In March 2013, I embarked on a brave journey that eventually led me through more than 10 different versions of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde movie and television adaptations. Unfortunately, I found out too late that my copy of Hammer’s Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971) was bad. So now, here we are a year later and what better time to enjoy this “lost” edition of March Hyde Madness!
Hammer Films had already adapted Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel with The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll (1960). By 1971, Hammer was changing and the shift towards more nudity and sex was in full swing. Not a surprise then that they would choose to stir up the familiar tale by making Hyde a sexy killer rather than the horrific beast is more often portrayed as. Ralph Bates heads up the cast in the title role of Dr. Jekyll in 1880s Whitechapel. Jekyll is a rather meek scientist doing research into an elixir for longer life. His theory is that the secret lies within female hormones since they age at a slower rate than the common male. His first key experiment is with an insect. Upon showing off his results to his friend Professor Robertson (Gerald Sim, Frenzy), he discovers the male is now a female and has laid eggs. Professor Robertson believes he had just made a mistake but Jekyll knows better. He needs more female hormones to do additional research and the supply of local cadavers is running low. Enter Burke and Hare.
The two legendary figures help Dr. Jekyll secure some bodies in pursuit of his ongoing research. Of course, it backfires and he soon discovers that the female hormones have an unexpected side effect. Not only does he change into a murderous being but his gender changes to female (Martine Beswick, A Bullet for the General and Thunderball). The tenants above his apartment are a brother and sister living with their mother. Jekyll has fond feelings for Susan Spencer (Susan Brodrick) while Hyde desires Susan’s brother Howard (Lewis Fiander). Jekyll explains the appearance of a woman in his apartment as that of his sister Mrs. Hyde. As Jekyll finds that the serum requires more hormones, the bodies begin to pile up, with the murders being attributed to the Ripper. Professor Robertson discovers a similarity between the Ripper murders and his friend’s experiments. The events build up to a climactic ending and an unforgettable final scene.
This is the first time the two real historical figures of Burke and Hare are part of the Jekyll and Hyde tale. This is where you have to ignore the confusion on when all of these events are supposed to take place. First, it’s established very early on that the Jack the Ripper murders are going on at the same time. This firmly sets it in 1880s London. However, Burke and Hare committed their murders around 1828 some 60 years earlier with William Burke himself being executed in 1829. William Hare’s demise has never been official but one rumor was that he was thrown into a lime pit, blinded and forced to live out his life as street beggar. This story is interwoven into the events of this movie rather well, despite the 60 year difference.
Ralph Bates had become a Hammer mainstay by 1971, having already appeared in three other horror flicks, including Horror of Frankenstein and Lust for a Vampire. However, his Hammer star burned out rather quickly with only one other starring role after this in 1972s Fear in the Night. He spent the rest of his career primarily in television roles before dying of pancreatic cancer in 1991 at the age of only 51. Caroline Munro (The Golden Voyage of Sinbad) was reportedly offered the part of Mrs. Hyde but turned down the role due to the required nudity, which was becoming a Hammer necessity by this point. Martine Beswick was a more high profile choice and worked well in this villainous part. In fact, she somewhat resembled Bates, so she may have indeed been the better choice.
Brian Clemens came up with interesting twist of the familiar tale of Jekyll and Hyde after production wrapped up on The Avengers television series in 1969. Director Roy Ward Baker, one of Clemens’s associates from The Avengers, was chosen to direct. Having already helmed other successful Hammer films, including The Vampire Lovers and Scars of Dracula, he was already engrained in all things Hammer.
Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde was not a huge success, indicating the writing on the wall that their audience was beginning to look elsewhere for their thrills and chills. None the less, I personally enjoyed the twist presented here and found it a good entry amongst the many other adaptations of the sometimes too familiar classic tale. While the movie is somewhat hard to find now on DVD, it is currently available on YouTube. Check it out for yourself and I think you’ll have a fun 90 minutes.
Next up, we dive into a very bizarre flick called The Visitor from 1979. It’ll be an experience you won’t soon forget. Let’s just say, any film that casts Franco Nero (Django) as an intergalactic Christ figure can’t be all bad!