Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971) – One of my Hammer Favourites

Oh I do like the Horror Channel on Freeview. On Wednesday evening they transported me back to the early 1970s when I used to sneak into the late night horror double bills at the Muswell Hill Odeon . Forget about kitchen sink drama and the odd worthy epic in the early 1970s, Hammer Horrors and Carry Ons were the British films that put bums on seats in your local Odeon or ABC and Hammer even got a Queen’s Award For Industry!

Now as the permissive era of the 1960s morphed into the 1970s, Hammer ramped up the sex and nudity content of films like The Vampire Lovers (1970).

Although pretty mild by today’s standards these films hit the late night cinema circuit as I hit puberty and a handy early growth spurt that got me safely past cinema ushers. Roy Ward Baker directed The Vampire Lovers and the following year he returned with this Dr Jekyll remake with a twist. Rumour has it that screen writer Brian Clemans, who cut his teeth writing for quirky but stylish TV shows like The Avengers and Adam Adamant Lives! in the 1960s, conceived the title Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde as a joke, but given the new-found sexual ambiguity of a decade when homosexuality was at last legal and glam-rock musicians were experimenting with make up it was soon in production.

Clemens screenplay sees Jekyll (Ralph Bates) discovering that his hoped for elixir of life has the effect of turning a male fly into a female. Well it isn’t long before dear old Henry tries it on himself and turns into his “sister” Mrs Edwina Hyde (the gorgeous Martine Beswick, whose previous film credits include one of the scrapping gypsy girls in From Russia with Love, Thunderball, One Million Years BC and the awful Slave Girls). Naturally there are a few problems; it isn’t long before Hyde becomes the dominant of the two personalities and the elixir just happens to be made from the reproductive organs of female cadavers, The supply of cadavers pretty quickly runs out and Jekyll is forced to harvest his own by murdering Whitechapel’s prostitutes as Jack the Ripper.

The uncanny resemblance of Martine Beswick to Ralph Bates certainly aids the transformation scenes beautifully shot by Norman Warwick, accompanied by David Whitaker’s wonderful musical score.

Aside from the Ripper (who was busy in 1880s London) we also get a couple of James Bond movie style gags thrown in, a brilliant comedy turn by Philip Madoc as the mortuary attendant and the grave robbing duo of Burke and Hare who somehow get transplanted from 1820s Edinburgh. In fact the London of Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde is a Dickensian theme park complete with pea-soupers, gin palaces, ‘cockernee rossers’,  knife grinders and town criers. In fact about the only things missing are Sherlock Holmes and the Artful Dodger! However to anyone quibbling about historical accuracy, it’s worth remembering that you can’t actually change gender overnight by drinking a potion.

I love this movie so its a 666/666


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