Dr. Black and Mr. Hyde
dr. black and mr. hyde | william crain | larry lebron | bernie casey | rosalind cash | marie o'henry | based on | novel | robert louis stevenson | dr. jekyll and mr. hyde | remake | sci-fi | united states | ji-tu cumbuka | milt kogan | stu gilliam | blaxploitation
Film: Dr. Black and Mr. Hyde
Director: William Crain
Writer: Larry LeBron
Starring: Bernie Casey, Rosalind Cash and Marie O’Henry
This was a movie that I feel like I first heard about on Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror. It was one that I’m sure I threw on my list of films to check out at some point. I’m giving it a viewing as part of the Movie Club Challenge over on The Podcast Under the Stairs. It is fitting as I’ve been watching a lot of variations on the ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ story as well. The synopsis here is when a scientist develops a formula to regenerate dying liver cells; it accidentally turns him into an albino vampire with a taste for prostitutes.
We start this movie off with Dr. Henry Pride (Bernie Casey). We learn that he’s a world-renowned doctor who has won awards. He is giving a tour to some other scientists and during this we get to meet his assistant of Dr. Billie Worth (Rosalind Cash). Together they’re working on research to regenerate or at least slow down the degeneration of liver cells in hopes to eliminate cirrhosis.
Along with working on his research Dr. Pride also works in a free clinic that is also part of a thrift store. The movie never comes out and states it, but this is supposed to be Los Angeles where this clinic is in the vicinity of Watts’ neighborhood. It is there we see Dr. Pride interacting with a prostitute of Linda Monte (Marie O’Henry). She has a thing for Dr. Pride, as I assume most women from this area would. He is a black man who is a doctor and giving back to the community. She had a bout with hepatitis to which Dr. Pride helped eliminate. She comes in for vitamin shots and she will only let the doctor administer. It is interesting that here she is completely nude when he comes in.
That night Dr. Pride goes back to his laboratory and Dr. Worth asks him if he would like to get dinner. It appears they’re having some kind of relationship and he lets her know that he he’s going to stay late. During this stint, he administers an injection into a black rat which turns it white. On top of the changes to its color, it attacks the others in its cage. Dr. Pride ends up falling asleep and is woken up by Dr. Worth the following morning. They go into the lab to find all the rats were killed by this now albino one. He’s upset for falling asleep and she tells him that he’s been working too hard.
There is then a patient that is brought into the hospital by the name of Emily Harris (Cora Lee Day). Dr. Pride wants to use the serum on her, but Dr. Worth states he can’t. It isn’t ready for human trials. He does it anyway and there is an interesting side effect. Before she dies, she goes white and attacks a nurse. Dr. Worth realizes what he’s done and is quite upset. It could ruin all their work. Also on this day, Dr. Pride gets into an argument with Linda. She claims that he would never give a woman like her a chance due to assimilation. The way she words it is that he drives a white car, probably now attracted to white women and that all his schooling as well as his profession has taken out the person he was growing up. It is interesting that later we learn he did grow up in similar conditions to the people he’s helping.
Since he couldn’t get really any information from Emily, Dr. Pride decides to inject himself with the formula. It turns him into a white man with incredible strength. That night he goes to the area where his clinic is looking for the lounge where Linda works. It is here that we learn she used to work for Silky (Stu Gilliam), a local pimp, but now works for herself. There’s an altercation that goes in the lounge where she works. Dr. Pride is seduced with what happens with the injection and continues to do it. He also wants Linda to partake in the experiment as well, but when she sees what it does to him, it terrifies her.
That’s where I’m going to my leave my recap of the movie and I do have to say, this is an interesting take on the Robert Louis Stevenson story here. Of course, being that this is a blaxploitation film, we have black people in the prominent roles and that works for me. Dr. Pride is an award-winning doctor. Dr. Worth is his assistant doing her own research which is ahead of its time for a black woman. There is also Lt. Jackson (Ji-Tu Cumbuka) who is a detective looking into the murders. I’m not surprised by a good portion of this with William Crain helming the picture. He’s the same guy that did Blacula and its sequel so that makes a lot of sense there. We do also get Linda who is a prostitute, Silky the pimp who are also black but in less savory positions. I do think it does well with Linda being a strong independent woman. For Silky, he’s answering to Preston (Marc Alaimo) which I feel is there stating that it is the white man behind all of the problems here.
Now Duncan did state that this is a funny movie for some reason and I was really wondering where that was going to go. From what I gather, I’m assuming he means that this movie is pretty problematic. Dr. Pride when he becomes Hyde is the actor Casey in white face. It was interesting to see that Stan Winston did the look here. I can also see why Duncan said this movie probably couldn’t be made today. There have been some people getting ‘canceled’ today for being white and appearing in black face. This is the same exact thing, just of course reversed. It also makes Hyde super strong. I’m thinking that Crain is pushing a social commentary that we have a white man, coming to the lower income area of this ghetto and wreaking havoc. I can really see and to be honest, there might not have been as much a fuss and it is sad to say that.
Before getting away from this completely, I just want to draw some parallels from the actual story to what we get here in the movie. We obviously have the doctor who injects himself and becomes a monster. Dr. Pride is also working in a clinic to help the less fortunate, which is from the original source material. He gets caught up in wanting to continue to become Hyde, leading to his downfall. These are done with a twist to include race and I think that does add a dimension to what we’re getting here.
I feel that next should be the acting of the movie. Casey I think does a really good here in being this benevolent doctor we see in the beginning. I think the interaction with Linda really makes him question things as well that and getting the taste of something different causes changes to this good man for the negative. He still is a tragic character after we learn about his back-story to still feel for him. Cash is solid as the counterpart to Dr. Pride who is not seduced by the experiment. I think that O’Henry is good. She is a character who is born into circumstance and doing what she can to survive. Cumbuka and Milt Kogan are solid as the detectives. Gilliam and the rest of the people at the lounge work for me as well to round this out for what was needed.
To the effects of the movie, I was shocked to see Winston’s name in the credits. I like what he did with Casey to make him into Hyde. It isn’t great, don’t get me wrong. It was done practical though so I will give credit for that. It did remind me of The Omega Man, which oddly enough has Cash in it as well. It makes Casey and Day look albino. It was quite creepy. Aside from that, we don’t get a lot effects. There is a transformation scene with rat that was time lapsed. The cinematography was well done.
The last thing to go over would be the soundtrack. There were a lot from this era that I’m a fan of and this feels like that. There’s almost an electronic feel to it and it did stick out to me a few parts of the movie. It isn’t great. It isn’t one that I’ll listen to regularly. For the era this movie is made, it really did feel that like which I can appreciate.
So now with that said this movie isn’t great. It isn’t the best take on the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde story or the blaxploitation sub-genre. What I do think is that it does explore some interesting concepts. It is a bit problematic though as it does come off as racist with some of the things that are being done. What does make it interesting though is the era that it came out, Crain being the director and some of the things it is exploring. I do think that the acting is good though. The effects are solid enough and the soundtrack is about the same there. I would rate this overall as an above average movie. Not great, but does do some really good things in my opinion.
My Rating: 6.5 out of 10