In 1894, when he was only twenty-two years old, John Lewis Phipps took possession of Oakley Court, a Victorian Gothic country house in the parish of Bray that, years later, due to its proximity to Bray Studios and Hammer Horror productions, would serve as the set or backdrop to a slew of horror films, among them The Plague of the Zombies and The Reptile. In the latter of these, which takes place in a fictional Cornish town called Clagmoor Heath, scene after scene is obscured, either by fog or by smoke or by mist, clouds, or steam: whether it is the arrival of Harry Spalding and his wife to the village, or bartender Tom Bailey’s unearthing of Mad Peter’s corpse, hardly anything in the film happens without some reminder that a veil is being drawn across the viewer’s eyes, the one exception being the appearance of Anna Franklyn, played with an almost alien grace by Jacqueline Pearce, who has let herself into the Spalding home to leave a large bouquet of lilies—a sunlit scene in which Pearce displays such preternatural clarity and calm that one cannot help but begin to suspect that her simple radiance is in fact the greatest distortion of all, that it is Anna herself who is responsible for the grotesque deaths of so many villagers, which is later revealed to be exactly the case: Anna, it turns out, is the reptile of the title who, having been cursed to change form by the members of an obscure snake cult, in retaliation for her father’s disclosure of their most closely guarded secrets, is now drawn, when in her reptile form, to feed upon human victims (despite the fact that the manor in which she lives contains dozens of caged animals for her to eat), and her predation does not end until a fire destroys her home, killing Anna along with her father and their sinister servant and presumably all of the trapped, innocent animals, finally freeing Clagmoor Heath of its monster, at which point it is Oakley Court, erstwhile home of John Lewis Phipps, that is shown, in the last frames of the film, engulfed in flames.

Dan Josefson
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