Friday, February 13, 2015

I, Monster (1971)

          A competent but perfunctory adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic novel The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, this offering from second-rate UK horror manufacturers Amicus Productions reteams the formidable duo of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, beloved by generations of shock-cinema fans for their work with Hammer Films. Written for the screen (poorly) by Amicus stalwart Milton Subotsky, I, Monster changes the main characters’ names and jettisons nearly all of Stevenson’s ruminations on the nature of evil, thus delivering a highly generic series of laboratory scenes and murder vignettes over the course of 75 plodding minutes. Sometimes, less is less.
          Though by far the inferior actor of the top-billed duo, Lee gets the showy part, as “Dr. Marlowe” and “Mr. Blake.” Cushing, meanwhile, plays a gentleman named Utterson, who belongs to the same private club as Dr. Marlowe and conducts an investigation into several murders that eventually leads him to discover Dr. Marlowe’s horrible secret. For the benefit of the few people left on earth who remain unfamiliar with Stevenson’s deathless tale, the gist is that a scientist creates a serum that brings out the evil buried within every person, using himself as a subject and becoming a killer whenever he’s under the influence of the serum. Considering the movie’s brief running time, it takes a while for Subotsky and director Stephen Weeks to get to the good stuff; Marlowe doesn’t change for the first time until about 25 minutes into the movie. Furthermore, the Blake scenes are quite bland, even though Lee plays his character’s evil incarnation with bugged-out eyes and grubby makeup that’s unpleasant without seeming wholly unrealistic.
          On the plus side, the story gains momentum about halfway through, once Blake kills a child and thereby jacks up the movie’s overall intensity. While I, Monster ultimately feels more like a made-for-TV project than a proper feature—and while the change of character names seems pointless since Stevenson’s narrative survives largely intact—it’s always a kick to see Cushing and Lee share screen time. Better still, composer Carl Davis bathes the film in a sophisticated musical patina thanks to a dense orchestral score right out of the Masterpiece Theater playbook.

I, Monster: FUNKY

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