Friday, January 22, 2016


Roy Ward Baker, 1971
Starring: Ralph Bates, Martine Beswick

The brilliant young Dr. Jekyll is determined to cure as many illnesses as he can, but the remark of a colleague causes him to realize that he can only accomplish this by prolonging his own life. He begins experiments on flies, which is a success, and soon realizes the key lies in the sex organs of human females. His increased need for them causes him to pair up with Burke and Hare, body snatchers turned murderers, and before long, he samples his own potion. To his amazement, he finds that it transforms him into a beautiful woman, who he calls Mrs. Hyde and claims is his sister. Determined to conclude the serum experiments, Jekyll and Hyde begin murdering prostitutes to have an ample supply of organs, but soon begin competing for possession of the body.

Hammer previously adapted Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, a number of times over the years, including earlier efforts such as the comedy The Ugly Duckling, moody horror film The Man Who Could Cheat Death, and the excellent The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll. Towards the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, they also made a number of films about an innocent female protagonist who — due to a physical or psychic transformation — was responsible for brutal crimes. Films like The Reptile, The Gorgon, Frankenstein Created Woman, and Hands of the Ripper are among my favorite Hammer films and Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde fits neatly into this category.

Anyone who finds Hammer generally too stuffy and straight-laced will definitely want to check this one out, as it’s a gleeful blend of camp, brutal violence, tongue-in-cheek sexual themes, and a mad blend of British horror tropes that somehow combines The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde with the real-life cases of Burke and Hare and Jack the Ripper. It’s also a rare case of a Hammer film title that really delivers exactly what it suggests and I’m sure some people hate it, but I think it’s fittingly whimsical.

The story basically disregards all the staples of Dr. Jekyll’s character as presented by Robert Louis Stevenson. The delightful Ralph Bates (The Horror of Frankenstein) is more uninterested in sex than he is sexually repressed and his goal of trying to prolong life in order to cure every major disease afflicting mankind at least comes from a good place. He actually has a fair amount in common with Hammer’s portrayal of the Baron Frankenstein: an ambitious man given to amoral tendencies in his ruthless pursuit of science. Of course, it takes barely any time before Jekyll is paying for a supply of female body parts of questionable origin to fuel his research and, before you know it, he’s decided that killing prostitutes to harvest their organs is the only logical step.

Apparently the role of Mrs. Hyde was originally intended for the lovely Caroline Munro (Dracula A.D. 1972), but Bond girl Martine Beswick (Thunderball) is fantastic and provides a great foil for Bates. They even look disturbingly alike and her harsh, somewhat masculine beauty adds a nice androgynous element that leads directly towards the film’s grisly conclusion. Perhaps my favorite part of this story is that it presents Jekyll and Hyde as far more than a dichotomy between good and evil, rational and animalistic. Hyde — one of Hammer’s most autonomous, powerful female characters, despite the fact that she literally does not exist in a body of her own — is simply a more charismatic, ruthless, and confident version of Jekyll. She’s not trying to gain control over the body to fulfill her appetites, but simply to survive.

The two are also romantically paired up with Jekyll’s second floor neighbors, an adult brother (Lewis Flander of Who Can Kill a Child?) and sister (Susan Brodrick of Countess Dracula) who are respectively attracted to Hyde and Jekyll, which of course contributes to the tension between them at the conclusion. Brief spoiler: It’s actually interesting that Jekyll/Hyde is killed off at the end of the film and never revived. Hammer kept producing versions of the story, but surprisingly never tried to turn it into a series in its own right, something they did with The Mummy with mixed results.

Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde comes highly recommended and is one of my favorite versions of the story, probably coming in third after Walerian Borowczyk’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osbourne and Rouben Mamoulian’s 1931 version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Pick it up on DVD, though I’m hoping for a spectacular Blu-ray to come out sometime soon.

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