Sister Hyde is in the House!
In this iteration of the famous story, Dr. Henry Jekyll (Ralph Bates) lives in Victorian London, and he’s conducting experiments in his downstairs apartment, where he’s set up a lab and equipment to help him try to find a panacea that will cure any disease or illness. A visit from a fellow doctor friend convinces him that he’s on the wrong path. He shouldn’t be looking for a cure-all, but instead, for a way to make mankind disease-proof. After struggling and experimenting, he stumbles upon a very clear truth: there is something about female hormonal glands that holds the key to this miracle drug. And so he starts cutting up dead women supplied to him by Burke and Hare (!) before he must branch out on his own. Yes, the good Doctor starts killing and harvesting female glands and soon he is known as Jack the Ripper! He eventually creates a serum that he tests on small insects before finally dosing himself. It has a very odd side-effect: it turns him into a woman! He becomes Sister Hyde (Martine Beswick), if only for a little while. She is everything Jekyll is not. While some semblance of morality held him back, Sister Hyde is freed of this. She goes out into the churning London fog, free to hunt down more female victims, and never suspected because the Bobbies are looking for a man, not a woman. All of this chicanery comes to a head, of course, and soon our Doctor is discovered and an ugly ending results.
I’ve wanted to see this Hammer film for a long time and finally got the chance. I am a huge Hammer fan; even their worst movies I would give a decent rating to. This one is probably a middle-tier Hammer film. It’s good but not great, and it drags a bit too long in the middle. Ralph Bates is terrific as the Doctor, playing it just perfectly; he’s a tormented man that wants to do good but must accept the awful sacrifices to be made in order to further science. Martine Beswick is simply awesome as Sister Hyde. She gets to strut around, sensual and bare-breasted, free from any morality or conventions of the time. She’s truly a liberated woman, so liberated that murder means nothing to her, nothing other than a different kind of thrill. The sets are of course great, and all of the supporting cast is good, as well. Director Roy Ward Baker has great fun with the swirling, fog-filled streets of London, and creates an almost surreal atmosphere of evil that permeates nearly every bit of the film.
Overall, this is a good period piece, with some interesting twists and turns, but it does not set the world on fire. As is usual with Hammer, even in the early 70s, it will only go so far. There is a sense and a feeling that this film wants to be unleashed, freed to go really hog-wild, but it holds itself back. There could have been some really interesting things done with this premise but they don’t go there, and in the end, that keeps this film from being something special. It’s still damned good, though.