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I, Monster (1971)

Jekyll and Hyde? ….. Marlow and Blake? ….. Jekyll and Hyde? ….. No I’m sure the names were Doctor Marlowe and Mr. Blake in this Amicus thriller “based on a story by Robert Louis Stevenson.”

Whatever the reasons, this tale of Jekyll and Hyde has switched the names of the two main characters (perhaps to protect the innocent?) to the team of Marlow and Blake. Regardless of the names used in this script from Milton Subotsky for Amicus Productions, the best news of all for genre fans is the production once again teamed Icons of fantasy cinema, Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. Had they not played opposite each other in the famous tale, we’d surely be thinking this was a missed opportunity looking back. Then again there are those who despite it’s production, look upon it as just that, a missed opportunity. In 3D no less.

Lee takes on the duties of the good Doctor Marlowe and his alter ego, Mr. Blake, while Dear Peter portrays a lawyer/friend of the Doctor who begins to suspect something has surely gone wrong in the lab. Rather than a bubbling potion, Lee, is using a syringe to put the magical brew into his body. The reason is simple. Sex. Well that’s the basic reason as it usually is in screen adaptations of the novel first published in 1886. Lee is an upright, uptight, do gooder who believes he has created a drug that will break down one’s unconscious barrier to pleasures and depravities that one would never partake of in their right mind.

Sadly, Peter has very little to do in the film but Lee does get a chance to shine once having injected the serum into the bloodstream. His proper demeanor slides into a devilish childlike wonder with a grin to back it up. He’s become a childlike bully looking for trouble in the classroom. Why not take a night on the town. Spats, top hat and cape accompanied by a cane stolen from a display window he just had to have. A street fight and pub to round out the evening’s pleasures.

“As the pleasures increase, the face becomes uglier.”

In the end what we get in Subtosky’s script is a Coles Notes version of Stevenson’s story that clocks in at just 75 minutes. The canvas is much smaller than previous versions of the film omitting the female characters from the story. There is no Miriam Hopkins or Rose Hobart to get Frederic March stirred up in his Oscar winning portrayal of 1932. No Ingrid Bergman and Lana Turner plaguing Spencer Tracy as there was in the 1941 remake.

Where are Judy Geeson and Diana Dors when you need them?

For Lee there is no inner struggle between marrying a young lady of good standing and chasing after a trollop of the streets to satisfy his carnal desires. It’s noticeably absent from the plot when compared to the other takes on the short story including one as recent as 1968’s excellent The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde that saw Jack Palance’s Hyde tormenting streetwalker, Billie Whitelaw, throughout the Dan Curtis production.

Despite the look of set decorator and Amicus regular Tony Curtis’ excellent work (not that Tony) the film again sorely misses the simple things like a horse drawn carriage on the streets of foggy London. Instead it’s mostly a stage bound rendering of the novel leading one to believe that a reasonable budget was lacking under producer Max Rosenberg this time out. Surprising since the majority of Amicus thrillers are not so stage bound. Films like Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors, The Deadly Bees and The Land That Time Forgot. Maybe all the money evaporated in the attempt to make this a 3D event.

There are a few obvious scenes meant to give us a 3D scare like when Lee turns up the fire burners in the lab shooting flames directly into the camera. Just don’t expect a paddle ball coming at you from the House of Wax.

Damn! I feel like I’m trashing this one and that’s not my intention. Sure it’s a letdown and I do wish the film had a few more dollars in the budget to let Lee run amok in the streets of London with Cushing in full Van Helsing mode out to stop Mr. Blake’s Jack the Ripper like murder spree. But as it is, it’s a minor curiosity from director Stephen Weeks that has us fans of Lee and Cushing revisiting from time to time just to see our horror heroes once again face off to the death.

Both Peter and Chris would work once again with Weeks in the years ahead. Cushing turned up in the box office bomb, Sword of the Valiant, from the director that had a first flight cast led by Sean Connery while Lee appeared in a film even I’ve yet to see titled The Bengal Lancers with Weeks directing released in 1984. From what I gather this is a lost production that was never finished.

There’s no need to go into the Lee and Cushing association at this point. You’re either aware of their many pairings or you not likely ever will be. They were to fantasy films what great duos like Abbott and Costello were to comedy. I will say the pair were on a roll in the early 1970’s appearing in 9 films together between 1970 and 1973 keeping fans the world over happy and all of us who love to look back to their heyday with nostalgic fondness.

The films of the period they were paired in are, Scream and Scream Again, One More Time, The House That Dripped Blood, I, Monster, Dracula A.D., Horror Express, Nothing But the Night and lastly, The Satanic Rites of Dracula.

Any fans of I, Monster? For a look at the film, see if you can land a copy of the recent blu ray release from Indicator with a bevy of bonus features. A booklet on the production, dual cuts at both 75 and 81 minutes, archival audio interviews, trailers and image galleries etc.

5 Comments »

  1. Lee certainly looked like he got put through the ringer make-up wise with this one, especially that bulldog like snout he had to wear. Lee playing Jekyll & Hyde had such potential as it would’ve really shown off his versatility as an actor. Technically Amicus wouldn’t have been stealing from Hammer, as while Hammer did do a Jekyll/Hyde adaption, their version had Jekyll turning into ‘Sister Hyde’. which was still quite clever. Why they thought they’d have been stealing is still odd.

    • I like Sister Hyde. Lee did appear in earlier 1960 Hammer Hyde flick but not in the crucial role. Always found it a disappointing effort from Hammer. Should have put Cushing in the lead role at that time as he was the hot commodity.

  2. Still haven’t seen this one after all these years, even though I am a huge fan of Messrs. Cushing and Lee, and especially of their many films together. The consensus of everything I’ve read about it, including your review, is that it was a missed opportunity. Sometimes low budgets spur ingeniousness and creativity, and sometimes they result in something that makes you think, “if only they’d had a few more bucks to work with…” Obviously I, Monster is in the latter category.

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