First zombies, now snake-women - some villages just can't catch a break, especially when the same director shoots two different Hammer horrors there in the same year. After dealing with the Plague Of The Zombies (Blu-ray + DVD) , John Gilling returns to the same Cornish village set on the Bray backlot for The Reptile, which isn't half as much fun but still offers plenty of second-feature pleasures of its own. Jacqueline Pearce and the ever-reliable Michael Ripper are also back in different roles, Pearce striking in another hauntingly doomed turn (though she gets one unsettling moment of filial defiance playing the sitar) and Ripper superb here in a more thoughtful, understated and ultimately heroic role than was usually his lot.
Not that he's the hero, of course - that dubious honour goes to Ray Barrett, another of Hammer's adequate but unexceptional leading men, albeit one who looks rugged enough to have actually been a professional soldier until his brother dies and he inherits his cottage. It's not long before he's emptying Michael Ripper's pub on a regular basis every time he walks through the door, and that's before he even tries to find out what really happened to his sibling and several other locals who've met premature ends after turning green and frothing at the mouth. Is it a King Cobra or something much more unthinkable? Since it's a Hammer film you already know the answer, and he doesn't have to look far for the reason once he makes the acquaintance of Noel Willingham's stern and remote Doctor (of Theology), whose daughter Pearce is a great burden to him since falling foul of Marne Maitland's Malay snake cult...
Gilling's direction is stronger than his material, drawing good female performances and a typically enjoyably demented turn from John Laurie as the village loon ("They call me Mad Peter - only because I don't conform.") and while the thin story and lack of memorable set pieces ensure it never comes close to the heights of Plague despite sharing some of its plot points (a mysterious plague, unauthorised exhumations), it's an efficient supporting feature that should please most Hammer fans.
StudioCanal's Blu-ray gets off to a terrible start with a washed out opening few shots (it's particularly poor in any shot involving superimposed screen credits, themselves almost out of focus), but it settles down into a perfectly respectable but not outstanding transfer after that. There's a decent selection of extras, the highlight being the brief (22 minutes) documentary on the making of the film, which examines its roots as part of a cost-cutting programme to shoot four films back-to-back at Bray studios which went wrong when it turned out to be the only one that didn't go over budget, the origins of the project, the makeup and set design (art director Don Mingaye is the only person who worked on the film interviewed), an analysis of Don Banks' score and a look at the problems of restoring and grading a film where none of the original filmmakers survive to tell you how it's supposed to look. There's also an episode of the clip show World of Hammer - Wicked Women and the original UK theatrical trailer, though not, sadly, the demented US trailer for its double-bill with Rasputin The Mad Monk (which can be found on Anchor Bay's US DVDs of both films) offering free Rasputin beards to patrons protecting them from the forces of evil!