Friday, August 15, 2008

Vamp or Not? Daughter of Dr. Jekyll

I first really noted this 1957 poverty row film, directed by Edgar G. Ulmer, when I saw it mentioned during one of the episodes of 100 Years of Horror. The small mention it received had me thinking that I needed to take a look at this as a ‘Vamp or Not?’

You see, the werewolf and vampire myths have always, traditionally, been somewhat interchangeable. Indeed, one of the traditional methods of becoming a vampire was to die as a werewolf. Hold on… I bet you are thinking, “but, T_ttlg, this is Daughter of Dr. Jekyll. Surely based on Robert Louis Stevenson and his novella ‘Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’. You know potions, the duality of mankind, science creating a monster…”

Well you’d be right normally, but the head of this film gives us a voice over that does mention Stevenson and then tells us that Hyde was a ‘human werewolf’ – though what a non-human werewolf is I can only guess at. Perhaps it meant a wolfman, rather than changing into a wolf. So Hyde was a werewolf and this was caused by…

We get ahead of ourselves. Jekyll’s daughter, Janet (Gloria Talbott), is unaware of her heritage (living under the name Smith). She is to turn twenty one and visits her guardian Dr Lomas (Arthur Shields) with her new fiancé George Hastings (John Agar) in tow. When they arrive they meet creepy handyman Jacob (John Dierkes), housekeeper (from Liverpool but without a trace of an accent) Mrs Merchant (Martha Wentworth) and the maid Maggie (Molly McCart).

Maggie is a little nervous as it is getting late and she always ensures she gets home before the moon rises. When asked why she doesn’t just stay at the house, and why the moon is an issue, the girl clams up. Mrs Merchant won’t elaborate as it is all silly superstition. Dr Lomas then appears and seems quite taken aback by the idea that Janet is engaged. She tells him that she and Hastings have decided they will accept none of his money. But he has nothing anyway, he explains, whilst he can live at the house all of the estate actually belongs to her.

He has a story he must tell her, but it will wait until morning. In the morning she and Hastings go exploring and find a secret door leading to a laboratory – dusty and unused. Lomas appears and explains that it was her father’s and then sends George off whilst he talks to her. She then tells George the wedding is off. Having none of it, he demands to know why and the story is explained to him – she is really Janet Jekyll.

It seems that her father was buried, having been killed as Hyde by an angry village mob who drove a stake through his heart – yes you read right – as such is the only way to prevent the werewolf from rising from the grave to search out human blood. Janet is worried that her father’s condition is hereditary. Okay lets stop here and ask how imbuing a potion can equate to a hereditary condition? No, scratch that, let’s ask how many werewolf myths have staking as a solution (other than this I can’t think of any)? Or indeed, how many have the werewolf rising from the grave and drinking blood?

Anyway, later she is clearly worried so Lomas prescribes rest. He goes to her room and checks her eyes. In other words he hypnotises her. Okay, this now gives us three ways in which Janet might be a monster. She could have inherited a condition, she could be being fed a potion or she could be hypnotised. The same year that this was released we also had the Vampire in which a potion (in pill form) created a vampire and Blood of Dracula in which hypnosis created a vampire.

Janet sleeps and dreams. She dreams that she emerges from her father’s crypt and that she is a bestial creature that stalks and attacks Maggie the maid. The overlay of sleeper and dream was really quite nicely done (as was the overlay of the bestial form of Janet, in a mirror, later on). Janet awakens and screams. The household enter her room and Lomas gives her a sleeping draft.

She awakens again and gets out of bed. She looks to her hands and nightdress, they have blood upon them. Her shoes have mud on them. In the mirror, as I mentioned, she sees a bestial form of herself. It seems clear to Janet that she is a monster.

Stuff and nonsense, of course, according to Hastings and yet things seem even more certain when Jacob comes in carrying Maggie’s corpse. She has been bitten at the neck by some form of beast. A werewolf Jacob maintains and the village, it appears, are working up to getting a mob together (with Jacob’s encouragement).

Janet has herself locked in her room and dreams again – this time of an attack on a girl named Lucy (Rita Green). How could she be attacking whilst in her room? Well we see footprints on her window ledge and there is another possibility. Hastings finds a book and reads “the werewolf is usually supposed to be the soul of a dead body, sometimes of a human monster, which quits the either dead or sleeping body by night to suck the blood of living persons. Hence when the werewolf’s grave is opened his corpse is found to be fresh and rosy.”

Firstly that sounds more like a vampire than a werewolf (the book further mentions stakes through the heart, decapitation, heart removal and cremation – all vampire lore not werewolf lore). But it also sounds as though astral projection could be involved. Wait just a moment… wolf spirit, astral projection, blood drinking. That sounds like the vampire type known of the vorvolaka – which we encountered in the fine film Isle of the Dead.

It is all, to be honest, red herrings when it comes to Janet. It should have been obvious from the moment when bumbling, nice Dr Lomas objected to marriage, and then stated that Janet owned the estate and he had nothing, that he was the villain. He gets his comeuppance but as to how he was manipulating events – well you’ll have to watch the film to find out.

The film itself is fairly pedestrian. Atmospherically light, with narrative as patchy as its concepts. But is it vamp. Strictly speaking yes. Whilst the title suggests Jekyll and Hyde, that concept is lost rather quickly. The potion is mentioned but then both a supernatural and hereditary condition are thrown into the mix and any similarity to Stevenson’s story is lost. Werewolves are mention but, other than a vague lunar tie in, the lore is pure vampire – though vampires are not mentioned once in the film.

The imdb page is here.

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