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DR JEKYLL AND SISTER HYDE ****
Directed by Roy Ward Baker. Starring Ralph Bates, Martine Beswick. 1971, UK, 92 mins, Horror.
Released in the UK by Studiocanal on DVD and Blu-Ray on 29th January
The title of the latest 60 year anniversary release in the Hammer Horror collection, DR JEKYLL AND SISTER HYDE, suggests a more comic take on the classic Robert Louis Stevenson novel The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde, or at least something of a lesser sequel. The truth of it is that the 1971 film is a unique take on the source material, a fusion of fantasy, horror and slasher genres all wrapped up in Hammer’s distinguished authorship.
Set in Victorian Whitechapel at the same time of ‘Jack the Ripper’, Ralph Bates stars as Professor Jekyll, a brilliant scientist working on cures for lethal illnesses. Faced with the notion that his work may not be completed by the time he himself passes on, he develops a serum designed to help him achieve immortality. The effect however, is that it turns him into ‘Mrs Hyde’ (Martine Bestwick) a personality he passes off to his neighbours as his sister. However, upon realising that they need further hormones to maintain the dual existence, a Ripper-like murderous spree ensues while the two characters compete for dominance of the same body.
While the film has its origins in the source novel and an obvious debt to Alfred Hitchcock’s PSYCHO, it strikes a structural resonance with Michael Powell’s PEEPING TOM with a key subplot involves Professor Hyde’s neighbours befriending him whilst being oblivious to his/her/their murderous ways.
It doesn’t quite sit in the same canon as those aforementioned classics but is none the less a smart take on the Jekyll and Hyde story. Director Roy Ward Baker infuses the key scenes with smart film-making tropes. The initial transformation appears to be a single take but simply can’t have been, while reflections in the glass expose the conflicting personalities within before a climax which evokes Hitchcock-ian levels of suspense.
It also looks fantastic with the restoration emphasising the crisp cinematography and glorious art and production design that are a staple of Hammer’s works. It’s also not afraid to have fun (‘He’s not been himself lately’) while at the same time touching on the moral dilemma of its central character initially faces (he must kill to continue his work which could save more lives).
While it wasn’t and won’t be the definitive take of Stevenson’s classic work, it’s another feather in the Hammer collection which has now been restored for old and new fans alike.
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