It is time for a long-overdue tribute to Michael Ripper (1913-2000). Those in the know (You Know Who You Are) need no introduction to the British character actor, and we worship him for his innumerable roles in British horror films in the 60s, particularly those produced by Hammer Studios. Imagine, if you will, a dignified Marty Feldman with (usually) a beard, and you have a bit of an idea. Never the lead, but always a reassuring supporting character, ESPECIALLY if he played a barkeep. If Michael’s in the tavern, all…will be well.
Where can Michael be found? All over the place, uncredited or not. Though a quick trip to the IMDB will give you the complete list of appearances, much of the joy of Ripper-spotting is running into his familiar face without warning. The earliest bar I’ve seen him tend is in Quatermass 2 (1957), the British equivalent of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The British Government has been taken over by aliens, and their Horrible Industrial Plant is located near the town where Michael serves the ale. A fine exercise in paranoia, and a standout SF/horror film, as are, incidentally, the other two films in the series: The Quatermass Experiment (the first of the three), and Quatermass and the Pit.Michael sheds his beard to play a concerned seaman in the mind-torquing The Lost Continent (1968). On a ship loaded with chemicals that explode on contact with water, Michael is sensible enough to get the hell out of Dodge long before the ship drifts into the Sargasso Sea and encounters carnivorous seaweed, giant hermit crabs, other less immediately identifiable monstrosities, and a colony of Spanish Inquisitors.He is, unfortunately, not able to get out of Cairo in time to escape the wrath of The Mummy’s Shroud (1966), but he has the consolation of stealing the show as the incredibly nervous aid to a unscrupulous (and justifiably doomed) tycoon. Not the best mummy film, but not the worst either.The Plague of the Zombies (1966) finds Michael as the local constable, getting caught up (but fortunately not fatally) in a mystery involving a callous lord killing the locals and then reanimating them as cheap labour in his tin mine. No matter how bad the situation gets, if Michael’s around, things will be under control.Made the same year as Plague, on the same sets, and also taking place in Cornwall, is the ultimate Michael Ripper movie: The Reptile. Oh sure, Jaqueline Pierce cursed to turn into a snake woman is pretty cool, but not only does Michael have a pretty substantial supporting role, he is back where he belongs: in the tavern. And there is a scene here, wait for it, of Michael making things right for the beleaguered leads by stirring them a couple of cups of cocoa. Those of you who do not feel warm and safe upon watching this scene are unworthy of my continued acquaintance.
All of these films have been issued on disc by Anchor Bay. Your one-stop shopping for Michael Ripper.