The last quartet of movies to be released in October by Hammer Films Production in their 70s evolution would pit their new blood, new generation actor Ralph Bates in the lead for their reinvention of Robert Louis Stevenson’s short novel Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde.
Their bold approach to the story, especially for its time, would fuse a gender-bending with Jack the Ripper and the Whitechapel Murders of the late 19th Century.
It’s setting would combine the gothic themes of yester-year upon which Hammer forged its name with this twist in the tale that was an extremely modern approach to storytelling.
Charged with steering the direction was Hammer regular, Roy Ward Baker (Quatermass and the Pit, Scars of Dracula) alongside screenwriter Brian Clemens (Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter; The Professionals) who between them managed to tread the fine line of humour and horror with what is essentially a delicate subject.
As the title suggests, Dr Jekyll is set on finding the elixir of life using female hormones due to their longer life expectancy when compared with men. In order to do so, much-like Dr Frankenstein looks for fresh cadavers to perform his experiments upon, so employs known grave robbers Burke and Hare (Ivor Dean and Tony Calvin) to carry out the deed.
When the need for more fresh cadavers arise, Burke and Hare take to killing women in the name of Jekyll’s science.
Things take a drastic turn for Jekyll however when his experiments transform him into a female version of himself who he calls Mrs. Hyde (Martine Beswick). Part of the film’s appeal and one which allows for a stronger sense of believability is that Beswick has a strikingly familiar appearance to Bates. The idea is well executed and the shifts and changes in the narrative are incredibly advanced for its time, marking this film as a significant movie in the Hammer Films canon.
To hook the audience further, there is the potential love interest between Jekyll and Susan Spencer (Susan Brodrick), and similarly the seduction of Susan’s brother Howard (Lewis Flander) towards Mrs. Hyde. Both relationships are predominantly on the tipping point of danger as the murders increase and police start honing in on their suspect.
Can Jekyll find the formula to reverse the transformation, or will it ultimately lead to ruin?
Looking at the movie now, it has admittedly aged but there is something incisive about the way Hammer Film Productions and its creatives chose to deliver the narrative that lends weight to the final product. The performances are on point and direction cutting to the point that this film should be praised and is one of the last great films that the production company released in its final years before they would be resurrected again in the 2000s.
- Saul Muerte