Director: John Carl Buechler
Cast: Tony Todd, Tracy Scoggins, Vernon Wells
Robert Louis Stevenson's classic novella of Gothic horror has been read or performed almost continuously since it was first published in 1886. The story has attracted many of the great actors of cinema including Frederic March, Spencer Tracy, John Barrymore, Kirk Douglas and Jack Palance. It has also been used for tawdry exploitation, as seen in films like Dr. Jekyll's Dungeon Of Death(1979) or the various gender reversal flicks like Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde(1972).
However, like with Frankenstein and Dracula, each generation needs it's own variation and many are quite good. When this modern day version of the story was announced to star Tony Todd, veteran genre performer, who had delivered one of the most memorable horror performances of the 90s in Candyman(1992), it seemed like a pretty good idea. Yet, like the character portrayed in the story, it would be a tad schizophrenic.
This modern day updating of the Stevenson story fails in many ways. First, it was a little unwise to begin the film with a graphic murder. We get no emotional attachment with Jekyll and are left as spectators, rather than experiencing him as a man, and understanding his inner demons. Hyde is depicted as a monster, which is not in keeping with the story, but also makes things less than credible. Hyde is hideously ugly and resembles a neanderthal and just happens to have superhuman strength and an increased bloodlust. If this film was more clever, it would have first established Jekyll and his conflicts and issues and shown how a character like Hyde could manifest itself. Then, it could slowly develop Hyde as his own entity, instead of making him as a killing machine, and worse, a catch-phrase spewing caricature, who seems to have escaped from a Nightmare on Elm Street sequel. The title of this review was actually a line that the character uttered when eating the nose of a pretty desk girl. I admit that I laughed, but only because it was that bad.
For some reason, the film decided to depict Jekyll as a literal schizophrenic, or at least the Hollywood version of one, by having him hallucinate seeing Hyde as a separate character. The problem here is that we the audience, are well aware of the ruse and it makes Jekyll appear unstable and since we never got to know him normally, a lot of empathy is lost in the confusion. Worse, Jekyll's motives seem unclear and the script does him no favors, not bothering to elaborate on his kindness and generosity, rather focusing on his endless cursing and screaming, making Todd appear at times like his Ben in Night of the Living Dead(1990), except this time, with a multiple personality.
Todd seems to be having a ball as Hyde and he is pretty funny, though it's unclear whether that's intentional or not. Jekyll is working on curing heart disease, and works at a clinic that actually employs Hyde, even though he is a violent psychopath and even explodes when confronted by police for questioning, early on in the film.
And about those police. The screenwriter unwisely chose to take the pivotal role of Utterson and turn him into a female cop(Tracy Scoggins, who looks worse for wear, with way too much plastic surgery) and the film plays out like a bad(worse?) episode of CS1! She has not emotional attachment to Jekyll and constantly is on the defensive against him, making her appear all the more bizarre. Her backstory is especially jarring, involving a dead partner and an exploded gun(including a line to her boss about how his brains hit her in the eye!) and it all comes off as very silly.
Other characters are treated with even more contempt, such as Lanyon(Vernon Wells), Jekyll's best friend, who does not even have a single scene where they discuss his plight. Judith Shekoni as Jekyll's fiance has very little to do, but scream and cry at the end when Jekyll goes on an extended rampage.
And about the ending...boy, is it bad. As if to drain all the sympathy and believability from the character, Hyde goes crazy and turns into an eight foot tall chimpanzee(i'm not making this up) before he is shot dozens of times, causing a badly CGI morphing Jekyll to throw himself off the roof to his death, for the poignant finale, which really isn't that poignant, because we never got to know the character.
Most of the problems with this film derive from a truly abysmal screenplay. Such little thought is given towards the characters, that the whole thing ends up feeling fairly contemptible towards it's cast(and audience.) Todd is capable of great things and I believe he would have made a good Jekyll/Hyde, especially as he slowly succumbs to his id's base desires. He can be a very emotional actor and has something of the classic horror actor in him, but sadly, this film was more interested in duplicating the cheeze of the 80s, rather than the sentiment of the 30s. Stories like this live and die on characterization, without it, they just don't work. The script fails to allow us to connect to Jekyll, spending far too much time on Scoggin's character and the result is a dismal failure. Even as a piece of exploitation filmmaking, the film never manages to impress with it's endless array of makeup effects, chiefly because it all appears so artificial. The ridiculous conclusion could have actually worked if the plot allowed Hyde to begin a gradual descent down the evolutionary ladder, similar to March in the 1931 version, and kind of like Cronenberg's The Fly(1986). Unfortunately, little is explained and the story is given no such innovations. Some may argue that there was no room for such things in a low budget(750,000) movie, but frankly, characters are one thing that should have been of no expense and it's a shame that this film didn't have that in mind.
Few decent things can be said about this adaption. Todd tries in what is essentially, a very poorly written part. Most of the cats sleepwalks through the film, non interested, waiting for a paycheck. I did enjoy how they were able to get Todd into the traditional costume and found that fairly clever, even though the coffee house setting was a bit goofy. What else? Some of the one-liners were good for some cynical laughs and Todd was fun in the role of Hyde, even if the intention seemed a bit askew. And, oh yes, Arloa Reston was very cute as Jekyll's lab assistant. She was snot bad. However, the rest of this film was the equivalent of a used tissue and you know where that usually ends up.