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Doctor Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971)

Yes, it is possibly the most horrendous title for a film you're ever likely to see. Apparently, it was dreamt up over a few lunchtime pints by creator Brian Clemens, but as far as I'm concerned, that's no excuse - they could have always changed it later on.

And the fact is it effectively ruins what is otherwise a decent film, because everyone thinks the title is so shit, the film can't be much better.

Yet it is. It's a comedy, of that there's little doubt - sometimes it's more like a Carry On than a Hammer, especially when the morgue attendant, on spotting Burke the bodysnatcher swinging from a gibbet, deadpans: "Burke by name and a berk by nature".

Clemens has also decided to chuck in every conceivable Victorian London cliché in the book - as well as Robert Louis Stephenson's source novel there's also Jack The Ripper, Burke and Hare, even a bit of Sherlock Holmes in the pathologist-turned-detective who tries to hunt the killer down.

And to add to this heady brew, the film makers have taken the script and upped the cheese factor by 10, giving the whole film the look of Oliver, with cheeky street urchins, fog shrouded alleyways, annoying organ music and chesty, gin-swilling tarts.

But there's darkness there, too - the murders are blood-soaked and horrific (you never find out exactly what Jekyll has been slicing out of his victims, but I don't think you'd want to, let's put it that way), and there are even hints at necrophilia when the morgue asistant says: "I've grown very fond of that one".

The most disturbing image is kept for the murder of Professor Robinson, who, as he's being brutally stabbed to death, is treated to the image of Ralph Bates in a corset and wig doing the evil deed. Bizarre. Yet strangely attractive.

Don't think it sounds much like Carry On? Compare these quotes with similar ones from Carry On Screaming and then shut up:

"He… hasn't been feeling himself lately" (about Doctor Jekyll)

"It's a queer business, sergeant - very queer" (just before Doctor Jekyll is seen leaving a dress shop and making a pass at his male neighbour)

"I haven't seen him (Dr Jekyll)… since I arrived" (Sister Hyde)

And, best of all: "Put a woman in your life and one day… you'll wake up and look in the mirror and see a changed man!"

This is a great film, in need of major re-appraisal. Full of in-jokes and knowing winks to the audience, it's everything a low-budget horror should be. I'll leave the last word to Hare, who shortly before he gets chucked into a lime pit by an angry crowd, tells Jekyll: "You've got to do bad to do good, ain't ya?"

Director: Roy Ward Baker Writer(s): Brian Clemens, Robert Louis Stevenson (story The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll)

Cast: Ralph Bates - Dr. Jekyll, Martine Beswick - Sister Hyde, Gerald Sim - Professor Robertson, Lewis Fiander - Howard, Susan Broderick - Susan, Dorothy Alison - Mrs. Spencer, Ivor Dean - Burke, Philip Madoc - Byker, Irene Bradshaw - Yvonne, Neil Wilson - Older Policeman, Paul Whitsun-Jones - Sergeant Danvers, Tony Calvin - Hare, Dan Meaden - Town Crier, Virginia Wetherell - Betsy, Geoffrey Kenion - 1st Policeman, Anna Brett - Julie, Jackie Poole - Margie, Rosemary Lord - Marie, Petula Portell - Petra, Pat Brackenbury - Helen, Liz Romanoff - Emma, Will Stampe - Mine Host, Roy Evans - Knife Grinder, Derek Steen - 1st Sailor, John Lyons - 2nd Sailor, Jeannette Wild - Jill, Bobby Parr - Young Appentrice, Julia Wright - Street Singer

 

Last updated: February 27, 2010

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