Steve Lawson’s latest film, Jekyll and Hyde, follows up on his previous films, Bram Stoker’s Van Helsing and Ripper Untold in both the film’s style and its period setting. I haven’t been that impressed with either of those films or his other historical pieces, Saltwater: The Battle for Ramree Island and The Haunting of Alcatraz for that matter. They’ve been way too long on talk and short on anything that viewers of a horror or a war film would want.
But Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde seems a more suitable candidate for the almost filmed stage play style he’s been favouring lately. But can he bring anything to a story that’s been filmed so many times and in so many ways, including an actual filmed stageplay?
Lawyer Gabriel Utterson (Tom Hendryk, Nest of Vampires, The Mermaid’s Curse) is working late again, much to the dismay of his wife Sarah (Helen Crevel, KillerSaurus, Curse of the Witch’s Doll) when he’s interrupted by a visitor. His old friend Dr. Henry Jekyll (Michael McKell, Pentagram, Outpost: Rise of the Spetsnaz). Henry wants his will witnessed and put into force right away, a will that leaves everything to a Mr. Hyde.
When the police arrive the next morning he’s shocked to find out that Jekyll is wanted for a particularly brutal murder, one that fits the pattern of several others as well. After his friend commits suicide rather than be arrested, Gabriel launches his own investigation, starting with a letter left addressed to him.
It’s been probably twenty years since I last read Stevenson’s original but even I know that Lawson’s Jekyll and Hyde doesn’t stay very close to the source material. I certainly don’t remember any commentary on the police in it for example. I also doubt Stevenson would have made any of his female characters as bold, or as good with her fists as Sarah Utterson is here. And that’s just the non-spoiler changes.
Regardless of that, however, Jekyll and Hyde is a better film than I was expecting. It’s still long on talk, but we do see at least some of Mr. Hyde’s activities which is an improvement over a Ripper film without an onscreen killing or a Dracula film without The Count.
As he did with Ripper Untold, Lawson frames Jekyll and Hyde as much as a mystery as a horror film. Although thanks to the letter he left for Gabriel we know what happened and the investigation serves more to confirm what happened than anything else. Inspector Newcombe (Mark Topping, SeaView) who simply wants to consider the case solved and improve his record makes a nice foil to Utterson.
Jekyll and Hyde’s small cast is rounded out by Francesca Louise White (Edge of Extinction, King of Crime) as a prostitute who witnessed Hyde kill a woman, Robin Denys (The Cursed Soul) as Jekyll’s servant Mr. Poole and David Lenik (An English Haunting, The Barge People) as Richard Enfield, another of Gabriel’s clients who is a problem in his own right. They all give good performances and help keep all of the dialogue scenes from getting tedious.
Jekyll and Hyde is certainly the best of Lawson’s recent films and works up some genuine suspense at times. The final confrontation feels a bit off, utilizing an action film cliche that simply doesn’t work here. But despite that and some serious deviations from the original story, it’s an enjoyable watch. It would have been better with more action of course, but for what it is, it’s quite good.
Jekyll and Hyde is available in the UK from High Fliers Films. You can check their Facebook page for more information.