The Bad Movie Report



Click here for additional info on the making of Reptilicus.

If you're a fan of giant monster movies, chances are you've seen Reptilicus at least once. Whether or not you've seen it twice depends on your tolerance for a lot of things, not the least of which is bad plotting, bad acting, bad dubbing, bad FX.... okay, your tolerance for badness.

Flashback time: when but a young Freex, I was forced to spend some time in the desert hell of Del Rio, Texas (not bad, as far as desert hells go, but winter sucked). The best part was cable TV, which was then not so widespread as it is today. Cable was the only way to pick up any TV besides the Mexican stations, as the nearest transmission facilities were in San Antonio. This meant that lateReptilicus - The Box every Friday night I could watch the CBS affiliate's horror show, Project: Terror. P:T eschewed campy hosts; instead it offered up a meaty clip at the very beginning (preferably with monster in evidence), the sound of a battleship's alarm klaxon would overpower the soundtrack, and what appeared to be an oscilloscope was super- imposed over the picture. An echoplexed voice would intone "Project..... Terrrrrorrrrr!" as the words appeared in a scary, drippy font. Sorta like the one I use. *sigh*

Well, Project: Terror supplied my first encounter with Reptilicus. I don't remember much about that first time, which says something about the impression it made. It wasn't until Orion Home Video released Reptilicus in 1994 that I again encountered the World's Only Danish Kaiju.

Things begin promisingly enough with an oil drilling operation in Lapland. The leader of the expedition, Svend (Bent Medjing), handling the drill bit, finds that it is coated with blood. The core sample reveals startlingly fresh meat within. The Authorities are called in, and it is discovered that Svend's crew has bored into the flash-frozen remains of a heretofore undiscovered dinosaur. It's only the tip of the tail, but it's excavated and taken to the place best suited for research, which is, for some reason, the Danish Aquarium, under the direction of Professor Martens (Asbjørn Andersen).

Unfortunately for all involved, the staff also includes Dr. Stupid ("That's Støypit!") who leaves the Dr. Stupid and Friend.freezer door open (I was expecting it to be this picture's Odious Comic Relief, played by Dirch Passer, but he doesn't even get to do anything that interesting), and the tail thaws. To the amazement of Martens and Stupid ("Støypit!!!!") the tail is not only still alive, but regenerating.... growing a new dinosaur, as it were. At a press conference, Martens likens this to a lizard regrowing its tail or a chopped-up flatworm creating numerous flatworms... what he fails to mention is the tail doesn't grow a new lizard, and a dinosaur is a much more complex cellular organism than a flatworm... but hell, let's just go with the flow for a while, shall we?

It is at this point that we also meet General Mark Graysen (Carl Ottosen), an American officer sent by NATO to oversee the eventual escape and destruction. Ottosen appears to have prepared for every scene by sucking on a very large lemon for five minutes or more, so pronounced is the perpetual sneer upon his face. Eventually, his Danish liaison, Capt. Brandt (Ole Wisborg) suggests that the general take a look around scenic Copenhagen. Graysen grabs the nearest American Babe"Tivoli Nights...they just feel right...." Scientist (Marla Behrens) (hey, no reason to fraternize with the locals, right?) and goes on a whirlwind tour of the wonderful Stock Footage of Copenhagen. Without the Eternal Sneer in evidence, Graysen is actually allowed to sound human for a few minutes as he and the Babe Scientist comment on the Little Mermaid statue, and the average Dane's great love for bicycles. They end up at the Tivoli, and we are treated to the song "Tivoli Nights", which is a sort of lounge/rap number and is Instantly Forgettable. As befits the Scandinavian ambience, the audience looks depressed to the point of suicide.

This idyllic boredom does not last long. For some reason which puzzles even Prof. Martens, Reptilicus has a growth spurt and and busts out, pausing only to do away with Dr. Stupid ("Støypit! Støypit!!!"), who was trying to stop the dino with a .45 automatic. The army scours the countryside, but finding a hundred-foot long dinosaur in the Danish countryside is apparently harder than you would think. Finally, a dazed farmer assures us that Reptilicus has eaten "fourteen of my best cows... fourteen!" And we finally get our first look at the monster.

