It's rather odd that this reworking of the Jekyll & Hyde story - scripted by Milton Subotsky - makes such a big deal out of distancing itself from the original by changing the name of the protagonist and his evil alter-ego; in many ways the screenplay is one of the closest to Robert Louis Stevenson's original to have been produced up to that time while many of the other characters from the novel appear in this version with the same names they originally had anyway! There is even a large slab of dialogue -- the famous speech where Jekyll's Lawyer, Utterson (Peter Cushing) is told how Hyde (or Edward Blake in this version) tramples a young girl in the street, and is then seen slipping through Marlowe/Jekyll's backdoor to fetch a cheque to pay off the angry mob who witnessed the event -- which has been lifted straight from the original story. While Hammer were busy adapting the tale with all sorts of cheeky quirks in their offbeat "Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde", this version from Amicus is far more downbeat and straight-laced -- especially when compared with the light and frothy anthology movies the production house were more famous for.
Dr. Charles Marlowe (Christopher Lee) is a practising London doctor, but also a disciple of Sigmund Freud's emerging theories. When a new drug that he is testing on his clients begins to show odd side-effects, Marlowe feels he has a chance to prove Freud's theory of mind. The drug makes a sexually repressed female patient become a nymphomaniac and a no-nonsense business man become a babbling emotional wreck -- when Marlowe tries it on himself he transforms from a starchy level-headed Victorian gentleman into a mean-spirited selfish libertine who calls himself Edward Blake. Marlowe is convinced that the drug alters the balance between the Freudien id, ego and superego, generally weakening the morality-governing superego in favour of the irrational emotion-driven needs of the id.
Marlowe's friends at his club -- Enfield (Mike Raven) and Frederick Utterson (Peter Cushing) -- are skeptical, and point-out that he cannot be sure that the drug has the same effect each time on the same person; so Marlowe decides to inject himself with it several more times to find out! Unfortunately, his alter-ego, Edward Blake, gets involved in a dispute when he tramples a young girl in the street, and Utterson and Enfield begin to suspect that Blake has some kind of hold over Marlowe when he is seen entering Marlowe's house through a backdoor and always hands over cheques sighed in Marlowe's name. Despite the fact that Marlowe gives up his experiments, his alter-ego begins to take over and he finds himself transforming involuntarily -- with even more serious results!
The Freudian angle takes the story into an interesting new realm which adds a little gravity to a screenplay which would otherwise simply be bland and unengaging, but primarily the film works because of Christopher Lee's double performance as Marlowe and Blake. Of course, Lee has the perfect persona for the cold and distant Victorian doctor and he gives a commanding performance here. His transformation into the explosive Edward Blake is achieved with only a thicker wig and a pair of false teeth which risk making him look slightly ridiculous; but Lee gets away with it, and is convincing in what is really a portrayal of a descent into debilitating drug addiction -- this is pretty much how he plays it anyway. By the time Marlowe's personality has been overcome by Blake, the once sneering swagger of his alter-ego has disintegrated and he has become a sniveling pathetic wreck, cut-off from Marlowe's comfortable middle-class existence and now trapped in the sooty back-streets of London's slum tenement dwellings.
"I Monster" is also one of the small number of films which pair Lee with his friend and co-king of British horror, Peter Cushing. The two have only a few scenes together in a film which is really Lee's show all the way, but anything in-which they both appear always gains a few extra brownie points for the nostalgia value. Cushing is as commanding as ever, but his character is made to look a bit slow for not realising sooner that Marlowe and Blake are the same person since, in Subotsky's screenplay, he knows from the beginning that Marlowe is experimenting with dangerous mind altering drugs! Compared to other versions this Amicus production takes an unusually grim and realistic approach to its portrayal of the Victorian era with cold-grey dirty streets and a clammy, repressive atmosphere contributing to its depressing sense of hopelessness.
Drafted in a mere two weeks before the film went into production, director Stephen Weeks does his best with a vehicle which was originally intended to be shot in 3-D; the remnants of this can still be seen in the unusual amount of pointless tracking shots that place objects in the extreme foreground! Unfortunately, the process was botched resulting in large chunks of the film being rendered unusable and leaving it with a shorter than usual running time and a strangely disjointed feel. Despite this, the film's very slow-pace ties in well with Lee's measured performance as the cold Marlowe.
This bare bones disc from Warner Brothers is very disappointing. It looks like zero effort has been expended on bringing the film to DVD: the transfer is murky, washed-out, full of print damage and -- to cap it all -- full screen! The English mono audio track is adequate but there aren't even any subtitles or foreign language audio tracks to make up for the lack of extras (not even a trailer is included). A very poor show indeed!