Doctor Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971) [31 Days of Hammer Horror Review]
Jules picks up where he left off in October by running through some of the choice horror offerings from the fantastic Hammer back catalogue.
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Starring: Ralph Bates, Martine Beswicke
Director: Roy Ward Baker
Hammer was no stranger to mining the crimes of Jack The Ripper for inspiration, but in Doctor Jekyll And Sister Hyde, they came up with their most gloriously outrageous explanation yet.
As if the infamous Whitechapel murders weren’t enough, screenwriter Brian Clemens (fresh from his considerable success on TV’s The Avengers) took them as a starting point, explaining it away with a very modern updating of Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1886 gothic novella Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Oh and he throws the chronologically impossible real-life grave robbers Burke And Hare in for good measure.
Dr Henry Jekyll (Ralph Bates) has dedicated his research to eliminating all illness. His friend Professor Robertson (a wonderfully lecherous Gerald Sim) informs him that such an ambition would never be realised during his lifetime, so he switches his attention to trying to live forever.
Using female hormones taken from cadavers supplied by Burke and Hare (Ivor Dean and Tony Calvin), Jekyll ends up transforming himself into a woman, the beautiful but callous Mrs Hyde (Martine Beswicke), who he passes off as his sister.
When the bodysnatchers are caught by a lynch mob, Jekyll must start to find the hormones by himself, so reluctantly begins murdering prostitutes on the fog-laden streets of Whitechapel.
There’s so such reticence on Hyde’s part though, as she relishes the killings and is soon vying for permanent control of her shared body…
Despite it’s gruesome subject matter, Doctor Jekyll And Sister Hyde is as ludicrous as it is fun.
Stepping into his mad scientist shoes yet again, Ralph Bates is perfectly cast as the hubristic if not properly evil Dr Jekyll. Dashingly handsome and charismatic, he’s a likeable sort, even if he is somewhat on the morally flexible side. His chaste mutual infatuation with upstairs neighbour Susan Spencer (Susan Brodrick) is charmingly portrayed, in strict contrast to his vampish alter-ego’s seduction of her brother Howard (Lewis Fiander).
Former Bond girl Beswicke is a suitably bewitching presence, seducing not only Howard but the hapless Professor Robertson, who’s smart enough to finger Jekyll for the Ripper murders, but too distracted by his libido to avoid a fatal stabbing from a partially-clothed Hyde.
As entertaining as the murders are, it’s the little moments about identity that really mark out this film. Jekyll’s first examination of his voluptuous new body is carefully played, but feels natural, while seeing his discomfort as his female mannerisms emerge while speaking to Howard in the street is flat-out hilarious.
With so many elements of Victorian horror being thrown at the wall, it’s no surprise director went to town with all the trappings you’d expect. The cobbled and fog-laden streets are full of leery street-walkers, urchins and corner potato-sellers, while ineffectual Bobbies run around blowing whistles and keeping mobs back from “The Ripper’s” latest victim. Sure, it’s every cliche in the book, but this isn’t a film that takes itself too seriously, so it’s easy to sit back and enjoy it.
Underneath the wry humour, Clemens is saying some interesting things about gender and their roles in Victorian society here, sticking a fork (or a very large knife) in the hypocrisy of polite company and the result is hugely enjoyable.
With two exceptional actors in the lead roles, a sharp script, some brutally effective death scenes and a richly evocative atmosphere, Doctor Jekyll And Sister Hyde is another example of how much Hammer still had to offer in their later years.
The Writer of this piece was: Jules Boyle
Jules tweets from @Captain_Howdy
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