The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is a fantastic Gothic horror story and I have a real soft spot for the genre: some monsters, a good omen or two and I’m hooked. So when Anchor Bay’s 2008 modernized version fell into my hands I was super excited. But oh reader beware, this film is neither good nor enjoyably horrible. Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is the kind of bad filmmaking that can ruin a good actor’s career, see: Bruce Willis’ Hudson Hawk. It would be kinder not to review this movie at all. It would be kinder for Anchor Bay to let this movie fade into oblivion.
There are, in fact, well over one hundred screen adaptations of the Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1886 novella. In the mid-00s alone, there were at least five modernized screen versions of the story including BBC’s critically acclaimed TV series Jekyll (2007). This particular catastrophe, written by Paul Margolis and directed by Paolo Barzman, is a movie of the week created for the Hallmark Channel by Canada’s own Muse Entertainment (Bomb Girls, Durham County) and the now defunct American company, RHI Entertainment.
The film opens exactly like an episode of CSI, complete with a horrible murder and bloodcurdling female scream. In fact, most of the film’s story structure, directing and editing resemble a tediously long episode of the show without the sassy puns. There’s even a lab montage! But the story seems much more influenced by Jack The Ripper as the victim count is mainly female, with the first victim even being a prostitute. This is one of a few crucial differences in this adaptation that made me question whether writer Paul Margolis had actually read the original novella and understood it, or whether he had just skimmed a Coles notes version.
Another crucial difference is the transformation between Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. You see, in the original novella Mr Hyde is a true physical transformation from Dr Jekyll, becoming unrecognizable as the original man. In this film the star, Dougray Scott slaps in a pair of contact lenses, changes his accent and slips into some leather pants a la Spike from Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Although we have no objection to Mr Scott in leather pants, it makes it incredibly hard to believe that no one can finger him as the killer, and even more difficult to believe that someone who witnessed the ‘transformation’ is really so much of a threat that they need to die. I live in a big city and see weird stuff all the time. I do not run to the police and say, “That guy’s eyes changed colour. I think he might be killing prostitutes!”
So I suppose I should discuss the plot of the film. Dr Jekyll has developed a concoction from an Amazonian flower in his basement lab – as you do – that separates the good from the evil in a person’s soul. The evil aspect of the soul is then supposed to disappear leaving only the good, but Dr Jekyll seams to have gotten the formula wrong. So now there’s an evil Mr Hyde and his first act of evilness is to remove some of the neatly shelved books in Dr Jekyll’s office and just, like, LEAVE THEM ON THE FLOOR! Their spines all bent wrong and possibly some pages got creased. I don’t know; there weren’t a lot of close ups on the tragedy. But it was every librarian’s worst nightmare.
After graduating to murder, Dr Jekyll’s solution is to lock himself in the basement except, even though there are about as many locks on the door as the average New York apartment, he still seems to get out every time. Instructed not to open the door under any circumstance is a live in housekeeper who is a throwback to the original story, but her presence doesn’t quite work in this modern version. She also seems to be the most loyal housekeeper on the planet as we see her unquestioningly cleaning up blood at one point.
Dr Jekyll decides that he needs to be locked away from society, so instead of turning himself in to the police, he goes to a lawyer (Krista Bridges) to try and get himself a swift conviction. It takes her a while to believe him but then once she does, she immediately and without motivation falls in love with him, forcing upon us some incredibly awkward and overly intimate dramatic moments.
Did it seem weird that not once was the diagnosis of schizophrenia suggested in the overly-shocked courtroom? Yes. Would this movie had been better if it had been more aware of itself? Probably. Especially if this awareness took place in a Joss-Whedon-styled script. Was the soundtrack bad enough to drive your ears to suicide? Most definitely.
Save yourself some time and don’t watch this movie.
I took that bullet for you.