The promo art (seen above) promises us a classical sea serpent kinda monster, and that is (sort Oliver J. Dragon's Evil Brotherof) what we get (it also promises us a scantily-clad woman, but that would be pushing our luck). The puppet has a long body, like an armored worm, with little T-Rex limbs and a pair of wings as useless and ornamental as the ones on the side of Thor's helmet (though apparently there were scenes of Reptilicus flying in the original, but they were deemed too damned goofy for American consumption. Thank you, AIP). The face lacks even the rudimentary expression given the original Godzilla, with a forked tongue that wiggles about stiffly in its mouth. The rubber hand puppets you can buy in stores - and I mean even as far back as this movie's 1961 vintage - are much more frightening.

I have complained before about miniatures not being shot in slow motion, so as to give them a sense of scale... well, there is slow motion, and then there is what we have here: post-processed Oh my God!  He ate Kenny!slow-mo, where the frames of the film are copied in sequence, effectively doubling the time the image stays on screen, and this is used to simulate slow motion. Well, they tried.

Then (to return to the story), Reptilicus eats a hapless farmer. This is accomplished by some form of animation - it looks like Reptilicus is gobbling down Xeroxed photographs of the actor; it has that over-exposed streaky gray quality to it. The effect, though novel, is extremely jarring.

Discovering that bullets merely bounce off Reptilicus' hide, Graysen cannily orders up Ouchie!flamethrowers, which do some serious damage. Reptilicus slithers off into the ocean to allow his wounds to regenerate. Eventually, the Navy discovers the singed serpent sleeping it off, at which point Graysen shows himself to be an utter and complete imbecile by ordering the boat to drop depth charges on the supine saurian. The Babe Scientist tries to stop him, but he merely shouts down the Dumb Ol' Gurl. She finally manages to remind him of Reptilicus's regenerative powers, but only after a leg has been blown off (ominous music goes here). The Danish Navy show themselves to be at least as stupid (Støypit!) by returning to port without even posting a watch of some sort. So Reptilicus surprises everyone when he next strikes.

Did I mention that Reptilicus spits a corrosive acid slime? Oh my, how could I have forgotten that? They actually do manage to get the puppet to hock up some glowing green crap at times, but Spew!most of the time it's, yes, cartoon crap. And whenever it hits anybody, all you see is animated crap obscuring the screen. The effects of the crap, however horrible, are just too expensive to show us. What it's used for is an excuse to not use flamethrowers on Reptilicus when he swings back through Copenhagen. So Graysen, of course, uses bullets and, yes, you guessed it, more explosives. This leads to face-offs between Graysen and Martens. The scientist rightly does not want Reptilicus to be blown to little self- replicating pieces, but is clueless as to how to actually stop the spitting sauropod. This leads to much hair-pulling and sneering on Graysen's part, as they agonize over how to kill Reptilicus. At this point, every 12 year old in the audience has a lengthy list of ways to do just that. In fact, I happen to have one right here....

Fan mail from some flounder.

Well, after this less-than-helpful debate, Martens must be helped out by his daughters (Martens suffered a heart attack trying to stop Graysen's last ill-advised, ass-brained attempt to blow up Reptilicus). Graysen paces about some more, until a daughter returns to tell them than the prof will be okay, the doctor gave him a hypo. It is now time for Movie Cliché #12, as Svend sighs, "Too bad we can't give Reptilicus a hypo." (and what is Drill Boy doing still hanging around?) "What did you say?" snaps Graysen*. After some dialogue, it is decided to shoot a rocket containing a gallon of "a drug" into Reptilicus' unarmored mouth (Option #5! Good call, Timmy!). Prof. Martens, we are assured, can then "destroy him".

