Starring Tony Todd, Tracey Scoggins, Vernon Wells, Stephen Wastell
Directed by John Carl Buechler
As the ultimate statement on the duality of man, Robert Louis Stevenson’s gothic novella “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” has been a constant staple of film adaptation over the years with over 50 different versions reaching screens. The latest version by writer-director John Carl Buechler (Troll, Friday the 13th VIII) attempts to bring the story to the 21st Century with the end result being as schizophrenic as Jekyll himself.
While working at Carew Enterprises, Dr. Henry Jekyll (Todd) discovers a way to cure heart disease. Lacking FDA funding, Jekyll decides to try the serum on himself with one disturbing side effect – he morphs into the malevolent Mr. Hyde. As the primal Hyde, he stalks the nearby college campus and kills young girls to quell his thirst for blood. Hot on the trail is Detective Utterson (Scoggins). Initially believing the murders to be a series of animal attacks, Utterson soon begins uncovering clues that all lead back to one Dr. Jekyll and his lab assistant Mr. Hyde.
While the screenplay manages to retain all of the character names and some plot points from Stevenson’s work, Buechler removes the book’s central conceit of Jekyll’s friends being privy to his personality changes over time. Jekyll acquaintances Utterson and Enfield suddenly become Detectives Utterson and Enfield (“CSI: Jekyll & Hyde”?), who have no connection to him, thus eliminating any of the personal conflict between the characters. Buechler also makes the mistake of having Mr. Hyde as a character that literally works in the lab. In Stevenson’s book it worked because Jekyll experimented by himself. Here Mr. Hyde, fangs, temper and all, is a member of the laboratory staff in a high-tech building with hundreds of employees! “That guy is such an asshole,” states one employee. Just how exactly did he pass that job interview?
Buechler also does a major disservice by trying to turn Hyde into a Freddy Krueger-esque villain always ready with a quip on his lip. For example, Hyde confronts a prying secretary by asking, “Why are you such a nosey bitch?” and then he proceeds to bite her nose off. “Snot bad,” he quips after spitting out the offending orifice. Even in the heyday of humorous heavies, that would have elicited groans worldwide. There is also some hilariously odd dialogue such as when Scoggins reminds her chief about seeing her old partner blown away. “I was there remember? A piece of his skull hit me in the eye!” she angrily declares to the chief, who replies, “That was a fluke! One in a million.” That has to be a Jekyll film first.
As a director, Buechler fares a little better. Strange Case is a competently made film with the nightmare and attack scenes handled particularly well. He also inserts a few nods to the original book (Carew was the name of one of Hyde’s victims) and other films (Re-Animator; Murders in the Rue Morgue). Sharp-eyed viewers will catch his amusing cameo on a wanted poster in the police station (billed as one Juan Carlos Buechler). Buechler’s Magical Media Industries handles a majority of the special effects. The murders are acceptably bloody, but the Hyde makeup has Todd looking like a bulked up Ron O’Neal from Superfly, complete with fright wig. Hyde’s final transformation into an 8-ft chimpanzee in a tuxedo (I kid you not!) leaves a lot to be desired. Additionally, the end features some wonky CGI work that is a slight step above Sci-Fi Channel stuff.
Tony Todd is an interesting casting choice, and he seems to be having fun playing the dual roles. His Dr. Jekyll is a somber man while his Mr. Hyde is a hulking, boorish beast (a far cry from the book, but what can you do). The scenes where he is having an “inner” dialogue with himself are well done. Scoggins, looking like she has gone under the knife in real life, isn’t particularly good as the gun-shy detective. There is, however, fine supporting work from a number of genre veterans including Vernon (The Road Warrior) Wells as Jekyll’s boss, John Carpenter vet Peter (They Live, Prince of Darkness) Jason as the police chief and Tim (Trancers) Thomerson as the medical examiner on the scene of the attacks.
Strange Case is the debut feature from Fantastical Cinema, a new company co-established by Buechler, and amazingly, it saw a theatrical release in 30 theaters in Louisiana and Virginia. If anything, it’s encouraging to see a truly independent horror film hit screens. While this latest variation of the Jekyll story isn’t likely to win over any enthusiasts of the book, it will probably satisfy the undiscerning fan looking for some blood and a few unintentional laughs.
2 1/2 out of 5
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