Monday, December 29, 2008

December's Monster Movie of the Month - Reptilicus [Danish Version] (1961)

Rubber puppet lays waste to Denmark, turns attention to U.S.

This little film has been much maligned by... everybody. There are actually two versions of it out there - Danish (1961) and American (1962). I think it's generally the American version collecting the poor marks.

I can't say yay or nay on the American take, but the Danish didn't do SO bad. I mean, sure, the monster was a rubber marionette. And the film did include two "WTF" musical numbers. And... the monster was only on screen for maybe 10 minutes.

But gosh, those Danes had heart.

No subtitles for the print I (ahem) obtained, so I can't comment on how smart the dialogue was. But the characters seemed credulous enough. (Maybe a little stiff during line delivery at times, but who among us hasn't experienced that?) I got a kind of "gee, these guys are really giving it their all - bless their hearts" feeling, as I watched.

Anyway. The monster here was a big old flying dragon who, at the beginning of the film, was just a dragon tail--dug up by oil drillers. When this mysterious tail thawed out, it grew from a dragon tail into a full blown dragon. You know, like a lizard can grow a new tail if it loses the old one; this tail could grow a new dragon when it... needed to. Wow. I felt my I.Q. drop just writing that.

So. The dragon regenerates, starts breathing, gets loose, eats one farmer, a few cows and some houses. Then the army sets it on fire (those guys, always settin' stuff on fire!) and it scurries into the ocean. Because it's an amphibious dragon.

Army says: "if we can't burn it we'll blow it to pieces with depth charges!", and then does blow it into at least two pieces, since one of the dragon's little legs tears off and floats down to the seabed. (And I'm thinking "oh, that's gonna be the movie's parting shot" because, as the scientists then remind the army - if you blow the dragon to pieces, each piece could regenerate into a whole new dragon to worry about.) So the army, with sheepish grins, stops dropping depth charges.

So the scientists and the military go back to the lab and discuss a lot of things in Danish for awhile, work together, and come up with this: "Let's shoot a poison filled bazooka shell into the monster's mouth!" And so, they shoot it into the dragon's mouth and it dies.

But THEN! Just before the credits roll, we get a shot of the dragon leg on the seabed (Dan nods knowingly here). And it's toes are twitching....


So it's true the dragon was brought to "life" as a puppet. By a puppeteer. Not a very gifted one. Well, that's not fair. I guess the puppeteer did the best he could with what they gave him.
The real lameness of the puppet was in it's design - little feet that didn't move when it walked and came waaay off the ground every time the dragon looked upward, since they were attached directly to it's neck. As in no legs. Just feet attached directly to it's neck.

And the gaping rubbery mouth that just hung open and kind of jiggle-jaggled when the dragon moved.

And the garish carnival-painted-on eyes. You know the type.

And those puppet strings were really, really obvious in some shots.

And listen. I don't know too much about the Danish mindset--maybe over there musical numbers are a can't-miss addition to any film.

There's a scene where a handyman walks outside the lab, sits on a park bench, and starts singing about the dragon. And if that's not weird enough, he's not even through the first line and about ten little kids - girls in frilly dresses and boys in pressed short pants - gather around him to listen and dance.

Where'd they come from? Did the lab have an on-site daycare for it's staff? Weird.

The movie's other musical number at least involved a couple of characters on a date - they listened to some nightclub singer do "Tivoli Nights". So it kind of fit into the story. No--"fit the story" is a little strong. But it did make more sense as a scene that didn't particulary fit the story.

My brain worked overtime trying to convince me, as the credits rolled, that this wasn't a monster movie at all, but a romantic drama/comedy/musical with some monster footage added to it. Now I know that's not true - the writer/director really did set out to make a monster movie (allegedly the then recent Godzilla films - big money makers in Japan - were it's inspiration).

Speaking of writers and directors, did you know this movie was written by the same guy who wrote and directed LAST month's MMOTM - The Time Travelers (1964)? Ib Melchior is his name. Apparently he's quite the celebrated fellow amongst B Movie aficionados. (Yes, I said aficionados.) Some of his other credits are Death Race 2000, Robinson Crusoe on Mars, Angry Red Planet and (I modestly note) another MMOTM, Planet of the Vampires. Crazy. And he's still kicking around; 91 years old.

Right. That about wraps up the film - Danish version anyway. The movie(s) was/were a co-Danish/American project so they filmed it twice, with the Danish actors doing it once in Danish and again in English. But when the American print made it's way back to the US, studio suits thought the actors' accents sounded ridiculous (and they probably did). So they had the film dubbed with American actors (mistake #1). Then they decided the story itself was just lame and reshot a bunch of the movie with some additional American actors (mistake #2).Then  they just kind of put it in the blender and let it go.

So the movie (which was not awards material to begin with) got sliced and diced into something-not-of-this-earth. The flying Danish dragon became a non-flying American dragon, who spits cartoony goo from it's mouth to melt things (and people). Sigh. I am not a fan of our studios "improving" on foriegn movies before releasing them here. (coughgojiracough)

It's a one brain movie, but I've always had a soft spot for it in my heart. So it gets


Oh, and in what I can only surmise as an attempt to boost film sales, the American version was released with a little softcore-porn novelization of the film alongside (which, I swear, was purchased in complete innocence by yours truly many a year ago), taking all the major characters - quite chaste in the movie(s) - and having them jump each other's bones throughout.

Nothing explicit, mind you, just that cheesy 1960s stuff: "Expertly she guided him, her body accommodating itself to the savage lance of his manhood while the world spun around them in a riot of sensation". And yes, that's a direct quote from the book.

Savage lance. Heh.

The Trailer

The Details

Carl Ottosen ... Gen. Mark Grayson
Ann Smyrner ... Lise Martens
Mimi Heinrich ... Karen Martens
Asbjørn Andersen ... Prof. Otto Martens
Bodil Miller ... Connie Miller (Danish version)
Bent Mejding ... Svend Viltorft (drilling crew chief)
Povl Wøldike ... Dr. Peter Dalby
Dirch Passer ... Dirch Mikkelsen
Ole Wisborg ... Capt. Brandt (Royal Danish Guard)
Birthe Wilke ... Herself (nightclub singer)

Poul Bang (Danish)
Sidney W. Pink (American)

MPAA Rating

Denmark:92 min
USA:82 min

Invincible...Indestructible! What was this awesome BEAST born 50 million years out of time?

See a mighty city trampled to destruction! See missiles and atom bombs powerless! See civilisation rioting with fear!

Danish | English

Reptilicus at IMDB
Reptilicus at Wikipedia

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