I reel in disbelief at this film's online reviews. They admit it's not up there with Hammer's best offerings, but are still queueing up to praise it ("one of the best films to come out of the studio", "one of the best period horror films of its day"). Are these people mad? It's rubbish!
This thing is boring, boring, boring and then in the final reel silly. It doesn't make sense, the acting is dire even for Hammer and I can't think of a reason to watch it bar completism. The acting is a particular disappointment, since I'd been hoping for a bit of scenery-chewing from Jacqueline Pearce at least. Sadly not. It's a good decade prior to her scenery-chewing turn as Servalan in Blake's Seven and so what you'll see here is a young girl in her early twenties, still wet behind the ears and almost wooden enough to make Jennifer Daniel look good. The latter can't even manage to be startled convincingly, by the way. Meanwhile Ray Barrett is doing his best Roger Moore impersonation, so in other words isn't even trying to act but nonetheless still manages to be vaguely watchable in a ruggedly useless way. If you fancy a laugh, check out his reaction to being told that his brother was murdered. Barrett changes the inclination of his head. No, really. That's all he does.
The rest of the cast is better, but not nearly by enough to save the film. Noel Willman is the gaunt, tragic Dr Franklyn, for whom the best adjective might be "repressed". Sometimes he's not too bad. I liked the look on his face when he finally decides to take matters into his own hands, for instance. However at other times, he's leaking sawdust. Michael Ripper shows up yet again, in what must be one of the biggest of his 10000000000000 (approx) Hammer roles. I quite like him, but he's clearly a character actor rather than a leading man. He can't lift a scene. He does his job well, but no more. If he's opposite Ray Barrett, we're still screwed. The only actors who I'd say were actually worth watching are: (a) Marne Maitland as an evil ethnic stereotype in such a small role that he doesn't even get a name, and (b) John Laurie, who played Private Frazer in Dad's Army. Here he's playing a character called Mad Peter, so you know there's going to be at least some light relief there. Perhaps he could have been funnier, but I still enjoyed his idea of table manners, for instance.
There isn't even any nudity, since it's 1966. Admittedly the girls wear nightgowns, but it's not exactly sleaze-o-rama.
As for the story, it's the usual Anthony Hinds runaround. You could practically cut-and-paste it with one of his vampire films. With Peter Cushing, it might have been rather enjoyable, but unfortunately it's hamstrung by the weak cast, slow pace and underpowered monster. The snake-woman looks great, but she's no Christopher Lee. We're not waiting in terror for her to turn up and wreak havoc, but merely waiting. Zzzzz. In the meantime, our heroes go to the big house, have dinner and talk to each other. That's it. At one point Michael Ripper suggests digging up some bodies, which on the upside is a bit more interesting, but on the downside gives them nothing that they couldn't have got from even the most cursory medical examination before burying those poor people in the first place. A good actor could have made this endless build-up more watchable, but we're a bit stuffed there.
The ending has more incident and could almost be called exciting, but it doesn't make even the slightest scrap of sense. Dr Franklyn decides to kill his daughter. Well done, that man. This is several years and any number of innocent victims too late, but what the hell. Down he descends to the sulphurous pit under his house (no, really) and is about to administer the lethal blow when he's suddenly distracted by the necessity of, um, releasing cute animals from their cages. Evil Ethnic Stereotype turns up for a fight to the death, after which Dr Franklyn forgets that he ever wanted to kill anyone at all and instead has a chat with Jennifer Daniel. What's more, even this confession scene on its own makes no sense. One minute he's baring his soul to her, then the next he's locking her in to die. Eh? Are we supposed to think he's mentally unbalanced or something? That would actually be a perfectly reasonable reading of the film, but I'd have been more enthusiastic about it had either Anthony Hinds or Noel Willman given us more reason to think it was deliberate.
Later we have Snake-Woman collapsing from some cold air, but then shortly afterwards supposedly burning to death. Note that we don't see her die. Why are we supposed to think she didn't revive and slither off to safety? The aforementioned caverns, for instance. By the time we've factored in the variable strength of her venom and our heroes' highly dubious method for counteracting it, this is starting to look like a the work of a writer who's lost control of his story.
I do like the Snake-Woman, which would have been a better title than The Reptile. Her bite has a fairly spectacular effect, causing its victims to turn green, foam at the mouth and appear suddenly at windows and/or fall down staircases. She also has a good make-up job. In a better movie, she could have been memorable.
Meanwhile there's day-for-night filming so shameless that it looks like a continuity error, or else at one point as if they're shooting through liquid mud. It's so bad that I was surprised to realise that these scenes were even meant to be dark in the first place. I'd assumed I was watching a bad print or something. There's snake-charmer music, which would have been a nice touch if it weren't for the fact that snakes are deaf. The Cornish location hardly comes across at all, with the only accent on display being from an extra who has one line. Apparently Hammer used the same sets back-to-back with The Plague of the Zombies. I hope that film's better.
The Reptile is dull. It doesn't sing, it doesn't dance. It doesn't do anything, really. The nearest it comes to being scary is when our heroes are breaking into Dr Franklyn's house, which I suppose is passably done but certainly isn't memorable enough to make the film worth watching. Its most interesting feature is a Fake Scare By Wooden Carving. Theoretically it's not so very different from any number of other Hammer films, but it's entirely uninspired and made to seem longer than it is by poor acting. By the time I'd finished, I felt as if I'd been watching for two hours. Even Jacqueline Pearce fans shouldn't watch this one.