that it looks dead. Three explosions strike the puppet, which seems oddly unbothered by the attack.
And then one of Reptilicus' severed talons sinks to the bottom of the ocean, billowing blood, and settles there. Great job breaking it, hero.
Apparently Grayson then gives up trying to think of another way to deal with the creature because in the next two weeks, Reptilicus goes on a campaign of ship sinking while Grayson twiddles his thumbs. And then the creature decides to come ashore at a crowded public beach, which is shown to us via Reptilicus rising from the water in an obvious blue screen behind a young couple who fail to notice him even though the girl is doing her make-up with a compact mirror facing the water. When the girl finally notices Reptilicus, the two are enveloped in animated slime. Reptilicus hates being ignored.
When word comes that Repticilus is approaching the canal, Grayson and Svend immediately rush to the bridge. This makes no sense, but it's a good thing they decided to do it because the bridge operator's reaction to seeing a panicked populace running towards him is to raise the bridge, When he sees people desperately plunging into the canal to escape the approaching beast he...covers his face and turns away. Luckily, Svend knows how to lower the bridge. Reptilicus makes its way into the canal and submerges.
Grayson and Svend go back to the war room, where Grayson advises he wants to lure Reptilicus into the open country and bomb the shit out of it. To accomplish this he orders Brandt to bring to bear "Ack-Ack" guns against the creature. Apart from being the most hilarious way of referring to "Anti-Aircraft" guns, I'm amused that Grayson wants Ack-Acks against a terrestrial creature. While Grayson is putting all his plans into place, Martens arrives and once again tells Grayson that he can't use bombs because he'd be scattering bits of Reptilicus all over the city. Grayson counters that they''d just pick up the pieces. Hilariously, this continues for a while--Martens doesn't offer solutions but says that Grayson can't use bombs, Grayson responds with nostril flaring and reiterating how awesome bombs are.
Eventually Grayson does back down, but that still leaves them with no way of dealing with the beast that's currently tearing apart cardboard buildings.
|"Whatever happened to...Fay Wray?"|
As an aside, the monster rampage stuff may not be any damn good but you can't fault the film for not giving you enough of it! After his initial arrival in Copenhagen, Reptilicus is never not rampaging through bad miniatures.
When Martens is sedated, we find out the other reason Svend stuck around. Like the Gamera films would do a few years later with their obnoxious children in tiny shorts, Svend has introduced the monster to the world and he will inadvertently inspire the means of defeating it when he wishes aloud that they could give Reptilicus a shot. Yes, Sven is this film's Kenny.
Grayson hears what Svend says and it inspires him: they need to fill a rocket with enough tranquilizer to knock Reptilicus out so they can dispose of it at their leisure. So quickly Grayson, one of the Martens, and Svend get to work rigging a drug-filled rocket for a bazooka. Brandt wants to know how Grayson expects to get the drug into Reptilicus' system given how tough its hide is, but Grayson intends to shoot it into the soft tissue of the creature's mouth. Brandt is aghast because this means that firing the shot point blank. Well, Grayson naturally intends to fire the shot himself even though, again, there is surely someone more qualified.
Reptilicus has helpfully stationed himself in the Copenhagen town square--after driving screaming crowds from Tivoli, which must be an editing gaffe as I'm sure that was meant to happen after "Tivoli Nights"--when Grayson and company arrive. I can't help noting that Brandt has a lot of blood streaking down the right side of his face, but if there's an explanation for how he was injured, it was cut from the American version. Grayson loads the bazooka and lines up the shot, but then an ambulance goes by and it causes Reptilicus to turn his head slightly to the right. Grayson reacts like the creature just flew off. Oh, it's such a hassle to get to the other side of the square, poor baby!
|"Look, I'm sorry, my species was Nature's attempt to bridge the gap between reptiles and personal injury lawyers."|
Brandt, tired of Grayson's hissy fits, hops in a jeep and drives it straight at Reptilicus while honking the horn to draw its attention. I'm not sure if being promptly squashed by the clumsy beast landing on him was part of his plan, but if it was then his strategy succeeded wonderfully. Everyone does the expected momentary grieving and then Grayson shoots Reptilicus in the mouth via a silly cartoon effect. (This is also courtesy of AIP) Amazingly, the tranquilizer takes effect almost immediately and Reptilicus falls to the ground, unconscious. The fountains come back on in the square and Grayson turns the responsibility for Reptilicus to Martens and his daughters. The Martens family hurriedly rushes over towards the unconscious reptile but whatever they intend to do to it is left to our imaginations.
So, in a way, this film ends the same way as Lake Placid: for all we know, Reptilicus is being transported to a better secured enclosure. We're left wide open for a sequel even before Grayson puts his arm around Miller and wistfully says, "It's a good thing there are no more like him," in order to cue up the inevitable cut to Reptilicus' severed talon on the ocean floor, which is even now starting to twitch...
(Holy Crap, Godzilla, Mothra, and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack totally ripped that ending off!)
Reptilicus was one of those movies that I was introduced to as a kid via its inclusion in Fantastic Dinosaurs of the Movies, which was basically a compilation of "dinosaur" movie trailers that had a very loose definition of what constituted a dinosaur. The trailer (which, oddly, was cropped of the first few seconds that explained Reptilicus' origin when it was included in that compilation) did nothing to disguise the limitations of its monster, plus contained its own idiocy by declaring Reptilicus to be "an annihilating mastodon immune to all known weapons of warfare!" I'm guessing someone decided "mastodon" and "mammoth" were synonyms.
At any rate, I was certainly inspired to want to see this ridiculous film in action. However, fate would keep that from happening until I was able to pick up the film's second US DVD release in 2013. After so many years of hearing how goofy the film was, I definitely was not disappointed. Whether it's the film's script, its bad acting, its bad dubbing, or its bad special effects, there's no shortage of delightfully awful things in the film. If only AIP had kept things like Reptilicus flying by wobbling around on wires or the absolutely inexplicable bit of Peterson singing a song about "Tillicus" to a bunch of children, there'd be even more surreal awfulness to laugh at. Thankfully, some of the Danish version can be found on YouTube if you look carefully (prepare to be amazed that some of the effects footage that AIP passed over was almost good), but the upcoming Scream Factory Blu-ray release won't include the Danish film.
There's not really much more I can say than what I already said in my synopsis. If you're looking for a genuinely good giant dinosaur on the rampage film, you clearly need to look elsewhere. But if you want to watch a classic of hilarious incompetence, this is the film for you.
Just watch out for "Tivoli Nights." It's a killer.