Ah, yes, Sidney Pink. A name synonymous with “quality.” You may not know the name but believe you me, you know his work. This is the man who found the money to give us that great, humanitarian gift, Bwana Devil…in 3-D. And who could forget the rollicking good time (*cough*) that was Sidney’s next picture, Angry Red Planet (which he co-wrote)? Heck, even if you have forgotten (even if all of the above was not to you but stump-jumping jibber-speak), trust me on this one thing: you’ll remember Reptilicus. For about twenty-four hours. This was Pink’s second directorial credit, a worthy follow-up to 1953’s I Was a Burlesque Queen, earned in tandem with former sound designer Poul Bang. Pink also wrote the screenplay together with Angry Red Planet scribe Ib Melchior (who would go on to at least get “story” credit for Death Race: 2000), so this film really, truly can be lain entirely at Mr. Pink’s feet. Few men can say they single handedly ruined a country’s daikaiju genre, but Sidney, were he alive today, would walk away with that brass ring. No contest.
We critical folk liked to bandy about words like “forgettable,” “unremarkable,” and “crap,” but rare is the film that readily falls into all three categories. I suppose that’s a sign of something…not quality, to be sure…but something, nevertheless.
Chances are you’ve seen Reptilicus before, even if only while browsing through your satellite provider’s Guide screen. The damn thing has remained a staple on the Sci-Fi Channel, edging other, better giant monster movies right off the network after it sold out. Before that it played on countless Saturday afternoons to an audience of latch-key kids. Before that: the drive in. (You remember drive-ins, too, right?) Yet, somehow, I managed to avoid seeing Reptilicus in its entirety until just last night. Go figure.
Somehow, I managed to forget the tales of kooky pseudo-science, laughable special effects and hot Danish women supported by their conical bras. I managed to forget about the titular monster’s (in)famous Green Phlegm of Death. I even forgot that no less an authority than Dr. Freex himself called this “the Plan 9 of giant monster movies.”
As my roommate Mandy said, “Seems he’s being a little charitable there.” Indeed. In the forty-eight hours since I’ve watched Reptilicus, and already the details are being to blur. I can actually feel my memories of the film vacillating. It’s an interesting sensation, and I half-wish I could take a moment to enjoy it. Instead, I’m forced to load the damned thing into my computer and watch it all over again, just to keep the “plot” straight.
We open with our hero, Sven (Bent Mejding) and his team of incidental friends (whom we’ll never be seen again). Sven is drilling for copper in the tree-studded hills above the Arctic Circle. (Hey, wait a tic…) Things are going fine and dandy for the miners (given that global warming has rendered the Arctic comfortably deciduous) until one of their core samples returns covered in blood…and flesh…and “bones…fossil bones.”
Within hours, Dr. Otto Martens (Asbjorn Anderson) and his colleague, Dr. Dalby (Povl Woldike) arrive from Copenhagen’s Denmark’s Aquarium (despite the fact that Sven asked for paleontologists). The movie’s Scientists theorize Sven and his team have hit upon the remains of a long extinct reptile, frozen and buried for untold millennia. Sven accepts this, and pretty much sums of everything that follows with the comment, “There’s really nothing exciting go on here.”
In a flash of stock footage, the frozen remains make their way to Copenhagen. Drs. Martens and Dalby put the bit of flesh (about eight feet worth of tail) on ice and begin to do various scientific things. The work consumes Dalby, who labors far into the night…so far, in fact, that he falls asleep at the switch, leaving the ‘fridge door wide open. Always a good sign.
Martens and his daughter, Lise (Ann Smyrner), arrive the next morning to find their pound of flesh completely thawed…and miraculously regenerating. This throws the world scientific community into all kinds of hubbub. Even the UN comes calling in the form of Brigadier General Mark Grayson (Carl Ottosen), who will be your General for the remainder of his film.
A quick press conference (held right at the Aquarium, no less) allows Dr. Martens to showcase his find, and expound at length upon his theory of regeneration. The fleshy find is indeed growing, having more than doubled its size since the defrosting. Given that this is a giant monster movie (from the early 60s, no less) Dr. Martens’ science is laughably implausible. (One suspects Sidney Pink ducked more than a few science classes.) Liz Kingsley would love it.
For some ungodly reason, the scientific and military establishments of the western world decide to keep the friggin’ thing, and set up a nutrient bath so it can grow larger even faster. Meanwhile, Gen. Grayson and UN Scientist Connie Millier (Bodil Miller, voiced on these shores by Marla Behrens) take a scenic drive through the best stock footage money can buy before joining Captain Brant (Ole Wisborg) of the Royal Guard for dinner and a show tune. If their idyllic tour past local landmarks hasn’t convince you to root for the monster, the song “Tivoli Nights” will.
