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Month: November 2015

Dr. Jekyll & Sister Hyde (1971)

Dr. Jekyll & Sister Hyde (1971)

“Hormones. Female hormones!”

Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde Poster

Synopsis:
In his search for an elixir of life, Dr. Jekyll (Ralph Bates) accidentally discovers he can change into a female (Martine Beswick) by drinking a potion made from the hormones of dead women, and goes on a killing spree in the name of science. Meanwhile, his sweet downstairs neighbor (Susan Brodrick) continues to nurse a crush on the elusive Dr. Jekyll, while her brother (Lewis Fiander) lusts after Jekyll’s sultry “sister” (Beswick).

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Review:
This gender-bending take on Robert Louis Stevenson’s oft-filmed novella (scripted by Brian Clemens and directed by Roy Ward Baker) is surely one of the most original and creatively structured. Skillfully (albeit anachronistically) weaving in both the Whitechapel (a.k.a. Jack the Ripper) murders and grave robbers Burke and Hare, Clemens’ script portrays Jekyll as an admirable if hubris-filled scientist who will stop at nothing for the “greater good” of creating a series of life-saving anti-illness serums — which can only happen if he extends his own lifespan (hence, the sudden switch in focus). Interestingly, Jekyll’s transformation into a woman signals all sorts of provocative sexual and gender-based identity issues: Hyde (Beswick) seems less shocked than thrilled and turned on by her new, sexy body. Does becoming female allow Jekyll to finally explore his sexual desires in the only way possible for such a mono-focused, head-bound individual? Is Jekyll transgendered, at least on a subconscious level? Hyde openly acts upon her sexual desires by aggressively pursuing the man upstairs (Fiander); was Jekyll himself secretly attracted to Fiander all along? Jekyll’s interest in Brodrick never manifests as anything other than a compulsion to “be normal”, whereas Hyde’s interest in Fiander is primal: what does this say about his “real” urges? Meanwhile, when Jekyll visits a morgue attendant to purchase young female bodies for his studies, the attendant openly assumes necrophiliac interests much like his own. While it won’t appeal to purists, Dr. Jekyll & Sister Hyde is recommended for those who enjoy pushing the limits of literary tropes and classic characters.

Note: As others have pointed out, it helps that Bates and Beswick both possess gender-fluid, similarly structured faces; it’s not hard to imagine them as flip sides of one person.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Ralph Bates as Dr. Jekyll
    Dr Jekyll Sister Hyde Bates
  • Fine cinematography, direction, and sets
    Dr Jekyll Sister Hyde Cinematography1
    Dr Jekyll Sister Hyde Direction
  • A clever, risque script: “I hope you’re not going to choose her; I’ve grown fond of her.”

Must See?
Yes, as an unusual and provocative take on a classic tale.

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Blood From the Mummy’s Tomb (1971)

Blood From the Mummy’s Tomb (1971)

“This force may have us trapped — but it fascinates me; it’s part of me!”

Blood From the Mummy's Tomb Poster

Synopsis:
Twenty years after an expedition to Egypt, an archaeologist (Andrew Keir) gives his daughter (Valerie Leon) a ring from a mummified sorceress named Tera (also Leon), hoping it will protect her from Tera’s supernatural forces — but when Keir’s expedition mates begin dying off, he learns that an ambitious colleague (James Villiers) will stop at nothing to secure Tera’s soon-to-be-awoken powers for himself.

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Review:
Bond girl Valerie Leon’s bodacious bust is truly the main draw of this silly but atmospherically staged Hammer Studios horror film, which was infamously plagued with production issues: Peter Cushing pulled out one day into filming when his wife was diagnosed with emphysema, then director Seth Holt died on-set five weeks into the six-week filming schedule. DVD Savant writes that this film has “sharply divided horror fans over the years, with most finding it confusing and dull, while a few passionate defenders have hailed it as an underappreciated gem.” He goes on to assert that it suffers from “a script that is both confusing and uninvolving” — a point I would agree with. He writes:

[The film’s] greatest weakness is its failure to make Tera a compelling villain. All we know about her is that she wields great supernatural power, and kills anyone who gets in her way. What are her larger aims? What did she do to make the priests fear her? What is the significance of the torn throats on her victims? Without understanding her motivations, goals, powers or background, Tera becomes a mere abstract concept (Queen of Evil), and not a character. Consequently, it is difficult to find her very menacing or even interesting.

Indeed, if Leon herself weren’t so bewitching to look at, this film would be even more of a clunker (albeit an ambitious one).

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Valerie Leon as Margaret/Tera
    Blood From the Mummy's Tomb Leon
  • Some effectively staged, chilling scenes
    Blood From the Mummy's Tomb Egyptology

Must See?
No, though I suppose it’s worth a look if you’re curious.

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Scars of Dracula (1970)

Scars of Dracula (1970)

“He is the embodiment of all that is evil; he is the very Devil himself.”

Scars of Dracula Poster

Synopsis:
A young man (Dennis Waterman) and his girlfriend (Jenny Hanley) go in search of Waterman’s reckless brother (Christopher Matthews), who is trapped in the castle of Dracula (Christopher Lee) after bedding a vampiress (Anouska Hempel) and invoking Dracula’s wrath. Once there, they receive unexpected help from Dracula’s hairy man-servant (Patrick Troughton), who has an enormous crush on Hanley.

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Review:
It’s difficult to tell why Peary chose to include this sixth of nine Hammer Studios Dracula films in his GFTFF — unless it’s the credentials of director Roy Ward Baker. Sure, it’s both scary and silly (with plenty of bawdy humor), but it’s not focused nearly enough on Dracula, whose “scars” I presume are meant to be those continuously left on the necks of his prey. Instead, the storyline is concerned with a younger brother proving his mettle to a beautiful girl, who has until now been not-so-secretly obsessed with his rakish older brother; to that end it’s a reasonably satisfying tale of a heroic quest, but without much substance. Lee’s make-up is effectively creepy, though.

Note: The other Hammer Dracula titles included in GFTFF are The Horror of Dracula (1958) and The Brides of Dracula (1960).

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Christopher Lee as Dracula
    Scars of Dracula Lee

Must See?
No; this one is only must-see for Hammer Studios fans.

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