Sunday, July 18, 2021

Reptilicus (1961)

... aka: Monstruo invencible (Invincible Monster)
... aka: Reptilicus - Il mostro distruggitore (Reptilicus - The Destroyer Monster)
... aka: Reptilicus le monstre des mers (Reptilicus: The Sea Monster)

Directed by:
Poul Bang (Danish version)
Sidney W. Pink (English version)

"Somewhere in the forbidding tundra mountains of Lapland" a group of miners trying to find copper instead make a gross discovery when the drill drags up fossilized bones with bloody, leathery, pulsating flesh inside. Project head Svend Viltorft (Bent Mejding) immediately suspends drilling and calls in some experts to evaluate the situation. Copenhagen-based scientist Dr. Otto Martens (Asbjørn Andersen), his associate Dr. Peter Dalby ("Poul Wildaker" / Povl Wøldike) and newspaper reporter Hans Karlsen all promptly fly in. Despite the presence of fresh blood and skin, the scientists theorize that Svend and his crew have simply drilled into a prehistoric creature that has been frozen underground; the freshness of the blood attributed to heat friction from the drill thawing it out. However, they suspect this creature is a giant reptile and not a giant mammal. The specimen is flown back to the city aquarium for further study. Once everything is cleaned up and some additional bone fragments are found, the scientists discover they have the remnants of a creature's entire tail. Using it, they speculate it was around 90 feet tall and walked the Earth "between 70 to 100 million years" ago.

Such an important discovery deserves to be protected at all costs, so for some reason they hire Mr. Peterson (Dirch Passer), an overalls-and-flannel country bumpkin halfwit whose sole responsibility is to make sure the freezer where the tail is housed stays at the same temperature at all times. I was almost positive this clod was going to do something stupid to unleash the monster (I mean, why else is he even here?) but, amazingly, it's actually Dr. Dalby who does. Working late, he falls asleep at his desk, the freezer door cracks open and the tail thaws out.

The following day, the scientists discover that the tail has not started decomposing as they feared. In fact, quite the opposite. It is now regenerating tissue and blood. In just a few days, it doubles in size. Once word gets out about what's going on, cranky American brigadier general Mark Grayson (Carl Ottosen) comes in to oversee matters for the United Nations and the team hire on American scientist Connie Miller (played by Miss Germany 1958, Marlies Behrens), who's greeted with a hilariously sexist comment ("We are not accustomed to seeing such a beautiful woman connected to science") by her new boss.

Not exactly alarmed by the strange new developments with the rapidly-growing creature (which is eventually dubbed "Reptilicus" by the press), Dr. Martens puts it in a nutrient bath incubator and allows it to continue to grow. Late one stormy night when the power goes out, Reptilicus kills Dr. Dalby and escapes from the building. Grayson quickly gets the military, local police and scientific community together to plot the best course of action. After a farmer reports 14 dead cows, they track the creature to the country, where the military open fire with machine guns, missiles and tanks but are unable to stop the giant reptile. Oh, did I forget to mention it also has impossible-to-penetrate armor-like scales? An attempt to fry it with a flamethrower also fails when the creature slithers back into the sea.

A warship is sent out to find Reptilicus and they finally locate it resting at the bottom of the sea. They attempt to kill it with bombs until Connie reminds them if they do and the creature is blown into a zillion pieces then each of those pieces has a chance to become a new Reptilicus. However, by the time they stop, at least one piece is blown off the reptile. Now all they can do is sit and wait the creature out as it leaves a trail of sunken freighters, cruise ships and sludge-covered beachgoers along the Baltic Sea in its wake. Oh, did I forget to mention it also shoots "burning acid slime" out of its mouth?

I've found that a lot of times, 50s and 60s monster movies aren't anywhere near as bad as many people make them out to be. Just because the special effects don't hold up to today's standards (not that a lot of CGI is really any more convincing) doesn't mean the film as a whole is poor. In fact, a lot of these actually have decent acting and scripts, with good ideas and a purpose / moral at their core. Reptilicus, on the other hand, it genuinely terrible! Not only do you get the awful special effects of a floppy puppet monster "rampaging" (being yanked around with a string) through a miniature model city, but everything else about this is just as bad... if not worse! 

Saving the day here is the truly heinous English-language dubbing, which transforms what is often a pretty bland monster movie padded with military stock footage and tourism-promoting travelogue (including a musical number where the performer sings the praises of Copenhagen!) into a frequently-hilarious bad movie classic. When the voiceover actors aren't awkwardly pausing every other word to match lips ("I have never seen... bone fragments... like this... before") they're given riotously moronic lines ("You'll have to fire point blank... at very close range!") or turning most of the characters (especially the military "hero") into insufferable asshats. What's especially funny is that this was deemed the BETTER English-language version out of two options. Danish and English versions were filmed simultaneously but the latter was supposedly so bad the audio track had to be scrapped and replaced with this new dub-job, which makes me wish the other English version was available just so I could see how bad it was!

And the award for "Worst Movie with the Best Posters" goes to...

Historically, this was Denmark's first giant monster movie and may still be their only giant monster movie as far as I can tell. And it looks like half of Copenhagen showed up to appear in the film as panicking townsfolk fleeing the beast! Many of the actors, including Ann Smyrner and Mimi Heinrich (who play Dr. Martens' man-hungry daughters), also appeared in Pink's JOURNEY TO THE SEVENTH PLANET (1961). American distributor / producer Samuel Z. Arkoff and his American International Pictures released this theatrically in the U. S. and are also responsible for adding the green slime to the Reptilicus arsenal of weapons and a new score by Les Baxter. Danish-born Ib Melchior (THE ANGRY RED PLANET) wrote the script with Pink and also provides voices for the English version, as does genre regular Robert Cornthwaite. A novelization and a brief comic book series were also released.

The initial DVD was from MGM and part of their Midnite Movies line. Shout Factory then acquired the rights and released this on a double Blu-ray along with the crappy (and not really in a good, amusing way like this one) Italian killer octopus flick TENTACLES (1977).

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