This is a version of 'Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde', although the credits ('based on a story by Robert Louis Stevenson'), the name changes (only Utterson and Hyde's first name survive) and the opening 20 minutes (Marlowe's scientific experiments could belong to any similar Hammer film) seem to want to conceal the fact (presumably to make the familiar story unfamiliar again). Having said that, 'I, Monster' is the most faithful of all adaptations of Stevenson's great novella. There is a little chronological tinkering with narrative, and the setting is moved forward by two decades; but the plot and characters are largely Stevenson's. The error made by most versions of making Jekyll good and Hyde bad is avoided - Jekyll/Marlowe is from the start morose, anti-social, sadistic, voyeuristic and scientifically dubious. There is no Hollywood love-interest, pucelle/putain story to simplify Marlowe's dilemma, retaining the claustrophobic, homosocial world evoked by Stevenson. Instead of the usual Victorian, cod-Gothic fug, the novella's dream-like modernity is stretched, with effective use made of silence and an unnaturally depopulated urban labyrinth. The transformation scenes, usually an excuse for distracting effects-extravaganza, are brilliantly subtle here, usually off-screen. The 'revelatory' scene (when Blake reveals himself to a friend) is done in silhouette, which is more evocative and thematically appropriate. Christopher Lee's patrician adventurousness is effectively contrasted with Peter Cushing's dogged dullness. Of course, when I say 'I, Monster' is more faithful than most, it's still not very faithful at all. The duality in Stevenson, whereby Jekyll and Hyde being the same person is concealed till the end, is ignored here. More pertinently, setting the novel in 1906 makes the story seem perversely anachronistic, where Victorian ideas and motifs (sexual repression, duality, mad science etc.) seem out of place in Edwardian England. There is a reason for this - Marlowe is a devotee of Freud, and Jekyll's attempt to isolate, and hence exterminate, the essence of evil, is given a psychoanalytical spin, where the duality is not between respectability and desire, but the ego/super-ego and the Id. This is interesting for two reasons. Firstly, Freud's ideas of the mind are transferred to the body, giving resonance to Marlowe's physical changes, the animal imagery throughout, and the violence he inflicts, as well as making more poignant the climactic 'melding', where Marlowe can no longer divorce his dark side at will. Secondly, Freud provides an explanatory framework for the story, most notably an Oedipal one. Blake runs riot with a cane that reminds Marlowe of the one his violent, 'respectable' father used; the absence of women in his social world, his horrifying violence to women, and some of the seemingly irrelevant asides (the photos that loom in his room like an invading army, etc.) all suggestively deepen our reaction to Marlowe's plight. This Amicus production is reminiscent of the best Hammers - eg 'The Creeping Flesh' - where the emphasis is less on gore and sensation than suggestion, atmosphere, or slow menacing camerawork; a meaningful use of decor; dream-like sequences; elliptical editing; rich symbolism. And as with those great Hammers, there are some searing set-pieces - the opening credits in Marlowe's laboratory, with its dead Siamese twin foetuses, its caged animals and images of fragmentary body parts; Marlowe's first injection and 'self-discovery' with the mirror (more Freud via Lacan) and 'new' point of view; the knife tussle at dawn in a narrow lane in a proletarian milieu; the voyeuristic scenes in his adopted hotel room, with its low-level, tilted camera; the social humiliation when he tries to pick up a prostitute, suggesting he hasn't quite overthrown the sensitive super-ego; the trampling of a young girl. Lee, usually so authoritarian and calm, gets a rare chance to be weak and is excellent; his hurt at having to kill his tabby is very moving. Also excellent is the score, ironic and commentating rather than underpinning or atmospheric; frequently comic, but never - ever - spoofy.
In the Nineteenth Century, in London, the psychologist Charles Marlowe researches a new drug capable to release inhibitions and uses his patients as guinea pigs. He discusses the principles...
October 12, 2020