I’ll state this flat out: For years, I though this movie was a blaxploitation movie, as I knew nothing about it but the title. Imagine my surprise to find out it’s actually a Hammer period horror film, one set against the backdrop of the Whitechapel murders. It’s a general highly-regarded film too. I now set out to correct my misconception of the film and see how it stacks up against my renewed expectations.
As you can likely guess now that you too know it’s not a blaxploitation film, Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971) is a take on the novella Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. You can probably also figure out that there’s a twist to this adaptation. Instead of becoming the brutish and despicable Mr. Hyde, the good doctor’s research transforms him temporarily into a woman, the bewitching and murderous Mrs. Edwina Hyde. Edwina quickly decides she likes being around and the internal battle for control begins. Will the doctor’s upstairs neighbors, Susan and Howard Spencer, each of whom is smitten with a different aspect of Jekyll, become casualties of this battle and which personality will triumph?
I’ll admit I wasn’t entirely impress with the movie at first, but the more I thought about it, the more my opinion of it grew. It does a great job of mixing much of sinister history of the late Victorian era into a single film, throwing Jack the Ripper and Burke and Hare into the plot in addition to the Jekyll and Hyde tale. There’s just enough humor to make the movie entertaining when not being horrific here, too. The film doesn’t exactly push the Feminist movement forward, but the idea of the masculine and feminine in a single body isn’t something we’ve seen a lot on film, especially in 1971, so it earns points for at least attempting a new take on Jekyll and Hyde. The transformations are also very effective, utilizing mostly camera trickery instead of prosthetics and special effects.
In light of my rethinking—and despite my disappointment it wasn’t a blaxploitation film—both of my personalities give Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde a solid 3 out of 5 skulls.