You might expect some suspense from having to hit a small target like a puppet's mouth when you Reptilicus does Cardboard City.have only one shot, but then, Reptilicus has, by this point, ground all such expectations out of you. Even when Reptilicus is distracted by a passing ambulance and the brave Capt. Brandt must give his life to get the puppet turned in the proper direction, it's a fairly ho-hum moment. Graysen hits his mark, Reptilicus goes nappy-time (conveniently forgetting to slime anybody in the process) and Prof. Martens arrives to "destroy him". As the good prof is not carrying tools of any sort, we can only assume he means to strangle the beast with his bare hands.

As the movie ends, Graysen stands overlooking the devastation with the Babe Scientist, philosophizing, "Good thing he was the only one." Of course, the boob has forgotten that he blew off Reptilicus' leg and it is now growing a new Reptilicus. At the very least, this movie had the common decency to set up the ending-that-is-not-an-ending a half-hour before the close. The end.

Halfway through Reptilicus I found myself entertaining a fantasy, a fantasy where August Strindberg or Henrik Ibsen write a monster movie and Ingmar Bergman directs it. Von Sydow would have made a fine, driven Martens, Liv Ullman a suitably tortured Babe Scientist, and Graysen would be played by.... ah...... um.... oh, hell. Woody Allen. Anything would have been better.

Even having trashed the movie in the synopsis, there is still much left to complain about in Reptilicus. For instance, an ungainly number of major characters - why does Martens have two daughters, when Svend only needed one for his love interest? Why does NATO take a cue from the Gamera movies and let Svend (in the absence of a precocious Japanese boy) hang around the HQ? How does someone as phenomenally stupid and tactically naive as Graysen get to be a general? And how did someone this unlikable get to be the hero (I still don't know which character I was supposed to be rooting for)? And why couldn't the Odious Comic Relief have had a death scene?

It is refreshing to finally see a Caucasian audience running about, screaming, with a giant in pursuit. Unfortunately, the people are filmed running every which way, causing some very real annoyance on the filmgoer's part - okay, which way is the monster? This also leads into one of the movie's more absurd moments, which, if I recall correctly, was quoted in It Came from Hollywood. The sea of humanity, running from Reptilicus (I'll take their word for it) approaches a drawbridge. The drawbridge operator sees the entire population of Copenhagen running from a giant, spitting puppet, and freaks out. Fair enough, except that for some reason he raises the drawbridge. Then, upon seeing people and the Dane's beloved bicycles falling from the bridge, he covers his face and turns to the wall, sobbing. Luckily, Svend and Graysen show up, Svend knows how to operate a drawbridge, and Graysen doubtless slaps the operator silly, like an angry, sour-faced George C. Scott.

GAZE into the sweaty nostrils of TERROR!There is one other thing about Graysen that bugged me while watching the feature - I mean besides his being dumber than my sock drawer. His dubbing is particularly wearing - the lips movement match, but EVERY... WORD... IS OVER... E-NUN-CI-A-TED AND HAS E-QUAL.... EM- PHA-SIS. Where had I heard this before, I wondered. Why is this so familiar? Then I realized... it sounded like Bela Lugosi in Bride of the Monster, minus the Hungarian accent.

And this was the missing piece I needed. It was at this point that I realized what would have made Reptilicus a definitive Bad Movie Experience, would have pumped it up from a mere Tor-and-a-Half Waste of My Time to a full-fledged Five Tor Inflict-It-On-Your-Friends Bad Movie. It needed absurd, Ed Wood scripting. It didn't need Von Sydow, Ullman and Bergman. It needed Lyle Talbot as Graysen, Dolores Fuller as the Babe Scientist, and either Dudley Manlove or Tor as Martens. Then it would have been entertaining*.

You see, Reptilicus commits what is, for me, the Second Cardinal Sin of a movie, second right after Boring Me. I don't mind if a movie doesn't have a brain in its head; but when it assumes that I'm stupid, too..... well, that pisses me off.


The Plan 9 of giant monster movies.

- December 20, 1998