March Hyde Madness: Van Helsing Battles a Very Buff Mr. Hyde

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For a cinephile, there is nothing more disappointing than to be snuggled into your viewing chair, all ready to watch a movie and then to realize your DVD is unplayable. Sadly, this is what happened to me the other night as I was ready to watch Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde. This movie has been out-of-print for a while and the going price for copies is a bit high. Therefore, I had gone to iOffer last year and purchased what is now an obvious bootleg copy. You get what you pay for and, in this case, I apparently got burned. I have since purchased a legit VHS copy on eBay so maybe I’ll cover it sometime in the future. For now, I had to go with another choice.

Van HelsingA few years back, it seemed to be a trend to release an animated direct-to-DVD sequel or prequel to a major motion picture as part of a marketing campaign. They did it with Hellboy and The Chronicles of Riddick. No surprise that we were given Van Helsing: The London Assignment in 2004 to coincide with the Hugh Jackman and Kate Beckinsale release that same year. Most people hate Van Helsing but I actually enjoyed it. Yes, the story is a bit convoluted and the CGI is not that good at times. But seriously, turn your brain off and enjoy it because its leaps and bounds better than the endless dreck SyFy cranks out every week and you have actors who can at least perform. In some ways, I think the animated film works even better.

The events in Van Helsing: The London Assignment take place prior to Van Helsing. Hugh Jackman is on hand to provide the voice of Gabriel Van Helsing as he did in the theatrical release. David Wenham is also back as the voice of Carl, the monk who serves as the proverbial sidekick. From the very first frames we know that there is some old school love going on as we see the classic Universal logo in black and white. Dr. Jekyll (voice of Dwight Schultz, best known as Lt. Barclay from Star Trek: The Next Generation) has already developed the formula to turn himself into Mr. Hyde (voice of Robbie Coltrane, Hagrid from the Harry Potter series). Jekyll is older than he is usually visualized and is much more evil as he and Hyde work in tandem. Jekyll is quite mad and in love with Queen Victoria. Using Hyde to hunt down women and capture their souls, Jekyll is transforming the queen into a young woman with an ultimate goal of making her immortal.Van Helsing 1

Van Helsing works for the Vatican and is ordered to London to hunt down Jekyll and Hyde. Now, if you’ve seen the 2004 flick, you know Van Helsing is really more of a Batman-like character, using devices like grappling guns to hunt down the monsters. We’re treated to such background devices as the Golden Jubilee balloon and the not-yet-finished London Bridge. Van Helsing saves the queen but Hyde escapes at the end, leaving Van Helsing to chase him to Paris, which is where the theatrical film begins. As that movie begins, Hyde is terrorizing Paris with Van Helsing on his trail. More great visuals as we see Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower (under construction). A brief battle ensues with Van Helsing killing Hyde, who transforms back into Jekyll moments before his death. There is reference to Hyde being shot and their encounter in London, which provides continuity. However, there is a moment where Van Helsing seems to be surprised by Hyde’s size despite having already met him. The CGI doesn’t quite hold up and, to be honest, was a little sketchy even at the time of the release.

We don’t get a traditional Jekyll and Hyde story here. Rather, we get an interpretation of the characters turned on its’ side. Think of it as an alternate universe version. As mentioned, Jekyll is older than he is usually seen and certainly far more the mad scientist fanatical type. Hyde is much bigger and far more beastlike. He somewhat resembles the 1931 Fredric March version, just on some serious steroids. I like what we’re given here as it was fresh and worked within the world of this Van Helsing. I also really enjoyed the animation and felt the short running time of 33 minutes worked to its’ advantage of telling a story in concise manner. Jackman does a great job of getting into the role. Not all actors can pull off voice work in animated productions but his performance worked here. I though the animated Hyde worked much better than the CGI version and, therefore, makes this Hyde overall more entertaining than the live-action one. Judith and Garfield Reeves Stevens did a great job of writing a short story that told not only offered a self-contained adventure but led us seamlessly into the main movie. They are best known amongst genre fans for working with William Shatner on a series of Star Trek novels.

