Sunday, November 19, 2017

Reptilicus (Saga Studios, Cinemagic, American International,1961)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2017 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

I cooked my home-care client John P.’s dinners and also one of my own (I’d bought myself some pork chops as a treat and also made up a salad), and when our houseguest Peter returned from doing laundry he and I jointly watched one of the most horrible films ever made: Reptilicus, a Sidney Pink production from American International that was made in Denmark in 1958. It’s your standard-issue revivified-dinosaur monster movie, with singularly bad acting all around (the all-Danish cast acted in English, which they all spoke so s-l-o-w-l-y that, except for two impossibly perky girls who were obviously channeling Sandra Dee as Gidget, the women all sounded like Greta Garbo on Quaaludes and the men all sounded like John Wayne on heroin) and a ridiculous script. This is the sort of movie that really belongs on Mystery Science Theatre 3000 — as it was, all Peter and I could do about it was do a Mystery Science Theatre 3000 number on it by ourselves (which annoyed John P. no end — he was sitting at the dining table, which meant he couldn’t see the movie but he could get a good idea of its quality, or lack of same, just by listening to its soundtrack) — especially the special effects, which were done with a unique process Pink owned called “Cinemagic.” Basically, this meant drawing the monsters with two-dimensional animation and then processing them into the screen with live actors and real backgrounds — which resulted in a monster so blatantly fake-looking that it made Godzilla look like the Jurassic Park T. Rex by comparison! And the monster itself was the best of the effect; when it lifted up a person to eat him, the person became an out-and-out cartoon in mid-scene; and when it attacked, it did so by spewing blatantly animated-looking green slime all over the scene, which then freeze-framed like the famous sound-effect balloons in the old Batman TV show (and the appearance of the green slime suggested to me that instead of bringing in the U.S. Army to fight the monster, the Danish authorities should have called in the Ghostbusters — in which case this movie would at least have been funny by intent!). — 4/25/98


Last night’s “Vintage Sci-Fi” movie night in Golden Hill ( was a tribute to the giant-lizard genre and featured one unsung masterpiece — the original 1954 Japanese version of Godzilla, Gojira, which I gave a rave review to on when Charles and I watched it together on DVD ( and which I still regard as one of only two truly great movies ever made in the giant-monster genre (the original 1933 King Kong is the other) and which engendered the same reaction from some of the attendees (particularly the ones who’d never seen it before) that Charles and I had had: it’s a far, far better film than the tacky, heavily re-edited and with new scenes added (that’s how Raymond Burr got to be in it) by distributor American International and former Warner Bros. “B” director Terry Morse that we got in 1956. Alas, that’s not the movie we’re dealing with here: the other film on the Vintage Sci-Fi bill was a 1961 production called Reptilicus, a co-production of the Danish Saga Studios and Cinemagic, a U.S. indie headed by a character named Sidney Pink. According to his Wikipedia page, Pink got his start as an associate producer on one of the most legendarily bad movies of all time, Bwana Devil (1952), the one that introduced 3-D to American moviegoers (there had been sporadic exhibitions of 3-D movies before but this was the one that started the craze) and was promoted with the slogan, “A Lion in Your Laps — A Lover In Your Arms!” (One foreign-film distributor spoofed this ad campaign and advertised one of their releases, “What do you want — a good movie or a lion in your lap?”) 

He’s also credited on Wikipedia as an associate producer on Arch Oboler’s The Twonky (but then they date The Twonky as 1953 when every other source, including the old Filmfax article that was my primary source for information on it, says 1950), and Pink went on to produce movies with titles like I Was a Burlesque Queen (1953), Flame Over Viet Nam (1957 — and it would be interesting to see how Viet Nam and its conflicts were depicted in an American film almost a decade before the major phase of the war) and The Angry Red Planet (1959). The Angry Red Planet was an intriguing plot premise — Pink and his writer, Ib Melchior (Lauritz Melchior’s son and a writer specializing in science-fiction novels and movie scripts), had the idea that instead of doing yet another story about Martians invading Earth they’d do one about earthlings invading Mars — but it went wrong at almost every turn, including a much-ballyhooed but absolutely terrible effects technique called “Cinemagic.” “Cinemagic” was basically an attempt to patch in animated cartoons into live-action films (something Walt Disney had been experimenting with since the 1920’s!), and in The Angry Red Planet not only were the monsters (including the engagingly named “Ratbatspidercrab,” spelled as all one word) either puppets or cartoons, the action shifted to a solid red tint whenever a scene took place on the Martian surface (it’s “the angry red planet,” get it?) and the whole effect was tacky (albeit engagingly tacky). For some reason I had thought Reptilicus was made before The Angry Red Planet, but its page says it was two years later and it was planned from the get-go as a U.S.-Danish co-production (though oddly Ib Melchior, despite his Danish ancestry, doesn’t seem to have been involved in the Danish version). 

