Sunday, October 19, 2014

2014 Horror Countdown: The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll (1960)

 The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll (1960), dir. Terrence Fisher, Hammer Film Productions

With this we see the second Hammer take on Robert Lewis Stevenson’s classic. By 1960, the whole story had been told and retold enough times to already be considered a clich√© by the time the Looney Toons cast took a crack at it. Yes, second, as 1959’s the Ugly Duckling retold the same story only as a comedy piece with future Doctor Who star Jon Pertwee in a major role.

Here we open in 1886. The Victorian Age is in full swing with its public virtue and private vice. Henry Jekyll (Paul Massie) is a man trying to understand the nature of man, which is hard to do with his wife Kitty (Dawn Adams) constantly bothering him. Jekyll feels that he is close to finding a way to transform humanity into beings of perfect reason…or pure uncontrolled id. His mentor, Professor Ernest Litauer (David Kossoff) warns him that he is tampering with things man wasn’t meant to know, but Jekyll presses on anyway. Jekyll argues that his work is necessary, but how can he make an angel is he has no concept of the devil?

Kitty couldn’t care less and starts an affair with Jekyll’s friend Paul Allen (Christopher Lee). Paul is pretty much the exact opposite of Jekyll; the man sees no shame in going after his best friend’s wife nor sponging money off said friend so he can gamble and buy as much sex as one could in London at the time period. Jekyll isn’t that bothered by the affair. After all, he knows Paul, plus with Kitty footing Paul’s addictions that means less money he’ll be sponging off of him. 

When Jekyll has his breakthrough, the resulting Mr. Hyde is quite different. Rather than the almost ape-like or greasy dwarf we have a tall clean shaven young man (still Massie) who seems to possess all the social grace and charm that Jekyll lacks. He also has an insatiable thirst for sex and violence and doesn’t care which one he satisfies. A cathouse bouncer (Oliver Reed) finds this out almost fatally when Hyde nearly beats him to death with a candlestick. 

After the fight, Jekyll swears to never use his drug again, but he quickly finds the allure too much. Hyde proves to be much smarter this time out, using Jekyll’s funds to cover Paul’s debts and having him act as guide through London’s seedier side. Hyde wants more, however, and sets his sights on seducing both dancer Marta (Norma Marla) and Jekyll’s own wife…and when Hyde is denied sex he has no issue with satisfying his lust for violence.   

Hyde starts making things hot for Jekyll, forcing the man to use the drug (which is aging him faster and faster with every dose) more and more, but can Jekyll muster up the strength to stop Hyde?

A wonderful version of the story, although Massie is a bit too stiff as Jekyll and not nearly as wild as Hyde; the twist that Hyde is Jekyll’s lust given flesh has been told before, but rarely in such a menacing way, worth the time to see.

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