What makes a Jekyll and Hyde movie, exactly?

When writing my movie books one of the first requirements is to figure out the scope of the project and the boundaries of the topic.

When I wrote Now and Then We Time Travel, for instance, I ruled out covering A Christmas Carol. Although Scrooge does witness his past, he doesn’t interact with it so I decided it was equivalent to visions of the future — I didn’t cover those either— rather than physically traveling across time. As a practical point, films of the Dickens classic have been well-covered elsewhere and approaching them as time-travel films wouldn’t bring any new perspective to them. The exception was Chasing Christmas, a variation which does work in time travel.

On the other hand, Premonition (2007) got in despite the title. The film has Sandra Bullock bouncing back and forth through time after her husband’s death rather than merely foreseeing it.

I face the same problem with my possible Jekyll and Hyde film book, as witness two films and a TV episode I caught this past week.

The TV one is a second season Outer Limits episode “Expanding Human.” A series of mysterious crimes leads cop James Doohan to a scientist experimenting with consciousness expanding drugs. The drugs have given the guy a second personality, superhuman and evil; he plans to create more of his homo superior kind and killing everyone who isn’t fit to survive.

Would it qualify? It does have a super-scientific drug transform an ordinary scientist into an evil second personality but unlike Hyde, the new being doesn’t appear to be drawn from the scientist’s buried dark side. He’s simply a monster. Is that enough?

Similarly there’s the movie HORROR HIGH (1973). A forgettable low-budget film, it’s teen protagonist is picked on by both bullies and teachers. The kid’s experimenting in science class on turning a guinea pig into a monster; when the teen gets an accidental dose of the experimental formula he becomes a brutal man-beast who kills one of his tormentors. After that, he starts using it intentionally.

I don’t think I’d count this one but the opening scenes make a big thing of the kid’s English class studying Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde which makes it clear they do see this as a variation on Stevenson. So if I go ahead with the book yes, it’ll be in there.DR. JEKYLL AND SISTER HYDE (1971) clearly belongs but rewatching it I was struck by how little it has in common with Stevenson. Stevenson’s book (which I’ll be blogging about soon) deals with hypocrisy: Jekyll wants to sin without besmirching his pious reputation so he transforms himself into the less inhibited and physically dissimilar Hyde, freeing him to sin without restraint. The film’s Dr. Jekyll (Ralph Bates) is driven purely by mad science: he wants to cure all disease but doing that will require centuries, so he starts researching eternal youth instead. He gets it by paying Burke and Hare to provide him with women’s corpses so he can extract chemicals from their female organs. The effect of the drug is to turn him into a woman, Mrs. Hyde (Martine Beswick), supposedly his widowed sister (it helps that Beswick and Bates look very much alike). When Burke and Hare are lynched by an angry mob, Jekyll begins murdering women himself; when things get too hot for a man, he turns into Mrs. Hyde to kill and kill again. But before long, Hyde has an itching to be the only one in their body …

If the film, like I, Monster, dispensed with the names of Stevenson’s characters, would I count it? I’m not sure. That’s the sort of questions I’ll have to resolve if I go ahead with a pitch to McFarland.

For the record, the movie’s a lot of fun. Great character actors in supporting roles, solid turns by the stunningly sexy Beswick and Bates and a great story that brings together not only Jekyll, Hyde, Burke, and Hare but Jack the Ripper. It’s well worth the time. Though I don’t quite buy the relationship between Jekyll and the pretty girl upstairs; Ralph Bates is good-looking but he lacks the sexuality or charm that makes me believe some actors can trigger love at first sight.

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Filed under Movies, Nonfiction, TV, Writing

2 responses to “What makes a Jekyll and Hyde movie, exactly?

  1. Pingback: Destroyed by their lust for women: three movies | Fraser Sherman's Blog

  2. Pingback: Bad, bad, bad, bad girls, they make me feel so … uncomfortable? | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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