The Reptile (1966) is a horror film for which I never had any particular affection, and yet over the years it has slowly grown on me. For this reason, I have an inkling it may be one of Hammer's greatest unsung classics. In my experience, the greatest films creep up on you over time.
Holger Haase shares his take on the film at Hammer and Beyond today, and I can't argue with any of his points. Yes, there are a few obvious inconsistencies - but it's never bothered me with any other Hammer film. They were never known for being tight on logic.
There are a few elements that make this a classic for me, though. The first is that it's a very original attempt at a new Gothic monster at a time when Hammer could easily have stuck with recycling the same old favourites.
Second, it has a truly effective atmosphere. I particularly enjoy the rainy graveyard scenes. Bernard Robinson's Cornish village set, built on the backlot at Bray Studios and already used for The Reptile's sister picture The Plague of the Zombies, is partly responsible for this atmosphere. Location filming at nearby Oakley Court also helps. And Arthur Grant's photography is first class as usual, as is Don Banks's score.
Third, it is among my favourite Michael Ripper performances. Although Hammer is popularly known for its bigger stars, such as Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, Ripper was in fact the most prolific of its actors, with supporting roles in over two dozen of their productions. He tended to be typecast in cheeky, often eccentric roles, but The Reptile is a change of pace for him. He plays a subdued character who risks isolation in his small, frightened community by gradually defying fear to pursue the creature of the title.
(Incidentally, the other Michael Ripper Hammer role that really stands out is as Mipps the Undertaker in the excellent Captain Clegg, aka Night Creatures, of 1962.)
There are a few other gems in the cast, too: the wonderful Noel Willman, the exotic Jacqueline Pearce, the strange Marne Maitland.
Hammer risked trying out new monsters several times - The Gorgon (1964), Hands of the Ripper (1971), Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971) - and as here, the results were rarely less than fascinating.