No Horror Top Ten would be complete without at least one glorious Technicolor Hammer Horror. In my opinion forget about kitchen sink drama and the odd worthy epic, Hammer Horrors and Carry Ons were the British films that put bums on seats in your local Odeon or ABC throughout the late 50s, 60s and early 70s. Hammer even got a Queen’s Award For Industry!
As the permissive era of the 1960s morphed into the 1970s, Hammer ramped up the sex and nudity content of films like The Vampire Lovers (1970).
Although pretty mild by contemporary standards these films hit the late night cinema circuit as I hit puberty and an early growth spurt that got me safely past cinema ushers. Roy Ward Baker directed The Vampire Lovers and the following year he returned with a Dr Jekyll remake with a twist. Rumour has it that screen writer Brian Clemans, who cut his teeth writing for quirky but stylish TV shows like The Avengers and Adam Adamant Lives! in the 1960s, conceived the title Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde as a joke, but given the new-found sexual ambiguity of a decade when homosexuality was at last legal and glam-rock musicians were experimenting with make up it was soon in production.
Clemens screenplay sees Jekyll (Ralph Bates) discovering that his hoped for elixir of life has the effect of turning a male fly into a female. Well it isn’t long before dear old Henry tries it on himself and turns into his “sister” Mrs Edwina Hyde (Martine Beswick, whose previous film credits include one of the scrapping gypsy girls in From Russia with Love). Naturally there are a few problems; it isn’t long before Hyde becomes the dominant of the two personalities, the elixir just happens to be made from the reproductive organs of female cadavers, the supply of cadavers pretty quickly runs out and Jekyll is forced to harvest his own by murdering Whitechapel’s prostitutes as Jack the Ripper.
The uncanny resemblance of Martine Beswick to Ralph Bates certainly aids the transformation scenes beautifully shot by Norman Warwick, with David Whitaker’s wonderful musical score.
Aside from the Ripper (who was busy in 1880s London) we also get a couple of James Bond movie style gags thrown in, a comedy turn by the brilliant Philip Madoc as the mortuary attendant and the grave robbing duo of Burke and Hare (who in reality never robbed a grave preferring to take the easy option of murder) somehow transplanted from 1820s Edinburgh. In fact the London of Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde is a Dickensian theme park complete with pea-soupers, gin palaces, ‘cockernee rossers’, knife grinders and town criers. In fact about the only things missing are Sherlock Holmes and the Artful Dodger! However to anyone quibbling about historical accuracy, it’s worth remembering that you can’t actually change gender overnight by drinking a potion.