Friday, September 16, 2022

Dr. Jekyll and the Wolf Man (1972)

Professor Imre Kosta and his young wife Justine journey to his homeland, but disaster strikes when bandits attack and he is killed. Justine is saved by handsome nobleman Waldemar Daninsky, who holds a dark secret of his own. He is cursed to transform into a werewolf by the light of the moon. To repay him for saving her life, Justine is determined to see Waldemar cured, and takes him to England to meet Dr. Henry Jekyll, who draws upon his family knowledge. Will his experiment finally cure Waldemar, or will their efforts instead unleash an even greater horror?...

Dr. Jekyll and the Wolf Man sounds like one of the more out-there entries in the series from the title alone, and it kinda is. While not the first time the Hombre Lobo has met a Universal monster, this is the first it's taken centre stage.

The film begins with some set-up Jekyll and Hyde, and is named after the Wolf Man, yet oddly enough we follow this random guy Imre, as he and his wife journey to the Hungarian countryside. There's a decent amount of emotion in his dialogue, and with the importance given, you really get the feeling that he's an important part of the film. He'd better be, it's 17 minutes in and we still haven't seen hide nor hair of Waldemar Daninsky yet!

Eventually he shows up, and is introduced well, albeit with not as in-depth of an origin as usual.
Overall, the first act serves as a standalone mini werewolf film. It has all the hallmarks of the subgenre, told a lot quicker than usual, and with little padding. The second half is where the other half of the title finally starts ringing true. After their flight to England, Justine enlists the help of her friend Henry Jekyll.

Jekyll is skeptical at first, but reports of local maidens being torn to shreds by a mysterious animal attacker changes his mind. He decides to use his expertise to find a cure, and the idea he comes up with is either the dumbest imaginable, or the smartest! He will give Waldemar the formula to transform him into Hyde, under the assumption that Hyde's evil will be strong enough to destroy the werewolf curse (like purging bacteria?), then they can jab him with the antidote and banish Hyde. Problem solved! Unless literally anything goes wrong!

The film's structure has its pluses and drawbacks. On one hand having the separation allows the film to do a lot without feeling overstuffed. It also has the effect of never being stale, showing us the routine werewolf story without constantly interrupting the Jekyll one. On the other hand, the title promises a Jekyll and Hyde story which is really only half the film, at best. While the werewolf act gets enough time to shine, the Hyde story is pretty undercooked.

Dr. Jekyll and the Wolf Man has some really good spooky setpieces. The best is the fantastic lift scene, which is a highlight of the whole werewolf genre I feel! The film overall is kinda like a proto-American Werewolf in London, with its swinging Soho setting. Dr. Hyde gets up to some S&M antics in his short time. And the climax is fairly good, even if it does rely on quite a lot of happenstance and luck. The end's a bit of a downer, but it didn't feel depressing).

Waldemar is a decent protagonist. He does sometimes come off a little mopey (To quote a Dark Corners review: "Oh, it's so hard being rich, and handsome, and immortal"), but never comes off as unbearable. His werewolf side meanwhile is as vicious as ever, yet for some reason Waldemar doesn't lock or restrain himself during the full moon, instead wandering the land freely. An ill-timed visit to the clinic in the city results in him claiming a few more victims, before he's banished for the rest of the film. Until a sudden return near the end. In a nightclub, where he has so many victims to choose from he gets none!

Justine is is surprisingly intelligent and proactive, searching for a cure for her new friend, and quite determined. It's really quite unique how she's not so much in love with him, but comes off more as a staunch ally, helping Waldemar despite her own personal tragedy. Of course, this lasts up until the halfway mark, when she blurts out "I love you very much" with all the abruptness that you expect from a European dubbed film. She doesn't get the typical consolation love interest, which makes sense since she started out with one, now deceased.

Jekyll is a pretty good guy, who tries his best to help, as well as make something good come out of his family's darkness. His assistant/girlfriend Sandra meanwhile is devious bitch, who encourages Jekyll to go further than needed with his experiment, making sure the film doesn't get a happy ending.

Hyde takes almost an hour to appear, but from his very first scene he has plenty of personality! It's a shame he took so long to appear, because he could easily held a movie on his own. He somehow attracts women despite being sickly pale with greasy hair, and says bitch more than Freddy Krueger. Unfortunately he just vanishes before the climax, and never appears again! Bringing Hyde out of Waldemar may have given Naschy an excuse to play the other monster, but robs the film of a final fight between Hyde and werewolf.

Who Hyde even is is a good question, that's not answered satisfactorily by the movie. I think it's suggested we all have an inner evil persona that Jekyll's formula can bring out, and it's called Hyde for simplicity's sake. Yet they all know what they are and who Jekyll is, and accessorise with fashion from Victorian England?

There's a small but decent supporting cast. In the first half Waldemar has a maid at his castle, who is harrassed and feared by locals who think she's a witch. She can't be much of a witch though, since they easily kill her offscreen. Surprisingly brutal, too!

The townfolk, including a homicidal local, are assholes, who talk in hushed whispers about the Daninsky estate, and how the mysterious events there are ruining the area's reputation. Because as a bandit who murders tourists, he wouldn't want this town to have a bad name. Someone has got to protect the people, and it may as well be him! Interestingly enough, he meets his end at the hands of Waldemar's human form.

The acting (Spanish and dub) is really good here! Many of the cast are just fine, doing ok enough jobs for a cheesy horror movie. Paul Naschy is good as ever as Waldemar, and great as the Wolf Man, in all his animal rage. He also plays Hyde, and gives a really good performance! From his appearance to his burning eyes it's really something, and he definitely does the part justice.

I also feel the film shows a definite lack of ego on Naschy's part by hiding his behind-the-scenes parts in the credits, and for waiting so long to appear in favour of other actors. I know, I know, he casts himself as the handsome wealthy hunkaspunk, irresistible to women, but, well, he's Spanish, an actor, and is a big hunkaspunk, so it's not wrong. The fact that he willingly takes a brief backseat in a film he wrote and starred in shows he's not a diva.

Shirley Corrigan is a nice co-star with a juicy role. Jack Taylor is fine and looks the part, although it's a shame he never got to play his own Hyde here. Mirta Miller is beautiful yet icy. And Jose Marco has a nice enough small part.

The direction by Leon Klimovsky is very good, and turns what was presumably quite a low budget production into a pretty impressive watch. The music is also really good, spooky and at times funky!

And then there are the effects, which are very good! The werewolf make-up is great, and the transformations well done. The violence is well made, satisfying to watch, and at times funny. The make-up for Mr. Hyde is perhaps the most impressive effect though! The sallow skin, the golden eyes, and the greasy hair makes this same actor look totally different! For any Jekyll/Hyde make-up to make the actor look somehow different while still being the same man is what every adaption should strive for, and this nails it.

There are a few different versions of this film floating around, resulting in a bit of confusion. All I know is the 83 minute cut is perfectly fine, full of blood, and doesn't feel it's missing anything. Maybe there are longer cuts out there with a bit more added sin, but this is good enough.

Dr. Jekyll and the Wolf Man has its faults, but I found it a surprisingly good time! It knows to be daring, while also keeping things simple at the same time. If you can only watch one Jekyll and Hyde meet a werewolf movie, make it this one...

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