The story of Jekyll and Hyde is a familiar one, but British writer Brian Clemens gave the story a huge twist in his 1971 adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella.
Dr. Henry Jekyll is experimenting in an attempt to discover an “elixir of life.” He decides to start using female hormones from freshly-killed cadavers for his experiments, since women usually live longer than men, have silky skin and aren’t as prone to hair loss. He’s sure female hormones are the key to the elixir.
After successfully experimenting on insects, Dr. Jekyll himself decides to start taking the elixir.
Upon drinking the potion, Dr. Jekyll experiences some strange effects. His personality dramatically changes… but the elixir also changes his gender. Dr. Jekyll becomes “Mrs. Hyde,” and explains away his female state by saying that he is is Dr. Jekyll’s divorced sister.
Dr. Jekyll is determined to continue experimenting despite the unexpected side effects of his elixir, and when the criminals who were providing him with corpses are arrested, he and his “Mrs. Hyde” persona take the duty of killing into their own hands.
I went into this film expecting a hell of a lot of corn. That premise and the release year of 1971 should be enough to clue the viewer into what this film is going to be, and oh boy does it deliver.
The score: completely overdramatic, and often inappropriately used, to great effect. The score does a lot to enhance the corn factor here and was one of the first things that struck me about the film.
The mood of the film is akin to that of a detective TV show in its opening scenes. There’s a little bit of gore, lots of fog and plenty of darkly lit alleys in which bad deeds can be committed.
Diary-style narration then leads us into a flashback which is even more packed with corn than the opening.
Bubbling concoctions and medical experiments run rampant in a very stereotypical mad scientist lab. In this same lab, a fly turns into a lady-fly and lays eggs, which does not seem to concern our good friend the doctor in the least. Unintended side effects are not an issue for him, apparently.
Bless Ralph Bates for his sincerely fantastic performance as the very confused Dr. Jekyll. He takes many cues from the “Vincent Price on an Acid Trip” playbook of acting when he takes the elixir for the first time, and you all know how much I love Vincent Price on an acid trip.
Bless the writer of this glorious piece of cheese, too, for having the brilliant idea of making “Sister Hyde” pull her best Scarlett O’Hara impression and rock a dress made of curtains. Unfortunately the look doesn’t work quite as well on Sister Hyde as it does on Scarlett.
What would a gender-transforming doctor be good for if not for a love quadrangle? Another brilliant idea on part of the writer has Dr. Jekyll falling for the neighbor girl and “Mrs. Hyde” falling for the neighbor girl’s brother. Needless to say, complications ensue.
Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde is not a complete riot of corn but it certainly has plenty of kernels to go around. Both lead performances by Ralph Bates and Martine Bestwick are perfectly overblown, though Ralph Bates really takes the cake and makes the film worth watching. Top all of that off with visuals that are an odd mix of Victorian and ’70s and you’ve got yourself a pretty worthwhile watch.