I, Monster (1971): Christopher Lee Owns This Adaptation

FTI, Monster

         So many horror films arose out of classic literature. From all the versions “Dracula” that came out of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. To Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein and for this film, Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. These classic stories have been the base for countless explorations of horror and aspects of humanity in both cinema and television.

      The production was Amicus who was famous for putting horror movies years ago, and it some ways it does deserve that praise. After watching this film, I plan on seeing more of their productions. I especially want to see more Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing in action given how well they both did in this film.

        “I, Monster” was directed by Stephen Weeks and written by Milton Subosky, who also served as one of the producers along with Max Rosenberg and John Dark. The story is based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. 

        In this version Dr. Jekyll has the name of Dr, Marlowe (both played by Christopher Lee) and when he transforms becomes Mr. Blake. He is researching the mind and how to separate the good from the bad on both animals and his patients and later himself. This leads to his transformation which he attempts to deal with first by hiding it but is forced to make a choice as his colleagues and his friend Utterson (Peter Cushing) attempt to help him.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: Utterson – Peter Cushing is great in this role, I just wish he’d been given more to do. He’s very active in the first two acts, especially once Blake arrives on the scene and he thinks his friend is being blackmailed into giving Blake full reign of his house. He confronts Marlowe once over this but seems to have given up after. For someone who is supposed to be a friend I didn’t expect him to just give up than. He still is a great character though, it’s just he isn’t given enough to do. Still going to put him down as a pro though, since he does drive the action when Marlowe and Blake aren’t.

Dr. Marlowe / Mr. Blake – Christopher Lee is the best part of this film, which is saying something since Cushing is a phenomenal actor. The Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde role is a hard one to play and much of the cons here are  more due to writing since Lee plays Marlow’s empathy for his patients and Blake’s disregard for all so well. He does a good job contorting his face and showing the calm collected control of Blake versus Marlowe too. At one point it looks like he might be about to have a relationship with a patient, which would have been a nice change from the book but they decide to follow the book more closely and only change in his colleagues finding out the truth when one dies from a heart attack when he sees Blake change to Marlowe and Utterson kills him when Blake invades his home which changes Blake back to Marlowe. His story is still a tragedy as you see him realize his loss of humanity and how his idealism has brought him nothing in the end. Marlowe’s despair before his final transformation is very palpable.

The World – The world is great. It is dark and you have the feeling of mystery and loss of control from the beginning, when the antidote makes a cat crazy and Marlowe has to kill it, pretty much setting up his own end. The murders are dark and the shadows make it so the makeup does make Lee threatening in his Blake form. In this way it adds a lot to making it feel like a horror movie.

Cinematography – The cinematography is good, especially in how it is used to show Marlowe’s dilemma when he is alone and realizes he’s in over his head, or when Blake is hunting and his dark eyes, large teeth and gaunt face stand out in the shadows. This was a good horror technique and it gets the job done for establishing transformation. Moray Grant did fantastic.

Okay: The colleagues – Outside of Utterson the others don’t do all that much. They are there to disprove and one is a mentor and they have some good conversations all together at the beginning, but it’s never repeated again. For htis reason we don’t see the breakdown of the friendship done from the experiments, which is why I can’t list it as a pro. They just weren’t given enough to do.

The Ending – The ending wasn’t great. I never got why Blake decided he had to kill Utterson. It made no sense given that Utterson didn’t fully know that Blake was Marlowe and had stopped hunting for him. I would have liked to see more happen here. Why did he try and kill Utterson? What was driving Blake at that time? Was it Marlowe just wanting to die? I liked that there was a confrontation, but it should have been in the lab and Utterson should have witnessed the transformation of Marlowe into Blake.

     This was a good, but not great adaptation. It does more with the story in that we see Marlowe’s relationships with his colleagues and also the double life he lives as Blake, which in the book you don’t get to see as much. But so many character moments got left behind which is why I can’t call it great. Marlowe’s motivation is never fully established, Utterson just gives up, why Blake targets Utterson isn’t known and the relationship between Marlowe and Blake seems non-existent. It is still a solidly good film even with these plot issues. Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing add dimension to the characters and that is what makes it rich beyond how it was filmed.

Final Score: 8.3 / 10. Given more than 8 since Lee and Cushing did a great job.

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