Reptilicus, a 1961 giant monster film about a prehistoric reptile, is a Danish-American co-production, produced by American International Pictures and Saga Studios, and is—upon close examination—two distinctly different films helmed by two different directors.
An English version was shot by Sidney W. Pink (who had more success developing colour 3D films, producing The Angry Red Planet and discovering Dustin Hoffman) and a Danish version directed by Poul Bang, whose surname is more dramatic than the film.
The bizarre filming arrangement of filming both versions of the film with the same cast (with the exception of actress Bodil Miller, who couldn’t speak a word of English) has precedent, of course, with the likes of Dracula having English and Spanish language versions filmed consecutively and even Laurel and Hardy filming in two languages – however, you would be very wrong to give Reptilicus the same credit.
Head of AIP, Samuel Z. Arkoff, politely informed Pink after an early screening that audiences would never be able to take the heavy Scandinavian accents seriously and requested the film be re-dubbed with American accents. It took Danish-American screenwriter, Ib Melchior (scriptwriter on the far better Robinson Crusoe on Mars), a lot of post-production work before the film was finally released in America in 1962. Pink was angry at the changes and wound up in a legal dispute with AIP. After Pink and others viewed the English-language version, the lawsuit was dropped.
The most incredible aspect of this is that the actors’ voices could in any way deemed to be the decisive factor in the film being a success. It is, without question, one of the lousiest attempts to strike fear in an audience’s heart ever attempted. Danish miners dig up a section of a giant reptile’s tail from the frozen grounds in Lapland, where they are drilling. The section is flown to the Danish Aquarium in Copenhagen, where it is preserved in a cold room for scientific study.
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Alas, the room is left open and the section begins to thaw, only for scientists to find that it is starting to regenerate. Professor Martens, who is in charge of the Aquarium, dubs the reptilian species “Reptilicus” (upon a reporter’s suggestion) and compares its regenerative abilities to that of other animals like earthworms and starfish.
Once fully regenerated from the tail section, Reptilicus goes on an unstoppable rampage from the Danish countryside, where he has been breakfasting on cows, to the panic-stricken streets of Copenhagen (including one of its famous landmarks, Langebro Bridge). A giant earthworm or a starfish would’ve been a cleverer option.
The beast itself is a giant dragon-like serpent with webbed wings, near-impenetrable armour-plated skin and, as the scientists had already learned, had the ability to regenerate itself from any segment. Attempts were made to have Reptilicus performing an aerial assault on Copenhagen but this was deemed ‘unrealistic’ (!) and was cut from the US version. However, the American cut did feature an effect showing Reptilicus shooting a wax crayon-looking neon-green acid slime from his mouth; it is unclear how this was held as being acceptable to human eyes. Reptilicus was magically brought to life by using a marionette, operated by someone looking in the opposite direction (presumably).
None of this really prepares you for the fact that the monster actually looks like one of those door draught-excluders made in the style of a snake and that when he savagely feasts upon innocent Danes, the flailing bodies are extremely crudely-drawn cartoon animations. The flying sequence mercifully occurs at night, hiding much of the ‘horror’.
In an attempt to hide the monster, it is rarely seen in its entirety, usually appearing semi-hidden behind buildings and objects. Sadly, this adds to the unintentional hilarity, as the scale of Reptilicus changes wildly throughout the film to compensate for this.
The film has something of a cult following in Denmark and now, since its release on DVD, in many other territories, indeed the film works better as an advert for Copenhagen’s marketing board than as a monster movie. Such was the groundswell of affection, Pink himself considered a remake around the time of Godzilla‘s awful revamp in 2001 but sadly he died before this reached fruition.
The film spawned a shortly-lived comic-book (pulled due to legal wrangles), a novel (!) and is often held up as an example of truly jaw-dropping monster film making – not in the film-maker’s desired way – and clips were used in episodes of The Monkees and an episode of South Park.
Is is said that over 900,000 people turned out as extras for the filming of Reptilicus and the army navy and airforce all gave permission for their personnel and equipment to be used. As 900,000 people was the entire population of the capital at the time, it is difficult to know whether this could possibly have been the case. Several daring (idiotic) members of the public allowed themselves to be terrorised by the creature to such an extent that they are seen to throw themselves off a Copenhagen bridge.
For all these reasons and more, Reptilicus is a required watch for all lovers of horror, monsters and psychotronic-type fare. Amazingly, the Monarch Books novelization by ‘Dean Owen’ sexed up the story and so Sidney Pink tried to sue AIP for defamation of character. Pink’s legal case failed.
Daz Lawrence, HORRORPEDIA
“Judging by its presence on the web, this film is really very popular… perhaps it’s the spectacular flame-thrower sequence, perhaps it’s the spectacular impromptu stunts of the Danish students hurling themselves off the cantilever bridge, perhaps it’s the puppet…” Black Hole Reviews
“Reptilicus itself was the silliest-looking dinosaur ever to be fired upon by an army. It looked more like a dragon and even had a pair of tiny wings that enabled it to sar shakily through the air.” John Brosnan, Future Tense: The Cinema of Science Fiction, St. Martin’s Press, 1978