Van Helsing 2Van Helsing: The London Assignment seems to be out-of-print but used copies can be found online for as little as $3. It is well-worth tracking down even if you didn’t like the live-action movie. It’s also on YouTube but I’d check it out sooner than later as Universal seems to have blocked previous uploadings.

March Hyde Madness ends this weekend with a final look at what the legendary Boris Karloff does with the role opposite Abbott and Costello. We’ll also have some final odds and ends as the number of Jekyll and Hyde movies seems to be endless.

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March Hyde Madness: Klaatu, Barada, Jekyll, Hyde

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The final days of March means time is running out on March Hyde Madness. However, there are still a few more flicks we need to take a look at. In the early days of television, weekly anthology series were common. They were hour-long dramas or comedies featuring the stars of the day; a carry-over from the golden age of radio and such programs as the Lux Radio Theater or CBS Radio Workshop. On television, there were shows such as the Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse and Climax!, which genre fans know as being the home to the first James Bond, Barry Nelson, in 1954’s Casino Royale. In 1955, they attempted their adaptation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in their one-hour timeslot. The results were a little mixed.

Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde 1955For starters, we must acknowledge that this was the early days of live television. Production standards were sketchy at best. Furthermore, many of these live programs made prior to 1956 no longer exist unless a Kinescope recording was made of it. This was essentially an early form of a VCR. A camera was set up in front of a video monitor and used to film the picture. The visual display will seem a little off but, again, is the only way these programs can still exist today. This 1955 production of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is indeed in Kinescope, so allowances must be made for quality.

Michael Rennie heads up our cast in the lead role. Rennie had already made his mark on the sci-fi genre with his role of Klaatu in 1951’s The Day The Earth Stood Still. He also became a bit of a fixture at Climax!, appearing in eight different episodes between 1955 and 1958. From the first moments, we immediately see this presentation is going to be different by offering up the death of Mr. Hyde first and then presenting the story in flashbacks. Jekyll, who is once again pronounced as “jeekul”, serves as our narrator as his journal is being read. It more closely follows the original story, which was a unique way to present the tale considering the countless versions that had been done by 1955. The story plays out quickly with little to help it stand out. Rennie does very little with the role and left me somewhat disappointed considering the amazing performance he gave a few years earlier as Klaatu. Minimal makeup is used here, with apparently some bushy eyebrows, different hair style and a fake set of teeth serving as the key differences between Jekyll and Hyde. The transformation sequences are accomplished by a wavy effect and a pre-filmed transition. Interestingly, Rennie looks more hideous in those sequences and appears to have a fake nose, something that he doesn’t appear to have during the actual production. Surely timing was of the essence here due to the live production. Rennie does little else with the role though, as he comes across as quite stale and wooden.

The rest of the cast is underwhelming as well. Sir Cedric Hardwicke (Things To Come, The Hunchback of Notre Dame) stands out as Utterson and, in my opinion, gives a much better performance than Rennie.  However, his role is quite limited here. Mary Sinclair (Peter Gunn, Border Patrol) is billed simply as “The Girl”, Hyde’s love interest.  Veteran character actor John Hoyt plays Poole but is better remembered amongst Star Trek fans for his role as Dr. Phillip Boyce in the first pilot episode “The Cage”. The sets and lighting are disappointing but, again, comparable to live television shows of the mid-50s. So again, you have to be forgiving going into it. One highlight is that the screenplay was written by a young Gore Vidal. Vidal is better remembered for the 1979 cult classic Caligula amongst many other early television shows, such as Suspense and Sunday Showcase.Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde 1955 2

That said, it really doesn’t offer anything different or better than other superior productions and should be viewed only as a curiosity. It is readily available on the Internet Archive for free or on DVD through various sources. Go for the free offering as I really can’t recommend it as a must-have for your collection.

Finally, just a few quick mentions of some other fun appearances in film shorts and television over the years.

