Dr. Jekyll And Sister Hyde (1971) – The Dungeon Review!
I’ve mentioned my love for the films of Hammer Studios multiple times on this blog. Strangely, Dr Jekyll And Sister Hyde will mark only the third full review I’ve done for one of the studios films. Clearly, I need to review more Hammer films! The studio struggled through the 70’s and would in fact make their last horror film during the decade. Their formula of bringing unique twists to period pieces based on classic horror literature just wasn’t working for them like it once had. Horror was becoming more graphically violent and themes were decidedly uglier and more vicious. The British censors apparently were real ball-busters up to this point, so the studio was tethered by the regulations. But more than this, the studio didn’t seem to want to change their shtick. When they found something that worked, they beat the hell out of it. I mean, how many Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing Dracula and Van Helsing variations does one person need to see? Don’t get me wrong, I love many of these, but by 1970 it was a little like beating a dead dog. Hammer Films from the 70’s sometimes get a bad rap from purists like my dad who thought the studio quality had declined. I would have to respectably disagree with dad on the quality of the studio’s films during the decade. Sure, there were some duds, no doubt about that, but there were also some really outstanding films from the period. In my opinion two of the studios best films were created during the decade; the fabulous Vampire Lovers which made my number five spot of favourite horror films from 1970 and today’s review Dr. Jekyll And Sister Hyde! I only wish I had seen this before compiling my 1971 favourite list because this would have ranked highly for me!
The fiercely dedicated Dr. Jekyll spends every waking hour in his laboratory working on an elixir to extend life. He discovers female hormones may be the secret ingredient needed for the formula. Obsessed with obtaining the female hormones he seeks the help of grave robbers Burke and Hare. Jekyll tries the elixir on himself which transforms him into a beautiful woman. When Burke and Hare are killed by a lynch mod Jekyll is forced to find another way to acquire what he needs. The good doctor convinces himself that the ends justify the means and begins prowling the streets of Whitechapel for victims. It is not long before the murders begin to draw considerable attention. With the ultimate perfect cover he begins to stalk Whitechapel’s streets as his alter-ego sister Hyde.
Dr. Jekyll And Sister Hyde has everything that the studio so competently brings to the table. A wickedly fun twisted period piece based on a classic story with great costumes and sets. The most obvious twist being that the titular Dr. Jekyll transforms into a woman instead of a monster. It cleverly uses Jack The Ripper mystique and the infamous 17th century grave robbers Burke and Hare in its story and it works exquisitely. It even brings a little 70’s into the fold with bloodier violence and naked breasts! Just a word of warning, it is bloodier than most Hammer films but no one would call the violence particularly graphic. The nudity amounts to a couple of bare breast shots but that too was unheard of in Hammer films. The nudity is actually used in a very effective manner when Dr. Jekyll transforms into sister Hyde for the first time. Come on guys, you’ve just transformed into a beautiful woman, what’s the first thing you do? Examine your brand-spanking new breasts in a mirror of course! The man transformed into a woman scenario really made for some well thought out, awkward and amusing scenes! The film has an outstanding atmosphere and mood. Jekyll and Hyde’s late night excursions in Whitechapel are particularly effective. It nicely balances suspense, intrigue and humour into its well-laid out premise.
The casting couldn’t have possibly been more perfect. Martine Beswick and Ralph Bates are an awesome choice based on visuals alone as the two look strikingly similar. Martine Beswick plays sister Hyde, Jekyll’s stunning female alter-ego. Beswick gives a wonderfully devilish and naughty performance. The more comfortable sister Hyde gets in her new skin the more she battles Dr. Jekyll for possession of the body. Ralph Bates is excellent as the dedicated, handsome and socially inept Dr. Jekyll. Jekyll’s uptight ways are the perfect balance for Hyde’s all too loose ways! Of course, one of the most appealing concepts of the classic story is the exploration of darkness within us all. While Jekyll’s Hyde appears to be his opposite, she also represents his darker more base instincts. Complicating Jekyll’s life further are new neighbours Susan and Howard. The sister and brother have recently moved into the apartment above Jekyll’s with their mother. Susan is attracted to Jekyll instantly and begins knocking on his door at the most inconvenient of moments. Brother Howard is not at all impressed with Jekyll but is certainly smitten with his widowed sister Ms. Hyde. Susan Brodrick is very likable as the sweet and innocent Susan. Lewis Fiander is also good as Howard and share’s one of the film most amusingly awkward moments with Dr. Jekyll. A further complication arrives in the form of acquaintance Professor Robertson who believes Jekyll may have something to do with the recent killing spree of several ladies of the night. Gerald Sim is quite competent as the professor with an eye for the ladies and also finds himself drawn to the captivating sister Hyde. Needless to say, Jekyll has some issues to deal with but none more significant than preventing his beautiful alter-ego from taking over completely.
Dr. Jekyll And Sister Hyde is sexy, fun, stylish and thrilling! I’m only sorry it took me this long to see it! There really isn’t a single thing I would change about this film. It is an outstanding and extremely entertaining film and in my opinion is absolutely one of Hammer’s best.
Dungeon Rating: 5/5
Directed By: Roy Ward Baker
Starring: Ralph Bates, Martine Beswick, Gerald Sim, Lewis Fiander, Susan Brodrick, Dorothy Alison, Ivor Dean, Philip Madoc, Irene Bradshaw, Neil Wilson, Paul Whitsun-Jones, Tony Calvin