Victorian London, Whitechapel. Dr Jekyll (Ralph Bates) is working in his home laboratory on developing a serum capable of wiping out a myriad of diseases. He's so wrapped up in his endeavours that he doesn't even notice when pretty spinster Susan (Susan Brodrick) moves into the flat above his, with her brother Howard (Lewis Fiander) and their widowed mother (Dorothy Alison). Susan certainly notices Jekyll, however, and soon develops designs on him.
Jekyll's experiments are progressing slowly, until his professor acquaintance Robertson (Gerald Sim) pays him a visit and highlights the fact that he may be dead by the time his research reaches its fruition. This sets Jekyll on a fresh, much more obsessive course: searching to discover the elixir of eternal life.
To this end, he requires fresh cadavers to perform his experiments upon. These come initially from morgue attendant Byker (Philip Madoc) and later from acquaintances of his, notorious grave robbers Burke (Ivor Dean) and Hare (Tony Calvin).
With the aid of these hot-off-the-streets corpses to work with, Jekyll's experiments quickly gather steam. He discovers that adding female hormones to his fledgling serum makes sense, as women tend to age more gracefully and enjoy a greater lifespan than men.
However, upon testing his formula out on himself, Jekyll also finds that the serum has a most peculiar side-effect: it transforms him, for a short time, into a voluptuous female version of himself, Ms Hyde (Martine Beswick). Howard inadvertently walks in on Hyde while she's admiring her lady bumps in a full-view mirror; he's quick to rush upstairs and tell Susan that Jekyll has a woman on the go.
Jekyll, however, soon allays Susan's fears when she challenges him the following morning, claiming Hyde to be nothing more than his divorcee sister, who's come to stay with him for a while.
And "stay" is something Hyde increasingly promises to do, as each time Jekyll injects his still-evolving serum he transforms into the shapely brunette - and her persona grows more dominant, at first demanding more fresh bodies to experiment upon, and then threatens to take over his identity for good.
With his business agreement with Burke and Hare now dissolved, could there be a connection between Jekyll's new alter-ego, the ready supply of nubile dead hookers to experiment upon, and the spate of Ripper-like killings haunting the streets of Whitechapel?
And ... with Susan determined to get closer to the reclusive Jekyll, and Howard besotted by the more flirtatious Hyde, does this put the siblings in a position of serious danger ...?
Released in 1971, at a time when the Hammer horror films of old were seeming decidedly quaint when measured alongside contemporary fright flicks such as NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and ROSEMARY'S BABY, DR JEKYLL AND SISTER HYDE retains the studio's penchant for period settings and dress (in this instance, the Victorian era) while tossing in liberal doses of nudity and gore.
It's testament to the deftness of Brian Clemens's script that such heady content never feels like it's being crowbarred into what is otherwise a highly literate, engaging and unexpectedly witty screenplay. The fact that the plot manages to weave the legends of Jack the Ripper and grave-robbers Burke and Hare into its Jekyll and Hyde framing device while retaining a straight face - and gets away with doing so - shows how skilful Clemens is at his craft.
Fiander gets most of the sardonic one-liners, all of which hit their mark and is delivered with an entertaining degree of relish. Brodrick and Bates are sympathetic leads, while Beswick makes for a formidable presence as the darker persona to be reckoned with - sexy and deadly, in equal measures.
Set design, costumes and production values are all top notch, while David Whitaker's simple score lends further class. Of course, presiding over all of this - this handsomely mounted parable on the war of the sexes, by way of a good old-fashioned monster flick with added boobies - is prolific director Roy Ward Baker (QUATERMASS AND THE PIT, AND NOW THE SCREAMING STARTS! etc). In his hands, of course, all of this talent couldn't help but score a hit.
And DR JEKYLL AND SISTER HYDE, despite possessing a title which may suggest a farce, is just that ... one of the best films produced by Hammer in the 1970s.
The film is presented uncensored and in its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio. The transfer is enhanced for 16x9 televisions. All looks well here: clear, sharp imagery, true colours and stable blacks.
English 2.0 audio is robust and spacious, as well as being complemented by easily-readable optional English subtitles for the hard-of-hearing.
An animated main menu page leads into a scene selection option allowing access to the movie by way of 12 chapters.
Fortunately, the sole bonus feature on offer is a good one. "Ladykiller: Inside DR JEKYLL AND SISTER HYDE" is a thoroughly enjoyable 19-minute dissection of the film and its place in Hammer's history. Contributions abound from authors Jonathan Rigby, John J Johnston, Kevin Lyons and Alan Barnes. Opinions and trivia bounce around each other with equal weight in this fun, thoroughly worthy addition.
DR JEKYLL AND SISTER HYDE is an audacious amalgamation of three classic horror legends, brought together by a director, writer and cast all working at the height of their powers. It's fun, but it's never throwaway.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Studiocanal|