Almost a decade after the final Candyman movie, It’s good to see Tony Todd in a titular role again. In fact, he’s in two lead roles in this adaptation of the classic Robert Louis Stevenson tale of split personalities. Despite Hyde’s attire on the DVD cover art, this is a modern rendition set in present-day Los Angeles, with Dr. Jekyll a researching a cure for heart disease. He’s reached the limits of what he can do with monkeys (Haven’t we all?), however, and begins to test his serum on himself when he fails to receive the go-ahead for human trials.
Of course, this brings out the “Hyde” in him, a transformation I was amused to see entailed the growing of straight, Caucasian hair. Take that, Whitey! He also grows wolf-like teeth and a Geico caveman face, a repulsive appearance that somehow doesn’t send people fleeing when he walks around in public. Hyde — “Eddie” to his friends — proceeds to go on a nighttime killing spree, taking big bites out of his victims and occasionally doffing his clothes to reveal his head-to-toe fur-covered body (like a 1940s movie gorilla suit) and sexually assaulting his victims…post-mortem.
It’s got all the makings of a camp classic, particularly when you throw in Tracy Scoggins — one of those actresses you know for no good reason — as homicide detective Karen Utterson, your standard hard-boiled movie cop who’s haunted by the death of her partner in the line of duty, thus making her trigger shy. Only in the final 10-15 minutes does the film truly go balls to the wall, though, when Jekyll’s final transformation turns into an all-out King Kong-fest as he sprouts a monkey head and drags his girlfriend Renee (Judith Shekoni) to the roof of a building. Utterson, overcoming her gun shyness, confronts him with John Woo-style double-fisted guns blazing, screaming, “HOW DO YOU LIKE ME NOW?!?” Craptasmic. You have to wonder how anyone on set kept a straight face.
If only the rest of the film had been as over-the-top as these climactic OMG moments, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde could’ve been a cult hit. As it is, it’s still worth a watch and an occasional chuckle. The writing is cliched melodrama, but the strong array of character actors — including Tim Thomerson, Peter Jason and Vernon Wells (the mohawked Wez from The Road Warrior) — lend an air of legitimacy, along with Todd. His trademark gutteral whisper at times makes the material seem better than it is, and it’s evident that he had a ball with the Hyde scenes, committing to an extent that the writing only sniffs at.
Now, to address the gorilla in the room: the image a black man turning into a murderous ape is certainly potentially offensive, but in the context of this silliness, it didn’t bother me too much. At least he sticks with his black girlfriend and doesn’t get mesmerized by the white woman radiance of Fay Wray, Jessica Lange or Naomi Watts.