  • The most notable would be 1955’s Hyde and Hare starring Bugs Bunny. It’s a hilarious classic take that ends up with Bugs turning into Hyde after being chased by the real Hyde. It can be found on the 1931 and 1941 double feature DVD as well as the Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 2. Highly recommended!
  • Tom and Jerry offered up their version in the 1947 one-reel cartoon Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Mouse. This was nominated for an Academy Award but lost out to Tweetie Pie, which was the first pairing of Sylvester and Tweety. Here, Jerry turns the tables on Tom after drinking a poison Tom created to rid himself of Jerry. Jerry grows and torments Tom with the usual shenanigans following. This is available on the Tom and Jerry Golden Collection: Volume 1 and is also highly recommended.
  • In 1970, Scooby Doo and the gang tangled wits with Dr. Jekyll in the episode “The Ghost of Mr. Hyde”.  Hyde is seen as a green-faced figure who, no surprise here, turns out to be Jekyll under a mask. A fun episode from the golden age of Scooby, this is found in The Complete First and Second Season DVD set.
  • Finally, we go back to 1925 to a young Stan Laurel just before he teamed up with his famous partner Oliver Hardy. In Dr. Pyckle and Mr. Pryde, Laurel plays Dr. Stanislaus Pyckle who uses his drug, “Dr. Pyckle’s 58th Variety”, to transform himself into Mr. Pryde. It was really more of a parody of the early silent film versions. That said, it is a lot of fun and worth checking out. It is available on The Stan Laurel Collection DVD as well as YouTube. A definite must for Stan Laurel fans.

Bugs HydeNext time, we go back to Hammer for 1971’s Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde. Yes, the famous story is getting turned upside down.

Spring break anyone?

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Just as Dr. Jekyll had some time off to let his inner Hyde loose, sunshine and warmer weather beckons this writer. When I return, and provided I survive the sharktopus lurking just off the coast, there is plenty more Jekyll and Hyde madness left before the month ends as we see what Michael Rennie has to offer, watch another entry from Hammer and, finally, our good friends Bud and Lou help us wrap up the month. Thank you for your continued support!su-sharkto

March Hyde Madness: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1968)

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“My God, Jekyll. What you’ve done, it’s satanic!”

For many, Jack Palance is only remembered as the old cowboy from City Slickers or as gangster Carl Grissom from Batman. However, he left his mark on the horror genre not once but twice in two interesting television adaptations from director/producer Dan Curtis. The first of these was 1968s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. At two hours long, it remains one of the longest variations on the Robert Louis Stevenson classic.

The overall premise of the story is similar. Dr. Jekyll is the cool and reserved scientist working on a serum to split the good and evil in man. Here, Jekyll has no fiancée and is quite reserved. Hyde is described at one point as a “one-man orgy”. Hyde goes on his murderous rampage, releasing his long-subdued inner desires upon the unsuspecting London. Gradually, Hyde begins his takeover, transferring from Jekyll at will. Jekyll is played by Jack Palance, who gives a demanding performance. He excellently displays the dual personalities. His makeup as Hyde was reminiscent of Spencer Tracy’s, subtle yet distinctive. The ever-present Dr. Lanyon was played by Leo Genn (Circus of Fear), a bit older and more proper than we’ve seen in other versions. An altercation between Lanyon and Hyde is an interesting twist. Denholm Elliott (Raiders of the Lost Ark) played George Devlin, friend of Jekyll much like Utterson in some other versions. In some cases, his character takes the place of Lanyon. Hyde’s love interest here is Gwyn Thomas (Billie Whitelaw), who serves the role of punching bag well. There are some interesting differences, such as Jekyll visiting Gwyn to tell her Hyde is gone rather than the other way around. Gwyn tempts Jekyll more than an hour into the movie rather than in the opening as in other versions. There is also a great debate at the beginning of the film between Jekyll and the group of doctors that ultimately convinces Jekyll to proceed with his experiments as the doctors are practically ready to lynch him for his beliefs.

Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde 1One major difference is the length of time our story takes to develop. Jekyll suppressed Hyde at about 75 minutes into the film and our story jumps six months ahead. Abandoning his research, Jekyll has reclaimed his teaching status and seems to have slipped back into his old and comfortable life. Then Gwyn returns to seduce Jekyll and cure him of his shyness, an act which ultimately brings Hyde back to the surface.  Of course, she regrets that decision and the story plays out pretty much like we’d expect at this point. There is a unique twist on the moral lesson in which Jekyll is viewed as the cause of the problems rather than a victim.

The key difference between The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and other films lies in the overall production and presentation.  It was filmed entirely on videotape, giving it the look of a BBC presentation such as Doctor Who. Sadly, it comes across looking a little cheap and limits the overall effectiveness of the story. At times, there is some great camera that we’d never find on Doctor Who. Then, we are delt some odd camera work that makes it feel like a staged production. Reportedly, much of the music comes from Dark Shadows. It doesn’t deter from creating atmosphere but it sounds too much like a poor television production rather than a theatrical soundtrack. Effective at times but too inconsistent. The videotape presentation is not the best quality. There is only so much restoration you can do to videotape from this era. However, there appears to have been little work done so there is room for improvement should this ever get another official release.

The one main problem is the movie’s length. At two hours long, it would have run in a two and a half hour block when it originally ran on television. It really needed some better editing as some scenes tend to drag on. It almost plays out like a soap opera with the some of the wordiness found in certain scenes. However, there are moments where Jack Palance delivers lines in eloquent fashion, allowing us to forget for the moment that the movie is stalling. Overall, I can forgive the movie’s length in exchange for the twists to the story it offers along with Jack Palance’s masterful performance. I still prefer Fredric March but Palance has claimed the number two spot amongst my favorites.Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde 2

We can’t forget to mention producer Dan Curtis. As a writer of Dark Shadows, that soap opera style clearly influenced him in how he chose to produce this movie. While he didn’t direct this film, he would go on to direct his vision of Dracula in 1974 with Palance in that lead role as well. He also gave us such classics as Trilogy of Terror and Burnt Offerings. So Curtis is firmly etched into the minds of all horror fans.

This flick is easy to find on DVD with the best bet being the double feature set that also includes Dracula (1974). It’s worth adding to your collection and I’m glad I finally sat down to watch it after several years of it sitting on my shelf. Just make sure you have a little patience to sit through some of the longer scenes.

Next time, we travel back to 1955 for Michael Rennie and his television take on Hyde. We’ll also take a look at some memorable cartoon adaptations and even a quick glance at a young Stan Laurel.

March Hyde Madness: Hammer presents The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll (1960)

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After dealing with the less than exciting exploits of Dr. Jekyll’s so-called children, it’s time to go back to the original Robert Louis Stevenson story. And who better than Hammer Films to put their spin on it with a small dash of romance and sex appeal. The year is 1960 and screenwriter Wolf Mankowitz (1967s Casino Royale) puts a few new spins on the core story in The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll.

Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll 1Our story opens in the year 1874 with Dr. Henry Jekyll having been married seven years to his wife Kitty. He’s been neglecting his wife, home and lively hood to devote 100% of his efforts to his studies of separating the evil and good believed to be present in all humans. Jekyll’s friend Dr. Ernst Littauer (David Kossoff) is concerned and encourages Kitty that they both need to help Jekyll as he is engaging in troubling experiments. However, Kitty is not as concerned as she lets on as she is having an affair with his friend Paul Allen (played by the legendary Sir Christopher Lee). Paul is also bleeding Jekyll of money to feed his own personal habits. After a failed attempt to reach out to his wife, who quickly rejects his advance in favor of a social gathering, Jekyll injects himself with his serum rather than waiting for further studies or another round of animal subjects.

