Having A Movie Moment with Jon Longhi: The Reptile with a Side of Quatermass

Posted by The Bay Area Crew, October 4, 2019 07:43pm | Post a Comment

By Jon Longhi

Welcome to this month’s Having A Movie Moment With Jon Longhi where I review recent Blu-ray releases. If you're a Hammer movie fan Shout Factory really opened the floodgates for you in August when they released some of the best films the studio ever produced including one that is arguably their very best.

The Reptile, Shout Factory:
This has always been one of my very favorite Hammer films. The studio was mainly known for redoing all the classic Universal monsters like Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolfman, and the Mummy in their own unique and luridly colorful British style. What sets The Reptile apart is that it is their own original creation. There are mild elements of the werewolf in the film but the script goes to new and unexpected places. The movie is kind of a slow burn but when the monster does finally reveal itself it is as good as anything Jack Pierce created. This was a later Hammer film so everybody who worked on this was at the top of their game when it was made. It's just a good story that is well told. Everything on the movie works flawlessly, the cinematography, directing, script, music, acting, so that when all these elements are put together they make a perfect whole. On many levels, this film is the essential embodiment of Hammer and their style.

It starts with a murder like many of the best Hammer movies do. After Charles Spalding is killed in this opening scene his brother Harry and his new bride, Valerie, inherit his cottage and move to the rural town of Clagmoor Heath in Cornwall. They find the town living in terror due to a rash of recent deaths caused by a mysterious and unexplained ailment the locals refer to as the "Black Death." The corpses left behind by this ailment are all foaming at the mouth with blackened and swollen faces. At first the locals shun the couple, but Harry eventually befriends Tom Bailey who owns the local pub and offers to help Harry solve the mystery of the recent deaths. Tom and Harry have only seen similar symptoms in people bitten by king cobras in India. Their investigation leads them to the nearby home of the sinister Doctor Franklyn who recently moved to the area with his daughter Anna. Franklyn is a professor of theology who has traveled the world studying mysterious and hidden cults and religious groups. To describe Doctor Franklyn's relationship with his daughter as "dysfunctional" is putting it lightly. Every scene with these two is profoundly disturbing on a number of psychological levels. You know something weird is going on with these people you just don't know what it is. John Gilling does an excellent job directing and he keeps you guessing at the true nature of what is going on right up until the final act. The ending really delivers and the movie is as good as any of the classic monster films Universal made.

Shout Factory's new version of the movie is a perfect little package. The remastered film looks beautiful. The opening shot looks a little weak as does a scene here and there but these aren't par for the course because over ninety percent of the film looks immaculate and reveals details that were never perceptible before. All the scenes with the creature are especially flawless. I really enjoyed freeze framing this to see the details of Roy Ashton's wonderful makeup work. This truly was one of Hammer's best monsters. If you've never seen a Hammer film before this would be a perfect one to start with. The release is rounded out with some great extra's like trailers, a commentary track, a documentary on the making of the film, and a World of Hammer episode entitled "Wicked Women, which documents all the femme fatales and villainesses in the history of the studio.

Quatermass And The Pit, Shout Factory:
This may be the best movie Hammer ever made. It is one of the best science fiction/ horror movies ever produced in England and rightfully sits next to classics like Curse Of The Demon and Village Of The Damned. Much of this is due to Nigel Kneale's fantastic script. Even though the special effects in the film are excellent what really makes the movie work is the way the script creates an escalating symphony of disturbing details and events. The atmosphere of dread the film creates is far more terrifying than any special effect could be. The scares don't come from any creature jumping out at you but from a constantly growing horror at the nature of the human condition itself and the strange events that shaped the worst parts of our evolutionary drives. It is heady intellectual stuff that doesn't need any blood or gore to help it along.

The story starts in a London subway station where workers are digging an extension to the London Underground. When the workers uncover skeletal remains, construction is halted and paleontologist Dr. Matthew Roney and his team of scientists turn the site into an archeological dig. The skeletons belong to pre-human apes who may be our oldest direct ancestors. The scientists soon discover a large metal object that they at first believe is an unexploded bomb or V2 missile from World War Two and the military is called in to investigate and defuse it. Once the object is fully excavated it turns out to be some kind of alien craft that may have been there for over five million years. A secret chamber is even found inside the craft which contains the desiccated bodies of its pilots: huge alien insects! Even though the scientists are sure of their findings the military brass and local politicians refuse to believe them. They insist the ship is some kind of Nazi propaganda hoax despite all evidence to the contrary. The location of the subway station, Hobb's End, is an abandoned neighborhood that has been plagued by strange events and supernatural occurrences going back to Roman times. A rocket scientist named Professor Quatermass and Dr. Romey feel that the space ship exerts some kind of malign effect on human behavior. Unfortunately, the military brass and local politicians ignore their warnings and allow the press and the public in to view the excavation site. When they do all hell breaks lose. One of the things that makes the ending of the film so powerful is that its themes of politicians and military men who ignore scientific facts are more relevant today than when the movie was made in the mid-sixties.

The actors are an essential part of the film's success. The cast is uniformly excellent. Andrew Keir is perfect as the long suffering Professor Bernard Quatermass. He strikes the perfect balance of pathos, frustration, and disgust in his dealings with idiotic public and military officials. His performance becomes almost a metaphor for the struggle between scientists striving for the good of humanity and politicians and their own petty agendas. James Donald is equally amazing as Dr. Matthew Roney. He is the personification of scientific rationality as his character fights against the most chaotic and destructive elements of our basic human nature. Barbara Shelly rounds out the team of scientists as Dr. Roney's assistant Barbara Judd. Her sensitive performance combines a woman's intuition and emotions with cold hard science to produce a character capable of discovering mysteries that the closed minds of the men around her could never perceive. Possibly my favorite actor in the film is Julian Glover as Colonel Breen. He is the ultimate personification of a military jackass. His performance can be infuriating at times, but it is a tribute to his skills as an actor that he gets so under your skin.

Director Roy Ward Baker takes all these elements and combines them into a perfect whole. It's really hard for me to find anything bad to say about this film. It's like a Swiss watch with no superfluous parts that functions perfectly. Shout Factory's new edition of the movie is the best version that has been released so far. The remastered high definition picture is a big improvement over the old DVD release. Shout Factory has really loaded up this edition with a wealth of special features. You get multiple interviews with members of the cast and crew, audio commentaries, trailers, a still gallery and an episode from the World of Hammer series entitled "Sci-fi". There's hours of fun to be had with this Blu-ray and it belongs in the collection of any serious science fiction fan.

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Jon Longhi (36), Movie Moment (20), Cult Film (38), Cult Films (27), Film (204), Horror (218), Blu-rays (21), Monsters (19), Universal Monsters (1), Shout Factory (2), Roy Ashton (1), Roy Ward Baker (1)