Pink and Melchior came up with a standard-issue Godzilla knockoff in which a group of copper miners in Lapland (which the filmmakers seemed to think was part of Denmark, which it isn’t) would come upon blood in one of their core samples and would dig up a frozen animal from the Cretaceous era, a sort of reptilian missing link between dinosaurs and mammals. Their idea was to film in Denmark and to use an exclusively Danish cast (Nora Hayden, who’d starred in The Angry Red Planet and whom Charles remembered as the author of self-help books, including one aimed at men to teach them how to sexually satisfy a woman, was offered a part in this one but turned it down because she wanted top billing) but one who were bilingual in Danish and English, so Pink could use their actual voices for the dubbed English version. Only when Pink sent the finished film to American International, they decided that the Danish-accented English voices would be unacceptable to an American audience (did the “suits” at AIP actually think anyone who went to the drive-ins where their movies were playing really watched them?), so they erased the soundtrack and dubbed in new voices speaking American English. (AIP would do that again when they got the U.S. rights to the first Mad Max: they decided that the Aussie accents on the original soundtrack would put off American viewers, so they redubbed the whole film from Australian English to American English — Mel Gibson got to do his own dubbing but the rest of the cast had voice doubles.) Reptilicus is pretty much your standard-issue monster movie, and though there’s a review on by a Danish viewer who grew up with the Danish original and says some of the more risible elements in the one we saw last night weren’t in the one he saw as a kid, like the monster emitting green slime (we see the stuff spurt out but never see what it does when it lands, though since the dialogue tells us it’s “acid slime” it presumably dissolves whatever it touches and instantly kills anyone in its vicinity) and the scene in which Reptilicus comes on a farmhouse and eats the entire family living there — who turn into cartoons on their way into Reptilicus’s mouth. (According to, the boy who’s consumed as part of this unfortunate household was Ib Melchior’s 12-year-old son Dirk.) 

The effects work on Reptilicus is a bit better than on Pink’s previous productions — the monster itself is convincing enough (I suspect it was done with good old stop-motion animation rather than the more common 1950’s expedient of gluing fins, tusks, spines and whatnots to actual lizards, filming them in slow motion and trying to pass them off as dinosaurs), and if the “trivia” posters are to be believed, the tacky effects I found so ridiculous the last time I saw this are AIP’s faults, not Pink’s or his Danish co-director’s, Poul Bang. It’s just not a very good movie (and I doubt that watching the Danish version would be the sort of revelation watching Gojira was after being familiar with AIP’s butchery of that masterpiece), a by-the-numbers film with one genuinely hot-looking actor (Bent Meiding as Svend, the mining supervisor who discovers Reptilicus in the first place), one really repulsive comic-relief character (Dirch Passer, who was apparently actually popular in Danish comedies at the time, as “Petersen”), a bunch of fuddy-duddies playing professors and a plot conceit that Reptilicus could regenerate his entire body just from its tail once the frozen tail the miners had found out and turned over to scientists. There’s also a U.S. general who commands the fight against Reptilicus — who, naturally, can’t be harmed by firearms or even artillery because of the spines that grow out of his body — and either Carl Ottosen, who played him on screen, or whoever supplied his voice for the U.S. version seemed to think that if he delivered all his lines like John Wayne he’d sound suitably tough. There’s also a tag scene in which, after one of the professors has declared that Reptilicus is dead (thanks to a well-aimed shot with a bazooka rocket into his mouth) and there’ll be no more of his kind left, the film cuts to an underwater sequence in which a limb previously severed from Reptilicus’s body seems to be starting to grow into a new one. Apparently either Sid Pink or someone in his operation thought Reptilicus was going to do well enough to merit a sequel; fortunately, they were wrong … — 11/19/17