You’d have to have a fractured psyche to enjoy this.
If any of classic horror tales seem just as timely—if not timelier—today than when first written, it’s got to be Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1886 classic, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It combines the “science gone wrong” elements of Frankenstein with “the monster within” elements of The Wolf Man and its kind. And if there’s any horror classic that could benefit from stepping away from its gothic roots and entering the new millennium, it’s this one. With behavioral medicine a multi-billion dollar industry, biotech a hot-button topic, and substance abuse continuing to run rampant all over the world, the story of Jekyll and his murderous doppelganger seems more relevant than ever before.
How sad, then, that writer/director John Carl Buechler (Friday The 13th Part VII: The New Blood) doesn’t take advantage of the opportunities present in a modernized Jekyll and Hyde, and instead he phones it in. All the pieces were in place for Buechler to craft a smart, thrilling updated version of the story, bringing some of today’s themes and societal worries into the mix. But no, the resulting film is one of the more dull and bland monster movies we’ve seen in the while.
Desperate to prove his theories, Dr. Jekyll (Tony Todd, The Rock) has experimented on himself, resulting in an alternate persona, the angry and disfigured Mr. Hyde. When Jekyll injects himself with his prototype formula, he turns into Hyde, who has an appetite for murder and mayhem. When Hyde transforms back into Jekyll, the doc must somehow clean up Hyde’s messes, all while avoiding the cops pursuing him, led by the gun-shy Det. Utterson (Tracy Scoggins, Babylon 5).
This movie has some serious problems.
Problem one: There’s no sense of atmosphere. Everything is shot in a simple, staged manner—it’s all very “How to make a made-for-TV movie 101.” Nighttime scenes are more brightly lit than Disney World. I find it kind of hard to feel afraid with the pretty coed walking alone across campus when the campus is lit up with so many just-out-of-sight floodlights that one could perform spinal surgery. How can we be afraid that Hyde will jump out from the shadows when every “dark” scene is bathed in so much light that there are no shadows?
Problem two: There’s no sense of pacing. At one point, the police have Hyde trapped inside a building and are conducting a room-by-room manhunt for him. It seems to me that this should be a big adrenaline-rush scene, but the cops and others play this in a staid, matter-of-fact way, more or less shrugging their shoulders and saying “Well, he’s around here somewhere.” Scoggins even takes time out to play with a lab chimp, going on about how cute the chimp is. “Cute” isn’t a word you expect to hear when dealing with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
Problem three: What a ridiculous ending. I won’t spoil it here—at least not entirely—but for some reason, Buechler decides to stop doing Jekyll and Hyde and start doing King Kong. Granted, it’s been many years since I read the book, but I don’t recall any giant apes showing up out of nowhere in the third act.
Is there anything good here? It is a good cast, I’ll admit. Thanks to some clever editing, there are scenes in which Jekyll and Hyde converse with each other, and here’s where Tony Todd really shines. Todd, a horror and sci-fi icon in his own right thanks to Candyman and a recurring Klingon role on Star Trek: The Next Generation, always brings some professionalism to his roles. He does so here, and he almost avoids total embarrassment. Scoggins has a scene where she breaks down in tears, and you can just tell that she’s pushing herself very hard to elevate this otherwise weak material. B-movie demigod Tim Thomerson (Trancers) has a few scenes as a cop, and he wisely keeps his performance simple and straightforward, which is just what his exposition-delivering characters needs to be.
The widescreen picture quality on this disc looks nice, with no distracting defects. The sound comes in a robust 5.1 track, and a much weaker 2.0 track. There’s a short, self-congratulatory featurette, followed by the movie’s original trailer and a group of TV spots.
Am I being too hard on this movie? All we’re really dealing with is a low-budget monster flick. If this movie were called Night of the Evil Chimpanzee Doctor instead, perhaps it would be easier to embrace the cheesiness of it. But this is Mr. Hyde we’re talking about here—one of the all-time great monsters. He deserves better than mediocrity. If you want to see a good Hyde picture, I heartily recommend the 1930s Paramount version starring Frederic March, which easily holds its own alongside the Universal monster classics. For a modernized version of the tale, the best one to date has been the flawed but fascinating BBC miniseries Jekyll. Or, if you’re looking for a more fun, pop culture-ish version, there’s no going wrong with Abbot and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. This version, though? Skip it.