There are some fantasy, science fiction, and horror films that not every fan has caught. Not every film ever made has been seen by the audience that lives for such fare. Some of these deserve another look, because sometimes not every film should remain obscure.
Sometimes, you go to a puppet show just to see the sets…
Distributed by: American International
Directed by: Sidney Pink
Bedre et salt slid over sitt eget bord, end en fersk gedde overet fremmed
(Dry bread at home is better than roast meat abroad)
- Danish proverb, via Emanuel Strauss
When one thinks of kaiju, most examples that come to mind tend to be Japanese. Which is understandable, considering their contributions to that particular genre.
However, the field is very much an international one. The original Gojira was inspired by and an answer to the Warner Brothers film The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. This film itself continued traditions started in 1925’s The Lost World and 1933’s King Kong. The revival of this tradition soon inspired other countries to make such works, such as The Giant Behemoth from England.
As well as Denmark. Oh my God, Denmark!
Yes, I said Denmark, as evident in the original Danish trailer:
Our film opens in Lapland, where Svend Viltorft (Bent Mejding) is taking core samples from the ground. In the American version of the film, he’s looking for copper; in the Danish version he’s prospecting for oil.
When he pulls up his drill, he finds blood and flesh attached to a leathery skin. Believing at first this might be yet another well preserved mammoth specimen that one found often that far north in Eurasia (and can still find to this day), the flesh and bones are dug up and shipped to Copenhagen, where a team led by Professor Martens (Asbjorn Andersen) begins the process of examining the remains.
It’s a process that takes, what feels like, too long to get through, especially as the film takes a major detour for a while as the American general assigned to provide security over the project, Mark Grayson (Carl Ottosen), does a travelogue for Copenhagen. This includes a musical number sung by Birthe Wilke at the Tivoli Gardens, a literal show stopper in that everything just screeches to a halt for this piece to take place:
What there is of the examination itself may easily be missed by the viewer, as much of the early film focuses on the antics of lab assistant Petersen, played by Danish comedic legend Dirch Passer.
Amazingly, contrary to expectations, this clown isn’t responsible for Reptilicus’ carcass warming up, regenerating into a new creature and starting to wreak havoc on the Danes.
Havoc that comes in radically different styles, depending on whether you’re watching it in the Danish version:
or the American version:
While there are some subtle difference in technique, either way, you’re going to see this monster and wonder how you’re going to get scared of a puppet that looks like it’s waiting for Kukla and Fran to show up…
There are other differences between the Danish and American versions of the creature, none of which allow you to feel anything resembling terror as you watch. For the US version, Reptilicus spits a corrosive, which as depicted on film does nothing but fill the screen with globs of green goop, more like a loogie than an acid bath.
In the Danish version, he has no range attack, but he can fly. Badly.
We mentioned this was Danish, right? It came out at an odd time for that country’s cinema: the Danish Film Institute would not start supporting films until 10 years later, and Lars Von Trier was only six years old. So when Sid Pink was looking for a new project to produce, one he had an eye on making his debut as a feature director with, he took an existing script from Ib Melchior, tweaked it to take into account the new setting, and sold the Danes on producing and staging the film in Copenhagen as a way to invigorate their film industry with foreign input while raising their profile.
It didn’t quite go that way. The original Danish version (which was shot simultaneously in English) was considered an embarrassment by Pink’s hosts, as his ineptitude with setup, pacing, crowds, actors, puppets, you name it, showed in every shot. It was so bad that American International refused to release it without major edits and re-dubbing the phonetic English the crew read their lines with, replacing them with American voice-over artists, and making the edits and additions noted above.
While there’s a lot to be upset with, the film has its, um, fans. Aficionados of films so cheesy they become brie, love to cite Reptilicus as the best of the worst, the “go-to” example of how low you can sink and yet find joy that far down. In some ways, the film wears its limits like a badge of honor; clips of the movie have appeared in The Monkees, The Beverly Hillbillies, and South Park whenever the script calls for “bad monster movie playing on TV” to be shown. And the movie had the dubious honor of being the film to open the new set of experiments on Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Return.
Much like the namesake monster, the film left Denmark suffering from some long-term damage. The Danes would never again get involved with big Hollywood-based genre films.
…unless you want to count The Lego Movie, that is…
NEXT TIME: When you have to ask “Take me to your leader” on a shoestring budget…