The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll aka House of Fright aka Jekyll’s Inferno (1961)

So, I don’t really have too much to add to what I’ve already said about this film (as originally posted at Crane’s Cabinet of Kinetographic Curiosities), save only that this film is oddly relevant in 2019. This is especially true in light of internet meme culture, which promotes/illustrates ideas, archetypes, and descriptors such as “incel,” “chad,” “thot,” and the like. I’d also like to praise the film once again for its portrayal of a less-than-savory Victorian England. For all its cleanliness and culture in the mind of modernity, it was quite a seedy time. Let’s not forget that the same age that gave us doilies also gave us Jack the Ripper. So, good on Hammer for keeping with the spirit–if not the letter–of Stevenson’s tale.

Originally posted on February 13, 2018.

Summary: Middle-aged Dr. Henry Jekyll (Paul Massie) lives a pretty pathetic life:  His wife Kitty (Dawn Addams) avoids intimacy with him at every turn (in part because she’s cheating on him), he spends practically all of his time working in his lab, and he’s been labeled a loon by his colleagues for his experiments in unlocking the depths of the human mind.  But when his latest concoction unlocks his dark side in the form of the young, urbane Mr. Edward Hyde (also Paul Massie), Jekyll finds his comfortably cucked world turned upside-down.  Hilarity ensues.

Thoughts: I feel like this film has a different name for every country in which it was released; not just a different translation, but a whole new name.  I’ve dealt with films that have alternate titles before (it’s fairly common in the 1960s and 1970s, actually), but two alternates?  That’s a first for me. 

The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll isn’t well-liked from what I’ve been able to gather (or liked at all), and I can’t for the life of me figure out why that is.  Made by England’s Hammer Film Productions, it’s certainly recognizable as a Hammer film.  Great acting, breathtaking set pieces, Victorian flair–it’s all there, and with enough grit and grime to remind the audience that bawdiness was as much a Victorian quality as being prim and proper.  Opium dens, seedy dance halls, and low-class pubs were as much a part of the landscape as Buckingham Palace.

Speaking of bawdiness, this film drips with innuendo.  Paul Massie does an excellent job as both the frustrated Jekyll and the lascivious Hyde (a personification of the satyr Jekyll wishes he could be).  Dawn Addams is suitably slutty as Kitty.  Christopher Lee turns in an especially slick and sleazy performance as Paul Allen, Jekyll’s deadbeat friend and Kitty’s lover.  Norma Marla exudes raw sensuality as the foreign snake charmer Maria, Hyde’s lover.  There’s no mistaking it: This is Terence Fisher’s movie about sex, repression, rejection, and power–and (almost) everyone in it is dirty to varying degrees.

How does it stack up against Robert Louis Stevenson’s immortal novella, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?  Much like every adaptation based on the literary work, it takes quite a few liberties–but unlike most adaptations, the film borrows almost nothing from the Richard Mansfield play.  This Jekyll is not a saintly man; he’s a selfish recluse who wants nothing more than to get some from his wife, but has no idea how.  Kitty (the stand-in for Jekyll’s girlfriend from the Mansfield play) is not the pinnacle of Victorian virtue; she’s a harlot who’s willing to cheat on her husband (but, oddly, not on her lover Paul Allen).  And Hyde is a rapist.  Everything down to the ending is quite different, and quite unexpected–but even with these differences, the moral of Stevenson’s tale (and Mansfield’s play) is not lost.  This is very much the classic tale, but told in that fresh Hammer style that propels it to greatness almost by virtue of being a Hammer film.

Conclusion: I really dig The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll, much for the same reasons I dig Horror of Dracula (1958), Curse of Frankenstein (1957), The Curse of the Werewolf (1961), and The Mummy (1959)–namely, because director Terence Fisher employs atmosphere, aesthetics, and acting in service of the source material.  Though a very different film from the other Hammer Jekyll/Hyde films (the 1959 Bernard Bresslaw “comedy” entitled The Ugly Duckling, and the 1971 Ralph Bates masterpiece entitled Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde), it holds its own among Hammer’s other classic monster flicks and truly doesn’t deserve its poor reputation.  Any fan of Hammer’s gothic horror offerings who hasn’t seen this film yet is doing themselves a great disservice.

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