Monday, October 27, 2014

Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde (1976)



          While it’s far from the worst blaxploitation horror flick—compared to Blackenstein (1973), anything is a masterpiece—this Afrocentric riff on Robert Louis Stevenson’s immortal novella The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is not good. Lots of interesting ideas bubble under the surface, notably the concept of a serum altering a man’s race, but Lawrence Woolner’s atrocious script bungles everything from character motivations to simple continuity. Even the basic premise of the picture, the specific nature of how a man transforms into a monster, is fuzzy. The first time the main character injects himself with the serum that releases his inner beast, he becomes an animalistic killer who can barely utter monosyllables. Later, however, he retains his hyper-educated speech patterns after transforming. Furthermore, in his first outing as a monster, the main character flinches from a small knife wound, but later he shrugs off bullets.
          Alas, the inability to properly track sci-fi “rules” is ultimately the least of the picture’s problems. Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde is the sort of discombobulated mess in which characters come and go based on what’s convenient for any given scene, so, for instance, the main character never seems to share the same space with his coworker/girlfriend outside of the lab they share. Huh? Bernie Casey stars as Dr. Henry Pryde, a scientist developing a means of regenerating liver tissue because his mother died of liver disease. He works alongside Dr. Billie Worth (Rosalind Cash), and he volunteers at a free clinic where one of his patients is a prostitute named Linda (Marie O’Henry). Eager to test his theories, Henry injects himself and becomes a quasi-albino killer who gets mistaken for a white man while he rampages through Watts, accruing a body count of street people. Cops investigate the murders, but Linda, the booker, figures out the culprit’s identity first and confronts Henry. A lengthy chase featuring a King Kong-style climb of the Watts Towers concludes the film.
          Director William Crain, who previously helmed the enjoyable Blacula (1972), suffers badly for association with inferior material. He stages a few decent action beats, and the intimate scenes between Casey and Cash—as well as those between Casey and O’Henry—have real warmth. Crain also coaxes humor from the banter between black cop Jackson (Ji-Tu Cumbuka) and white cop O’Connor (Milt Kogan); Jackson delivers the amusing line, “Brother man, this situation is rapidly becoming insalubrious—meanin’ we about to stomp a mud hole in yo’ ass.” In other words, this unholy mess of a picture isn’t without its enjoyable moments, but the crappy storytelling and deadly pacing are as murderous to enjoyment as the half-assed monster makeup created by FX icon Stan Winston.

Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde: LAME

1 comment:

AndyHunt said...

Always felt that Bernie Casey was wasted on much of the dross he got to play during his long career. I first noticed him alongside Burt Reynolds in the fantastic, and much underrated, Sharkeys Machine. A real shame because the guy could act, and he had the same tough but accessible charm as Eastwood, Reynolds, etc.