Here is where the key difference between this version and most others presents itself. Dr. Jekyll is a relatively dull fellow, sporting a beard and bushy eyebrows (not the best makeup job from Hammer) that make him out to look like a boring college professor. Rather than turning into a visually hideous beast, as most other adaptations depict, here Jekyll turns into the dashing and handsome Mr. Edward Hyde. It goes with a theme in many movies of the day that evil men can often be charming and attractive, hiding (no pun intended) their evil intentions under a veil. However, this Hyde is very much a beast beneath his charming visage, as quickly becomes evident. As he engages his friend Paul to introduce him to the seedier parts of London, and after his ultimate rejection by Kitty, Hyde decides to punish Kitty and Paul for their misdeeds. This Hyde is both fascinated and repulsed by the vile side of humanity.Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll 2

Paul Massie headlines our cast in the role of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Despite the fact that he is playing this quite differently than it was originally written, he does a really fine job of playing boring Jekyll and man-about-town playboy Hyde. This is Massie’s only genre film as he would abandon his film career in the early 70s in favor of becoming a drama teacher. Dawn Addams (The Vampire Lovers, The Vault of Horror) is the lovely Kitty Jekyll, who is certainly not the charming woman seen in previous versions. Christopher Lee (Horror of Dracula, Curse of Frankenstein) turns in a unique performance as the somewhat slimy drunken friend Paul Allen. Lee is an incredibly versatile actor when it comes to his Hammer roles but this one tends to be overlooked by his more prominent films. Ironic considering it was supposedly written for him and is one of his personal favorites. The exotic dancer and snake charmer Maria is played by Norma Marla, who starred in only one other film, the virtually forgotten Hammer flick The Ugly Duckling. We also get a chance to see a young Oliver Reed (Curse of the Werewolf, The Shuttered Room) in a small role as a scam artist in a nightclub towards the early part of the film.

The key problem with this film is the lack of any appealing characters. They are quite the degenerate lot and it’s hard to find a hero to cheer for. Even Jekyll doesn’t have any redeeming qualities and that plays against the overall enjoyment of the film. During production, it went over budget and several scenes were cut for both time and money. An intriguing finale originally had Hyde being executed and reverting back to Jekyll on the gallows. Sadly, we never got to see that ending. It had a lackluster box office under several titles, which also included Jekyll’s Inferno and 80-minute censored version from American International Pictures called House of Fright.

This was my first time viewing The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll and I enjoyed it for the fun diversion it was, though not overly impressed. I wouldn’t rank it as one of favorite Hammer films nor my favorite Jekyll and Hyde version. But it is from Hammer and that gives it an immediate nod in my opinion. It’s readily available as part of the four-film Icons of Horror Collection: Hammer Films on Amazon. Meanwhile, check out the trailer on YouTube before you place an order.

Hammer StoryWhen it comes to learning more about Hammer Films, there are countless websites and books devoted to the topic. However, at the top of the list is The Hammer Story written by Marcus Hearn and Alan Barnes. This is a must-read and will be a fine addition to any film library. It’s available from the usual sources, including Amazon. And if you’re looking for a podcast on all films Hammer, check out 1951 Down Place. This is a great, monthly podcast from my friend “Brother D” Derek Koch, along with Scott and Casey. Tell them Monster Movie Kid sent you.

Next stop, we see what Jack Palance does with the role in an interesting version from 1968.

March Hyde Madness: The Sins of the Father Visited Upon the Son and the Daughter

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It should come as no surprise that Hollywood is greedy and will do anything for a quick buck. Motion picture studios have always seen the potential profit in quickly thrown together sequels. In the past, film series would degenerate from top billed classics like Frankenstein or Dracula and diminish into such lesser releases as Ghost of Frankenstein (which featured a Frankenstein son) or Dracula’s Daughter. So, it was only a matter of time before Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde would spawn some offspring.

