Blowup may have been the peak of auteur-driven cinema in Britain in 1966, but the year also represented something of an annus mirabilis for Hammer Films.
These 12 months alone saw the release of their prehistoric adventure One Million Years B.C., Dracula Prince of Darkness, occult drama The Witches, and two rural horrors directed back to back (and on the same set at Hammer’s Bray Studios) by John Gilling.
The first of these was The Plague of the Zombies, released in the second week of the new year, with The Reptile following in March.
Though discrete films, both were set in a superstitious Cornwall of the past, where a mysterious illness is killing off the inhabitants of a small village.
In The Reptile – the moodier and more subtle of the pair – a newcomer’s investigations in the community bring him into contact with the sinister Dr Franklyn (Noel Willman), his oppressed daughter, Anna (Jacqueline Pearce) and their Malay servant (Marne Maitland).
Murder victims turn up with fang marks on their necks. Could sultry Jacqueline Pearce (the future Servalan from Blake’s 7) be the victim of a Malayan curse doomed to writhe the night away?
There’s an endearingly 1950s-style monster, remarkably atmospheric art direction and taut, stylish direction by John Gilling.
Though set at the turn of the 20th century, this creepy classic displays a fascination with Eastern spirituality that’s very 1966.
This is one of the best examples of the economical approach Hammer took to horror while never sacrificing originality.
Charles Lloyd Pack