Purists beware! While Hammer is famous for its revamped versions of classic horror icons, none are changed as radically as Mr. Hyde. While the later “Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde” added gender identity issues to this mix, Terence Fisher’s 1960 is perhaps a little more offbeat in its subtle changes. Fisher was a big believer in the so-called “charm of evil”, and his version of Stevenson’s famous tale reflects that. But what makes it an interesting take on Hyde is probably one of the things that makes it off putting to purists.
You see here Dr Jekyll (played by Paul Massie) is an unattractive bore of a man. Nether saintly or spooky, he’s simple just there. Which is probably why he’s wife Kitty (Dawn Addams playing the part of Hammer voluptuary here) is cheating on him with his best friend (Christopher Lee in a rare non-monster role). When transformed into Hyde however, he’s charming, handsome, and quick-witted. A far cry from the ape-like imp wonderfully played Fredric March in the 1931 version.
Not much of Stevenson’s original story survives in Fisher’s world. It’s been put through a meat grinder, packed up, and grilled into Hammer burger, but that’s part of what makes this little gem so much fun. Hyde’s very first appearance on screen is kept obscured as long as they can keep him under wraps. Then finally, we see this suave figure with insane eyes glaring fiery rage from a handsome face. It’s chilling and effective – Hyde’s monstrous nature shown through his actions rather than his appearance. It’s not the version I’d want all of the time, but Fisher and company make it work here.
For one, this is more of a psycho-sexual drama. A four-sided love triangle, due to Jekyll being two people. It’s far more morally ambiguous than Fisher’s other films for Hammer, it doesn’t even fully condemn Jekyll’s wife and friend for their affair. In fact, it appears that they actually care deeply for one another.
I’m often told that this movie is considered one of Fisher’s lesser efforts, and I think that’s a shame. I think people shoot it down for trying to do something different with our shared mythology of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I love the novel, and I love the classic film version, but this version has it’s merits (as described above). Any self-respecting horror fan who thinks they’ve seen it all should by all means hunt this down.