Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is one of those stories that filmmakers return to from time to time. There’s been versions where Jekyll becomes a woman, a blaxploitation version, and Julia Roberts as Jekyll’s maid. Today’s film takes the premise and flips it around. It’s 1980’s “Dr. Heckyl and Mr. Hype.”
Dr. Heckyl (Oliver Reed) is a podiatrist who shares his office with several other doctors. Heckyl is a nice guy, and all, he just happens to be a grotesque monster with greenish skin and a nose “like a half-eaten carrot.” Heckyl’s life is miserable and he is considering killing himself. His one bright spot of the day is seeing a lovely young woman named Coral (Sunny Johnson) at the bus stop each day. But on this particular day, she shows up as a patient at his office.
Now, it just so happens that one of the other doctors has developed a serum that he has been testing on his overweight female patients. Somehow, it magically turns them into shapely young women who don’t believe in wearing bras. When Heckyl decides to take a huge dose of the concoction, it transforms him into a handsome specimen. However, he’s also a jerk who becomes a murderous jerk when things don’t go his way.
“Mr Hype,” as the new Heckyl calls himself, sets out to win Coral…even stealing a car to try and impress her. She, however, is not having any of it. So, Hype devotes his energies to other women, who usually end up dead. After sleeping with a prostitute, Hype kills her in what may be cinema’s only murder by lion skin rug scene.
As things progress, the poor doctor keeps switching back and forth between Heckyl and Hype as a cop (Virgil Frye) starts to close in on them. Coral also starts to realize what’s going on and begins falling for the ugly Heckyl, while trying to avoid the nasty Mr. Hype.
This is supposed to be a comedy, but someone forgot to tell Oliver Reed. Don’t get me wrong, Reed was a fine actor, but he seems to be doing his own thing here and being funny seems to be the furthest thing from his mind. As Heckyl he mumbles his way through the film, and as Hype he doesn’t just chew up the scenery…he feasts on it! Ultimately, I guess I can’t blame him too much for having the wrong approach, since this is essentially a one joke bit. It’s Jekyll and Hyde, but Jekyll is the ugly one. That’s out of the way in the first 2 minutes of the film…now what?
This film is really sloppily made. There is next to no thought put into the framing of the shots and much of the film takes place at night, so we struggle to even see any of the action at all. The sound is also really poorly done, sounding similar to the effect you would get with the build-in mic on your Grandpa’s old home movie camera. Reed’s mumblings as Heckyl are almost inaudible at times. At least Dick Miller and Jackie Coogan make brief appearances, but that’s not enough to salvage things.
As I watched the film, I really couldn’t help but think that flip-flopping the Jekyll and Hyde bit is pretty much a blatant rip off of Jerry Lewis’ “The Nutty Professor.” Minus the comedy, that is. The lead character is ugly and awkward, but a nice guy. He longs for a beautiful girl, so he transforms into a handsome, but obnoxious, version of himself. But other than the similar premise, there’s simply no comparison between the two films. I’ll take a cross-eyed Jerry Lewis over a scowling Oliver Reed any day.