Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Hammer's excellent take on classic horror tale

The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll (1960)
Starring: Paul Massie, Dawn Addams, Christopher Lee and David Kossoff
Director: Terence Fisher
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

Dr. Henry Jekyll (Massie) creates a method that draws out his darker side... actually transforming himself into another person, body and soul. While his hope was to fully understand all facets of a human being and thus learn about the "higher man", he instead discovers his wife (Addams) is cheating on him with his best friend (Lee). The new Henry Jekyll, Edward Hyde (also Massie) concocts a plan to set things right.

"The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll" is an excellent adaptation of the classic Stevenson novel. It throws in some unexpected twists, it highlights the dichotomy of Victiorian England's social attitudes and ideals, and it moves swiftly while still leaving enough time and space for character development.

The revenge scheme that Hyde comes up with and inacts, in addition to its aftermath is both suitably melodramatic for the nature of this period piece and so appallingly shocking that it will unnerve all but the most jaded modern viewers. I can barely imagine the shock and surprise of British audiences in 1960!

With Terence Fisher in the director's chair, it should be of no surprise that the film is beautifully photographed and full of lush sets. Fisher is also once again working with a great cast... and Paul Massie is due special praise for doing such an excellent job in playing both Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; when Hyde first appeared, it took me a few moments to realize that the two characters were played by the same actor.

After being unavailable for purchase or rent for many years, this high point of Hammer Films' output is finally available in the "Icons of Horror: Hammer Films" collection. It's one of four undeservedly obscure horror movies included in the set (the others being the brilliant Peter Cushing/Christopher Lee vehicle "The Gorgon"; the psychological thriller "Scream of Fear"; and the mummy-tale-with-a-twist "The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb") and it's a set that any lover of classic horror films would be delighted to own.

Almost 50 years after it first premiered, "The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll" still has the power to chill the audience. It's well worth a look, and it's release on DVD was long overdue.

If you're interested in reading the original tale, click here to visit the Classic Fiction Archive.

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