Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde
The Hammer Collection
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is one of those stories, like Frankenstein or Dracula, that gets reinvented all the time. That’s because it’s a great metaphor for a basic human condition; the good and bad side that’s found in all of us.
Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde replaces the ‘evil’ monstrous side of Jekyll with a beautiful woman. I’m not sure if that’s a statement on the part of the filmmakers that women are evil, or just an excuse to show some breasts; though to be fair, Mrs. Hyde is a murderer in the film.
Jekyll is a doctor trying to find an elixir of life. He succeeds, kind of; but his elixir has the side effect of transforming him into a woman. This is complicated by the fact that his young female tenant, Susan, has fallen in love with him; while her brother has likewise fallen for Mrs. Hyde.
The film puts some interesting twists on the old J&H story by incorporating famous (though anachronistic) crimes. Jekyll’s elixir requires female hormones from fresh corpses, which he buys from Burke and Hare, the serial killers who, in 1827, killed 17 people and sold the corpses to doctors and scientists for research. When that supply runs dry, Jekyll (or more often Hyde) take matters in to their own hands, and become Jack the Ripper (1888) in the process.
Hammer isn’t outrageous or daring, or original but they’re dependably entertaining, with a good mix of style and solid execution. The emergence of Hyde, and her power struggle with Jekyll are well paced and their characters are well defined and believable. Hyde comes across as evil, considering her desire to ride herself of her other half, but it’s tempered by the fact that she just wants to live. She kills women for the hormone, because she would cease to exist without it.
The one down side to the story is that the dialogue occasionally resorts to telling, rather than showing. For instance, Jekyll has a conversation with Susan about ‘the greater good,’ and whether it’s okay to kill a few to save many. It’s clear that he’s thinking about the prospect of killing women for his research, and yet the movie still tacks on a voice over in which Jekyll says he has decided to kill women to further his research.
The movie stars Hammer regular Ralph Bates, and Martine Beswick, whose first credit, according to IMDB, was as ‘Dancing Silhouette During Opening Credits’ in Dr. No. Bates has kind of a rat-like quality that makes him convincing in this kind of role. He also looks a bit like Beswick, which makes them convincing forms of the same person.
Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde isn’t scary, maybe because it’s a period piece, or because it old stories that we already know the end of. But it is entertaining, and atmospheric.
The DVD from Anchor Bay is out of print, but still available in the aftermarket.