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REPTILICUS - THE SCREENPLAY
The last word on research about this memorably bad giant-monster-on-the-loose flick.
By Ted Newsom
August 24, 2000
The word 'fan' is a colloquialism deriving from 'fanatic.' That pretty well describes Kip Doto, a writer who spent a year creating a book devoted to one of the most jaw-droppingly laughable sci-fi films of the 1960smemorable for all the wrong reasons. REPTILICUSTHE SCREENPLAY is the last word in research on this giant-monster-on-the-loose flick. 'It was always a childhood favorite of mine, and I never thought it received decent coverage,' Doto says. Florida-based Doto made the acquaintance of producer Sid Pink, who lived in retirement nearby. 'I had prompted Sid to publish the script from ANGRY RED PLANET, and REPTILICUS was the next logical step.'
Doto wisely avoids commenting on the quality of the movie. His privately printed book lovingly reprints the original script (a Sid Pink revision of Ib Melchior's original), along with the original pressbook, color posters and rare behind-the-scenes photos, original news items, and covers from the short-lived REPTILICUS comic book. Doto's tome is undoubtedly the best book on REPTILICUS ever written, and no one needs to write another.
Pink's major contribution to the science fiction universe was the co-creation of 'CineMagic,' a wacky solarized effect used in ANGRY RED PLANET (1959). This 'effect' was devised by Moe Howard's son-in-law Norman Mauer, in an attempt to recreate the etched look of a comic strip from live-action scenes, so these elements would blend with the movie's cartoonish monster effects. AIP made money with ANGRY RED PLANET, and requested more low-budget films from Pink.
By June, 1960, when Pink started REPTILICUS, the giant monster craze of the 1950s had peaked. He had the good sense to hire Ib Melchior to script the film. Melchior had begun to establish himself as a crafter of imaginative scripts for limited budgets. The concepts in his scenarios for ANGRY RED PLANET, REPTILICUS, and the later Pink production JOURNEY TO THE 7TH PLANET are far more sophisticated than the results. (Melchior later wrote ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS and THE TIME TRAVELERS.) The striking opening of the film shows drillers hauling up a large chunk of reptilian flesh, buried in perma-frost for eons. Like a flatworm, Reptilicus grows from this chunk, and Melchoir's gimmick is that any piece of the monster will regenerate into a full-grown monster.
Pink had fallen in love with Denmark, and secured the cooperation of the Saga Studio in Copenhagen; also, the minimal $133,000 budget went further in Denmark than Hollywood (AIP spent that much on the less-elaborate TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN three years earlier). The fact that the Danish film industry had never done a special effects extravaganza didn't matter to Pink. With Yankee enthusiasm, he secured the cooperation of the Danish military, who rolled out their armor and ships for the production. Pink also fast-talked a local athletic club into an elaborate stunt. At one point, the reptilian monster attacks the city while hundreds of people flee over a drawbridge. The bridge rises, and dozens of Danes tumbled off the edge into the chilly, muddy river.
What follows is described in the enjoyably declamatory style of Melchior's script:
EXT. CITY OF COPENHAGEN - DAY
LONG SHOT P.O.V. ENGINEER (MINIATURE)
Reptilicus seems to have come closer in his terrible march of annihilation towards the bridge......
INT. BRIDGE CONTROL BOOTH - DAY
CLOSE ON ENGINEER
He looks absolutely horrifiedtorn and tormented with uncertaintyhe leans out the window and frantically waves at the hordes of humanity......
EXT. KNIPPLELSBRO - DAY
The flood of people keeps flowing inexorably......
INT. BRIDGE CONTROL BOOTH - DAY
The tortured old man screws his eyes tightly shutas if to close out the horrible sights he knows he will seeand slams home the switch that will raise the humanity laden bridge!