Son Of Dr Jekyll 1951The first of these forgotten flicks is 1951’s Son of Dr. Jekyll. From the very first few frames, our back story has already been altered. We know that Dr. Jekyll never married his fiancée before Mr. Hyde consumed him, leading to his ultimate battle with the police and his death. However, Columbia Pictures decided to twist the background story a little. After all, ten years had gone by since the last version of Jekyll and Hyde. Some sources consider Son of Dr. Jekyll to be a direct sequel to the Spencer Tracy version but with the very obvious plot changes, those claims immediately come into doubt. Here, Dr. Jekyll did marry a woman and they had a son named Edward. Our opening scene finds Hyde pursued by the ever present crowd of torch-bearing townsfolk after he has murdered his wife. Chasing him back to his original home, it is set on fire. After he takes the potion to revert back to Dr. Jekyll, he falls to his doom as flames surround him. Upon his death, he finally changes back to Dr. Jekyll. Dr. Curtis Lanyon (Alexander Knox) and Sir John Utterson (Lester Matthews), both characters from the original novel, take the orphaned son and Utterson agrees to raise him as his own. We flash forward thirty years and Edward Jekyll is engaged to Utterson’s niece, Lynn (Jody Lawrence). He is expelled from the Royal Academy of Science and, upon discovering the truth of his past, takes up residence in his father’s mansion. Edward begins to work on his father’s experiments to prove his father was not insane. However, the newspapers begin to portray him as unbalanced. Soon, a Hyde-like character begins to kill. But has Edward really become Hyde or is there more to the story?Son Of Dr Jekyll 2

What follows is a familiar storyline where all is not as it appears. We even see the return of the clichéd mad mob towards the end. The ultimate reveal proves to be disappointing. I did enjoy Louis Hayward’s performance as Edward Jekyll, which is just about the best thing this movie has to offer. It’s visually entertaining and not a bad way to spend 80 minutes. However, it really isn’t horrifying and is relatively slow. The image of Hyde is done with makeup and a cheap pair of fangs, barely getting any screen time. The result comes off rather cheap looking. And let’s be honest, just how did his father’s lab and manuscript survive the first fire? Son of Dr. Jekyll is worth checking out once as long as you don’t pay too much. However, you’ll have a hard time finding it as it’s not on YouTube or DVD but I wouldn’t put it high on the list.

Daughter of Dr. Jekyll 1Script writer Jack Pollexfan went on to write and produce another sequel in 1957 titled The Daughter of Dr. Jekyll. Gloria Talbott (The Cyclops and I Married A Monster From Outer Space) headlines our cast as Janet Smith and John Agar (Revenge of the Creature and The Mole People) is her fiancé George Hastings. Janet returns home on her 21st birthday only to discover that her father was the infamous Dr. Jekyll. As events transpire, she believes she may have inherited a split personality as a result of his experiments. Murder victims begin to pile up and Janet is led to believe she is guilty. However, and here’s a shock for you, not all is at it appears to be. Pollexfan really just recycled the punch line of his previous script.

In some ways, this movie has more going for it than Son of Dr. Jekyll. First, the presence of John Agar immediately makes it more enjoyable right out of the gate. Secondly, director Edgar G. Ulmer executes some great visuals in the dream sequences, which is not surprising consider what he did six years earlier in the underrated classic The Man From Planet X. He obviously has a thing for fog in his movies. However, other scenes, including exterior shots of the mansion (which look to be miniatures in dry ice) really make the film look cheaper than it should. Our background story is changed around a little once again and the mansion is now located in the foggy countryside. The absence of London is clearly felt but I’m not sure if it was for budgetary reasons or just a change of pace. And I’m not quite sure why we had mentions of Jekyll reincarnated as a werewolf.Daughter of Dr. Jekyll 2

By 1957, horror movies were getting a little more sexed up and with Gloria Talbott in the lead, there are plenty of opportunities to show off her shapely figure.  John Agar is always fun to watch but what was up with the striped jacket? This one is quite hard to find as well and appears to only be available through Amazon Video but at least you can check out the trailer on YouTube as well as a prolonged clip of the second nightmare sequence. It’s a fun little flick for what it offers but don’t spend too much time tracking it down.

Next time, we go back to the original storyline and enter the world of Hammer Horror to see what Christopher Lee does with a slightly different take on the conversion of Jekyll into Hyde.