Saturday, October 11, 2014

Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971)

The premise and title might get you excited if you're writing a thesis on gender treatment in horror films, as most of us are.  But Jekyll and Sister's man-to-woman journey is more of a gimmick than a serious vehicle for identity politics.  And that's fine, because it's a really fun piece of entertainment!

We know going in that we'll see men become ladies and back again, but the film also integrates Jack the Ripper business into the mix.  Dr. Henry Jekyll is obsessed with curing illness and doing good scientific deeds.  Unfortunately, he realizes that he will eventually die!  And with him will die his hopes for improvement of the world.  So he decides to not die and instead creates an immortality compound out of estrogen and sugar and pumpkin-spice.  Fact: Warren Buffet is literally doing this right now.

Ralph Bates is excellent as Jekyll.  When we meet him, we see a dandy with a Prince Valiant haircut, but soon realize that he's way more layered.  He's a gentlemanly sort of megalomaniac, who falters morally in pursuit of higher goals.  And he has the best facial expressions of any scientist in the British Isles.

One side effect of the immortality portion is that it turns you into a raven-haired beauty.  Mrs. Hyde (Martine Beswick) is definitely an upgrade in the looks department and the sequence of shots below is my favorite thing of the week.

Initially, this Hyde doesn't really exhibit the malevolent energy of Hydes past.  She mostly sits around the apartment drinking and ordering expensive clothes.  But, soon enough, Jekyll's drive to continue his experiments filters into Hyde's psyche and our girl goes on hussy-killing rampages.  These night scenes are among the film's best, as we get exquisite shots and masterful lighting, courtesy of director Roy Ward Baker.  And Beswick is just perfect as the prettily psychotic Hyde.

All this is plugged into the Ripper timeline and also the great old Hammer tradition of good girls falling for doomed boys rears its head.  It's interesting to see a pretty traditional Hammer-style film with seedier seventies elements creeping in.  Like I said, this isn't exploitation and it doesn't wring drops from its premise's lurid promise.  But!  It is a engaging tale, well-told and well-acted.


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