After all this, its time for the *cough* good stuff. As Dalby works far into the night, playing with his flasks, one of those nightly Danish lightning storms knocks out the power. This causes Reptilcus to magically reanimate, and the creature makes short work of Dalby (and his little puissant .45) before escaping into the sea.
General Grayson, cheeks clenched in manly consternation, immediately goes on the warpath, with the full might of the (Dutch army? NATO?) under his command. Soon, Reptilicus emerges from his oceanic haunts and begins to dine on the local cattle. Our Heroes are on the case and it’s a battle of man against monster as plan after plan to destroy Reptilicus utterly and completely fails. Soon, the monster is marching through (*ahem*) downtown Copenhagen and blah, blah, blah, yackady-schmacidy…
Let’s begin on a high note…the only one in this malignant little opus: the Production Values. In human terms, they look much better than they have any right to…if the quality of the monster is any indicator. Legend has it Mr. Pink scored big-time cooperation from the Danish Army, Navy and the Copenhagen civic authorities for this Turkey, meaning it to be the Danish answer to Godzilla. This was to be Denmark’s triumphant return to Science Fiction Filmmaking. So those are real tanks, real personnel carriers and real Copenhagenites fleeing from Reptilcus. Goofy smiles run rampant through the stampeding crowds. Its almost as if they got a sneak peak at the creature FX.
What really amazed me is how trite all of the above plot really is. I mean, I love giant monster movies, but as a critic I have nothing but hatred for Reptilicus. Like the titular dragon puppet, it is a slow, plodding, unbelievable bore. This is entertainment for ten year-old boys with no friends, satellite dishes, inattentive parents, and giant monster fetishes. Even my ten year-old self would’ve given up on this film out of sheer boredom, frequently fast-forwarding to the (all-too-infrequent) monster scenes.
Those who do not resemble the above generalization are advised to stay far, far away. Even those who get a kick out of low budget kaiju pictures would do well to check out The Giant Claw. There’s you’re “Plan 9 of giant monster movies.” After all, who in the world could forget The Giant Claw?
Here’s the deal: when all’s said and done, Reptilicus is boring, with everyone (and I mean everyone) on the production end completely failing to inject even the remotest possibility of drama. The score keeps insisting that Important Things are going on here…and I must respectfully disagree. The all-Danish cast (dubbed as they are) gives us less than stirring performances. Either Carl Ottosen is a member of the Bush family or a killer robot from the future, sent back through time to ensure the destruction of mankind. Given General Grayson’s remarkable (and consistent) stupidity, I’m hedging my bets towards the former. Man spends the whole movie in a perpetual snarl, as if the very idea that an enemy should prove invulnerable to conventional tactics offends him down to the core. As Spock might say, his pattern indicates one-dimensional thinking…much like the script itself.
The rest of the cast is a story in interchangeable parts. None of them manage to create anything resembling sympathy, and the stilted cadence of their dubbing adds an extra layer of tedium to their chin waging. (If there’s one thing this movie needs, it’s more tedium.) Try as they might, the cast never outshines their dragon puppet co-star…or his Green Phlegm of Death.
Yes, Reptilicus the puppet. No amount of high-pitched screeching could disguise his rod-and-string origins. Yes, that’s a tabletop diorama of Copenhagen, and not a very big one, either…hard to buy into the monster’s continuous advance when he never seems to move past the same three slope-roofed buildings. Yes, the Green Phlegm of Death is a photo effect (poorly) matted into the picture prior to American distribution. Ostensibly, the Phlegm attempts to explain why no one can get close enough to the monster to use flame throwers…or white phosphorus…or gasoline…or anything that might prove (how do you say?) effective against Reptilicus, with the attendant danger of scattering his self-reconstructing bits all over the countryside. Needless to say (like many a Superfriend after him) the creature conveniently forgets he possesses this visually cumbersome power just in time for Our human Heroes to execute their Plan of Last Resort.
Said plan, involving a bazooka, a warhead full of “drugs,” and a heroic sacrifice on the part of Cap’n Brant, is a blatant rip-off of The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms with shades of Dr. Serizawa’s noble sacrifice thrown in for dramatic weight. I can’t think of a better way to sum up the Reptilicus Experience. Those who seek this film out can look forward to eighty-one whole minutes of remembering other, much better, Giant Monster movies. Should this be your first experience with the Kaiju genre, let me be the first to apologize.