Reptilicus (1962)

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three star

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It’s sometimes difficult to distinguish old school giant monster/kaiju movies from one another through any means besides the individual visual designs of their respective monsters. The original King Kong & Godzilla films have a distinct look & history to them, but a lot of the giant monster films that followed in their wake are a little more run of the mill. The 1962 picture Reptilicus, on the other hand, is significant as the first & only giant monster movie native to Denmark. Filmed in & around Copenhagen, Reptilicus has effortlessly earned a cult reputation among Danish-speaking audiences because of the novelty of its setting, which gives Tokyo a much-needed break from kaiju-driven destruction.

A crew of Danish miners are shocked to strike blood & functioning organs beneath the frozen tundra of their job site. Once in possession of the anomalous specimen, a group of scientists identify the mysterious genetic material as belonging to a prehistoric reptile they christen “Reptilicus”. They soon discover that as the organic material thaws it begins to regenerate, heal, and grow, eventually returning Reptilicus to its massive prehistoric form so it can terrorize downtown Copenhagen. The mayhem that ensues may not seem all that special in light of the 10,001 Godzilla movies & Power Rangers episodes flouting around out there, but it does have a really cool monster puppet at its center and the film is allowed to repeatedly destroy it with flamethrowers, tanks, and missiles thanks to its reptilian “regeneration” powers. Reptilicus was one fire-breathing, airborne attack away from being a great old school movie about a dragon, but as is it’s a pretty decent kaiju picture with a really cool context in its setting.

There aren’t too many other distinguishing characteristics to Reptilicus besides its Danish setting. Its love story is flat & uninteresting, as is its bumbling doofus comic relief. There’s exactly one sequence where the film is campy in a way that has nothing to do with its “prehistoric reptile” menace. While out on the town on a date, two sightseeing lovers intone inane chatter over Ed Wood/Europe in the Raw-style stock footage of Copenhagen. This sequence is gloriously capped off by a dinner-and-a-show rendition of the swanky tune “Tivoli Nights” in a Danish nightclub. As highly amusing as this moment is, it points to the very simple formula that makes Reptilicus special: giant monster + Denmark. The film’s gigantic reptile terror is great fun to look at, from its dragon-like head to its dumb little T-Rex arms hanging out comically low on its elongated body, but it’s doubtful that would be memorable enough to carry the movie on its own without Denmark as a backdrop.

Reptilicus is a moderately fun novelty solely due to its monster & its setting. Years ago, it would’ve been the exact kind of B-picture I’d rather watch through the snarky lens of MST3k, but I’m starting to prefer this kind of dinky, antiquated  entertainment without the emotionally-distancing sarcasm. It’s the perfect daytime, background noise monster flick, especially if you have any particular fondness for or personal connection to Copenhagen or Denmark at large.

-Brandon Ledet

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