DVD Review

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A sumptuous, sexy surprise from Hammer's late days

By JASON HENDERSON     February 06, 2002

DR. JEKYLL AND SISTER HYDE is the best Hammer movie nobody ever watched. It's a lushly colored, pleasantly placed, sexy little Victorian thriller that practically reinvents Hammer Horror by nailing its premise to two separate familiar topics regarding that era: Jack the Ripper and Robert Louis Stevenson's most enduring literary creation, Dr. Jekyll.

SISTER HYDE came out in 1971, a year in which Hammer seemed to be reeling in as many directions as it could point at1971 saw Hammer release the strangest vampire movie ever, VAMPIRE CIRCUS, which mixed eroticism with surrealism, and HANDS OF THE RIPPER, a far less satisfying Ripper tale than this one, which tried to bring psychoanalysis into the mix. Shortly before, the studio had released SCARS OF DRACULA, a nasty turn in the long-running Dracula series, and HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN, which put SISTER HYDE star Ralph Bates through the paces of a bitterly funny meditation on misanthropy and megalomania.

So we're in what writer Bruce L. Wright has called "Hammer's kitchen sink period," and sometimes, as with SISTER HYDE, they whip up something good.

The cleverest idea in SISTER HYDE is the notion that the Ripper murders were committed by none other than Henry Jekyll, who needed to harvest female sex glands to continue his ostensibly noble experiments. To that end SISTER HYDE becomes a Victorian pastiche of sorts, as even Burke and Hare, the famous grave robbers, become important to the plot.

Ralph Bates, who specialized in playing handsome, humorless prigs, is slightly more charming here than he was in HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN. Here, Bates' Dr. Jekyll is convinced that "female hormones" are responsible for the prolongation of lifeand of course he wants to extend his own life, because he's a brilliant doctor and maybe he can cure typhus, or something. He develops an elixir from the glands of a legal cadaver, but there's a pesky side-effect: Dr. Jekyll transforms into a woman.

And what a woman. Ralph Bates collapses in a heap and wakes up as Martine Beswick, she of the Morticia cheekbones and Jamaican/British accent. Bates trades up; Beswick is stunning here. (When she first appears, we watch as Dr. Jekyll feels himself up in a mirror, as if he can't believe the luck.)

But this isn't the result Jekyll intended at all, of course, so more glands are needed. Soon enough he has to go after them himself, so he starts stalking prostitutes (a-ha!). But of course the Crown's doctor knows the work of a surgeon when he sees it, and his suspicions begin to turn to his old friend.

Meanwhile, Beswick's Mrs. Hyde begins to develop a personality of her own, and Jekyll finds himself fighting for dominance, while the brother and sister pair in the flat upstairs vie for the attentions of Jekyll and his "sister."

In retrospect, SISTER HYDE sounds sillier than it plays. The film works because Bates and Beswick know exactly what they want to play; Beswick is evil and so charged she seems ready to bite at any time, and Bates is his usual deadpan self. It's interesting to try to put this film into that alternate universe, the Hammerscape, where most Hammers take place. SISTER HYDE's corner of the Hammerscape is pretty close to our world, just far more lush and literary. In fact it's literally that: lush and literary, with Beswick erotic, undulating, pouncing, and Bates scholarly, detached, and all the more disturbing when this college boy becomes a knife-wielding murderer.

DR. JEKYLL AND SISTER HYDE is a splendid surprise from Anchor Bay, who've just released the film on DVD. Although as usual there's a maddening lack of subtitles, the film appears in widescreen and features a commentary track with the lovely Ms. Beswick, director Baker, who also made SCARS OF DRACULA, and writer Brian Clemens. True to Anchor Bay, the commentary is steered by historian Marcus Hearn. Definitely worth a look, and excellent as a companion with the same year's VAMPIRE CIRCUS.


Movie Grade: A     Disc Grade: B+

Reviewed Format: DVD

Rated: Not Rated

Stars: Ralph Bates, Martine Beswick, Gerald Sim, Lewis Fiander

Writer: Brian Clemens

Director: Roy Ward Baker

Distributor: Anchor Bay Entertainment

Original Year of Release: 1971

Suggested Retail Price: $19.98

Extras: widescreen anamorphic; trailers; commentary with star, writer and director; radio spots; still gallery


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