To the uninitiated, titles like Blacula and Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde signify ultra-cheap, ultra-cheesy Blaxploitation fare that could never be taken seriously, but the uninitiated can go take a flying leap. Truth is, both films are evocative, low-key, straightforward horror films with complex characters, taut direction from William Crain, and superb acting by a talented cast. (Those wanting pungent cheese should seek out Blackenstein.)
In the case of Dr. Black, Bernie Casey stars as the titular (Titular. Tee-hee.) character — not Dr. Black, but rather, the only slightly less subtly named Dr. Pride. He’s a well-to-do doc catering to Los Angeles’s troubled Watts neighborhood, and in an early scene he’s taken to task by sexy local prostitute Linda (Marie O’Henry), who calls him a sellout for acting too “white”. He doesn’t help his defense later when he tests an experimental cell regeneration serum on himself and turns into a white-skinned, light-eyed (think Omega Man), hooker-murdering lunatic. Despite his spooky, ashen look and sizable afro, the people who encounter honky Hyde strangely see him as just some white dude and not a mutant or even a black guy with a skin-altering disease like vitiligo or albino chicken pox.
Is the moral of the story that you should “keep it real” or, on a more ominous level, that white people like to kill hookers? Or maybe the filmmakers were just using the skin color plot as an ironic twist on the whole Jekyll/Hyde thing — an indication of the race consciousness of the time — but it’s hard not to read something deeper in the “white man ravaging a poor black neighborhood” angle. All in all, Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde isn’t as scary or atmospheric as Blacula, but frankly it doesn’t try to be. It’s a more socially conscious film that’s still very watchable, thanks largely to Casey’s performance — particularly the end, which finds him scaling the Watts Towers in an (intentional?) homage to King Kong.