Doto's book provides extensive background information on the Danish cast and crew. Two versions of the film were shot back to back: one in which the cast spoke Danish; the other, English. Fortunately for bad film buffs, almost every aspect of REPTILICUS is laughable, amateurish or plain baffling. At one point, the story stops dead and the film becomes a travelogue of Copenhagen, complete with a cabaret song. The musical score uses a whirring, siren-like slide whistle for a 'horror sting,' but this instead calls to mind a cartoon character about to run off-screen. The effects can't even be called 'special.' The Danish crew crafted a ludicrous marionette monster which flopped around on visible strings in cardboard representations of Copenhagen. Pink's original cut also featured scenes of the monster flying ala RODAN, along with a tune sung by the famed (at least in Denmark) comedian Dirch Passer, with memorable lyrics:
'The people who see my Tillicus will be shocked! / When it walks it's as if it's dancing a slow rock (and roll)! / It's madquite abnormal / picks people from the fifth floor like fruit! / Come on out, little friend / Who is afraid of Tillicus?'
Who indeed? When Pink delivered his film, American International claimed it was not even up to their standards. Considering AIP had foisted INVASION OF THE STAR CREATURES and BEAST FROM THE HAUNTED CAVE on an unwary public, that's saying quite a bit.
'Sure, it's a miserable excuse for entertainment, but God Almighty, it's no worse than other crap AIP put out,' laughs Mark McGee, author of FASTER AND FURIOUSER, a hysterical history of AIP.. 'What's funny is, Sid Pink made JOURNEY TO THE 7th PLANET at the same studio after REPTILICUS (although it was released first), and I don't detect any difference in the dubbing. They're all still speaking so
deliberately. 'Who... opened... the... air... lock...?' You could die of old age before these guys finish a sentence! And to compound the felony, you don't care what they're saying anyhow!
The company sued Pink and ordered extensive re-editing and re-voicing of the dialogue by American actors, including Janet Waldo (the voice of Judy Jetson, among many others) and Robert Cornthwaite (Dr. Carrington in THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD). 'It was tricky,' recalls Cornthwaite, now retired. 'Everyone in the original film ... spoke ... very... deliberately
. Apparently they'd been told to do this to make it easier to dubwhich, of course, did just the opposite.'
'The only good thing that came out of that picture was the Dean Owen book,' chuckles McGee. 'I've got a copydon't you wish you had one?'
AIP licensed the film to Monarch Books for a paperback tie-in, featuring a text written in florid, near-pornographic style. Pseudonymous author 'Dean Owen' (actually a prolific hack named Dudley Dean McGaughy) added steamy sex scenes to the story, as he did with other Monarch adaptations of BRIDES OF DRACULA and GORGO. The rear cover blurb (featuring a moody photo of the monster in flight) says, 'General Grayson looked at the girl beside him, wondering if he would live to enjoy Connie's warm, vibrant flesh again. Svend Alstrup, his aide, was remembering Karen's wanton seduction of him and hoping for a repeat performance.' This, derived from a movie in which the principals scarcely even touch each other, let alone share steamy love scenes.
'Sid was really upset over that paperback,' Doto explained. 'He thought it was a betrayal of his deal with AIP, making a randy book from what was supposed to be a family film.' Pink counter-sued AIP over the paperback.
Eventually, all the legal matters were settled. AIP edited out all shots of Reptilicus in flight, and substituted effects even more ridiculous, showing the puppet monster vomiting huge gobs of green phlegm on unsuspecting Danes. The one element of the film that retains some dignity is the camerawork by Aage Wiltrup.
'He hung up on me when I called,' recalls Doto. 'But I got a fax from his son, who interceded. He explained that his dad was an old grouch, but he asked questions and relayed the answers back to me.' Wiltrup also provided a telling snapshot of the crew on the miniature set. The group encircles a model tower and the four-foot monster. Everyone smiles proudlyexcept WIltrup, who looks understandably dubious about the enterprise.
In the wake of his book, Doto engineered a deal between Pink and the toy company Club Daikaiju to craft a plastic version of the monster. Like his cinematic inspiration, Reptilicus seems to have spawned an entire family.
Like an unwelcome half-witted relative, REPTILICUS keeps showing up, telecast regularly on American Movie Classics. There are worse films in the world, and for what little money Sid Pink had, it's got a certain scope that eludes THE GIANT GILA MONSTER or KONGA. If you want to read all about it, REPTILICUSTHE SCREENPLAY is available in specialty stores or by mail from Kip Doto, P.O. Box 8050, Coral Springs, Florida, 33075 ($21.99, plus $3.50 shipping).