Director: Roy Ward Baker
Script: Brian Clemens
Cast: Ralph Bates, Martine Beswick, Gerald Sim, Lewis Flander, Susan Broderick, Dorothy Alison, Ivor Dean, Philip Madoc
Running time: 97 minutes
Set in a fogbound Whitechapel in London, Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde is one of Hammer Studio’s more unusual films, avoiding the usual gothic tropes and lending the 19th Century setting an almost modern feel at times. Along with the likes of Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter and Hands of the Ripper, it’s certainly one of my favourite Hammer productions from this period of their history.
Dr Jekyll (Ralph Bates) kicks things off by recounting the last year of his life, which means that the whole film is essentially as flash-back to his past. Becoming increasingly frustrated with his not finding an antibacterial agent that he can use to save his patients, Jekyll has a flash of inspiration after being told by his womanising colleague, Professor Robinson (Gerald Sim), that he could live to a hundred and never find the answer to his quest for reliable antibiotics. Jekyll, therefore, decides to change the focus of his research, at least temporarily, to finding a cure to aging so he can extend his life-span and hence give himself more time to find the answer to his antibacterial riddle.
In true movie mad scientist mode, Jekyll then sets up an elaborate miscellany of laboratory-grade glassware and proceeds to create a strange liquid that seems to extend the life of his experimental mice. However, his medical trial isn’t particularly rigorous, and even though his friend Robinson notices the potion’s main side-effect of causing the animal to change gender, he decides to swig some himself, which, as you can guess by the title of the film, has some significant effect on his own physiology, causing him to ultimately change into the shapely form of Martine Beswick, who he refers to as ‘sister Hyde’.
As Hyde’s character becomes stronger, and starts to take over Jekyll’s life, it quickly becomes apparent to the residual dregs of the good doctor that he needs to take drastic action before things get out of hand and his horrible ‘Sister Hyde’ manages to extinguish her brotherly originator completely.
Unlike a fair few of Hammer’s pictures, Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde has dated pretty well because it tackles very modern themes throughout its story and does so in an elegant and thought-provoking way. Plus, the dual casting of Bates and Beswick in the principal roles was an inspired casting choice, since the two do indeed appear to be different sides to the same coin, and feel like they could have been a real-life brother and sister combo.
And not only do we get a fresh and vibrant re-telling of a horror classic, but we also get some fun references to the Jack the Ripper case of 1888, and also to the Burke and Hare the body snatchers.
Director Roy Ward Baker does an excellent job of telling the familiar story in a fresh way, while all those working on production design and costumes should also receive plenty of praise for giving this Hammer production an extra layer of gloss and finish that wasn’t always on display due to their modest budgets and fast shooting schedules.
Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde is surprisingly ‘spicy’ for a British horror film from this time period, with some revealing shots of Beswick’s body, plus a censorship-baiting shot of blood on breasts, which would surely have incurred the wrath of Mary Whitehouse and her minions, that is if they had ever bothered to have properly watched a horror film!
The film is also pretty funny in places, with some great gender-led gags, nicely interwoven into the story’s fabric. In fact, the whole idea behind the film originated from a joke that writer Brian Clemens made to Hammer head honcho Michael Carreras, who quickly commissioned Clemens to flesh his idea out more. I wonder if he ever wished he’d kept his mouth shut!
Filmed with panache at Elstree Studios, Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde is a classy, entertaining Hammer film that is certainly worth checking out, whether you’re a Hammer fan, like me, or a more casual viewer.
Studiocanal have done well with their restoration producing a DVD that has really clear and colourful picture quality, and good sound.
Studiocanal are distributing Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde on DVD and Blu-ray. The package includes:
Lady Killer – Inside Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde (20 mins) – an enjoyable talking-heads mini- documentary, where various respected film journalists and scholars discuss the film. There’s plenty of interesting information to be gleaned from this featurette; for example, I learned that actor Ralph Bates was being groomed to become the ‘new Peter Cushing’, and both Kate O’ Mara and Julie Edge went up for the Sister Hyde part originally.