REPTILICUS (1961)

One time when I was a kid I was faced with the ultimate dilemma. This was before the days of VCRs and infra-red remote controllers. The War of the Gargantuas (1968) was playing on Channel 32 WFLD at the same time Reptilicus (1961) was playing on Channel 9 WGN —and I had seen neither of the films. I improvised and did what any civilized 10 year old would do.

I flipped channels. 32-9-32-9-32…. Hopefully, I caught the important details from each film. I was the Evelyn Wood of channel changing and monster film retention. I think more soaked in about Reptilicus, a seemingly amazing film about a dragon-like giant lizard thawed from a copper mine in Lapland, than Gargantuas, to me still one of the strangest films ever made (Brad Pitt commented that he loves this film but admitted he couldn’t remember the title).

I remember this well because my mother commented, in channel-changing angst, that (quote):

“That is so odd that both of these films are showing monsters capable of REGENERATION…”

Huh? What?! I was floored.

To this very day, both films remain personal favorites, but Reptilicus is the bomb. I collect Reptilicus memorabilia. I even own a Mexican Lobby Card for The Giant Gila Monster (Gila El Monstruo Gigante) that shows not an image of the Gila Monster, but a colorful water-painting of Reptilicus! This is all weird because Reptilicus came after Gila, so the card is a forgery or from a Mexican re-issue. I have no idea, but it looks good on the wall.

35 years later, I now know that copper mines actually do exist in Lapland. I thought that was all bullshit back then. What I failed to understand back in the day was that Reptilicus came from the scientific and fruitful mind of writer and director Ib Melchior. Reptilicus opens with a mining crew overseeing drilling at a mine in Lapland. A geological engineer at the auger bit notices that his hand is bloody and the crew later finds a fibrous meaty (liver?) specimen wrapped around the auger. In one brief but effective closeup shot we see the chunk of protein pulsating. The mining crew recruits a group of specialists from Copenhagen to investigate. They speculate on the nature and origin of the find. Later, at an aquarium in Copenhagen, a larger tail-section arrives and is kept in deep freeze. Naturally, the fragment thaws.

Along the way we learn that the tissue is alive and regenerative. It grows in a tank supplied with a nutrient solution. The director of the aquarium Prof. Otto Martens (Ashbjorn Andersen, but dubbed by American actor Robert Cornthwaite) names the specimen”Reptilicus” from a reporter’s suggestion. Reptilicus is born. We also learn that the reptile possesses slimy, corrosive glandular secretions. The beast grows to over 90 feet long and escapes from the confines of the aquarium. Behold Reptilicus in all his acid-spewing glory! There’s no CGI here folks! There’s no man in a suit! Reptilicus is a marionette puppet! There has never been a beast like Reptilicus. Well, maybe The Giant Claw?

Both the U.S. and Danish armed forces are called to action. Poor Reptilicus takes a beating from flame throwers, bullets, shells and depth charges. One of his claws gets blow off in a scene ripped off in Jaws…

Surprisingly, there not a whole lot of stock footage in this film. I counted approximately 8 minutes total out of the 82 minutes running time. Some of the best footage has Reptilicus tearing apart the interesting Tivoli Amusement Park in Copenhagen. Here’s a shot of stock army footage.

Reptilicus spews green acid over everything.

Here he is destroying Willy Wonka type homes…

Copenhageners run in fear from the wrath of the Lapland Leviathon!

The ending is a little bit like The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. I won’t spoil the fun. But will Reptilicus return?

Reptilicus can be a bit of a challenge to track down. There was a Midnight Movie MGM DVD, but I think it is out of print. Sometimes you can find the laserdisc and VHS tape. Here’s a scan of the 1994 Orion VHS Packaging Art:

Check out the flying sequence (not in the American Print) on the original Danish cut here:

Screen Capture:

http://wtf-film.com/site/wp-content/uploads/2009/07/vlcsnap-777401.jpg

http://wtf-film.com/site/2009/07/20/reptilicus-2/

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