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Hammer Film Double Feature - The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll & The Gorgon

Mill Creek // Unrated // September 6, 2016
List Price: $14.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by DVD Savant | posted September 6, 2016 | E-mail the Author

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Mill Creek has come through on its promise, with two Blu-ray double features of Columbia (Sony) Hammer titles. It's a fine way to release studio Hammer holdings to the rabid, acquisition-hungry fans. As the source studio for Mill Creek's offerings is Sony, we have every right to expect great transfers, audio and picture. If Mill Creek gives them quality encodings, it's a lock.

The movies themselves are both classy entertainments, each of which has its following. And if the price online is correct, even cheapskate Savant will be buying copies. What Mill Creek has done essentially, is taken a Sony 4-title "Icons of Horror" DVD release from eight years ago, swap out a B&W title for a color title, bump it up to HD and divide it in two.

The Two Faces Of Dr. Jekyll

1960 / 2:35 anamorphic widescreen / 88 min / House of Fright.

Starring Paul Massie, Dawn Addams, Christopher Lee, David Kossoff, Norma Marla, Francis De Wolff, Joy Webster, Walter Gotell, Oliver Reed.

Jack Asher

Film Editor Eric Boyd-Perkins

Original Music David Heneker, Monty Norman

Written by Wolf Mankowitz

Produced by Michael Carreras

Directed by Terence Fisher

We were very happy eight years ago when Sony remastered The Two Faces Of Dr. Jekyll uncensored at its full uncut length of 88 minutes. The show was also known as House of Fright in an 80-minute abridged version distributed by American-International, that I've never seen.

Aided greatly by the impressive music of David Heneker and Monty Norman, The Two Faces Of Dr. Jekyll gets off to a rousing start. No, the title theme is not sung by Lou Christie, although I can imagine a heck of a good music video montage. This interesting Dr. Jekyll experiment is certainly better than Hammer's other 'transformation' movie The Man Who Could Cheat Death. The twisted screenplay by Wolf Mankowitz (Expresso Bongo, The Day the Earth Caught Fire) plays fast and loose with Robert Louis Stevenson's famous story but can't be said to have come up with an interesting variation. Mankowitz's bearded, dour Henry Jekyll (Paul Massie) is a lone researcher attempting to define and control the duality of man. He wants to liberate mankind's potential from the restraints of conscience and morality, which in this movie's view leads immediately to horrible behavior. Jekyll's wife Kitty (Dawn Addams of The 1,000 Eyes of Dr. Mabuse) proves to be equally two-faced. She's having an affair with the wastrel gambler Paul Allen (Christopher Lee), on Henry's money.

Jekyll uses a potion to split his personality, but the Hyde that emerges is not a traditional monster. Audiences in 1950 may have tuned out right then and there. Hyde is instead a handsome and amoral cad eager for sensation. Faster than you can say Julius Kelp, Hyde beds Maria (Norma Marla), a snake dancer at a bawdy night club-bordello. Hyde becomes furious when he fails to seduce 'Jekyll's' wife Kitty, and instead discovers that Kitty actually loves Paul. The remainder of the narrative uses tragic mistaken identity-and-coincidence situations more suitable for a bedroom farce. Mankowitz's mean-spirited series of machinations and twists are lacking in irony or character identification: Bad Stuff happens and that's about it. Paul has a fateful date with Maria's snake, while Hyde maneuvers Kitty and Maria into each other's bedrooms. As the song goes in The Band Wagon, everyone ends in mincemeat.

Director Terence Fisher's pace sometimes slackens -- a fairly dull shot of Jekyll injecting his potion lingers in stasis seemingly forever, with the music working hard to maintain our interest. The almost uniformly bright lighting enforces a rather artificial, theatrical atmosphere. Ace editor Eric Boyd-Perkins enlivens several decorative dance scenes in the London fleshpots -- and adds a couple of jarringly inappropriate wipe transitions. Let's assume they were somebody else's idea.

Dawn Addams may well be dubbed but gives an effective performance as a woman leading a double life. In her own way Kitty is trying to accomplish the same identity split as her husband -- playing an upright society missus nabbing some thrills on the side. For once given a character role with some meat on it, Christopher Lee proves that he can play a wholly convincing cad. Paul Massie is a Glloomy Gus as Jekyll, with some really bad makeup and hair. His blonde, clean-shaven Hyde always seems a twitch away from breaking into a crazed grin. Jekyll insists that his dual-man theories have nothing to do with good and evil, but Mr. Hyde's deeds are almost uniformly reprehensible. When Hyde's chemical transformations begin to get out of control, we don't sympathize with him. There's nobody to root for in this clutch of selfish people.

The Two Faces Of Dr. Jekyll is short on actual horror content, but reaches for a level of cruel sexuality that the censors would never allow anyway. It's easy to see why the movie would need cutting for American release, as Hammer seems to be reaching for salacious sex to replace censor-forbidden sadism and violence. It was bad timing for more salacious mix of horror and sex, just when the British censors were coming down hard on the company and its imitators. Some of the snake dancing by Norma Marla (or her double; she wears a mask) is pretty vulgar, including a shot of her plunging the head of a large boa constrictor into her mouth. The club harlots talk a bawdy streak, with the word "bitch" used prominently at least twice. And the film teases us with some near-nudity in the Hyde-Maria seduction scene. Columbia pawned the film off on A.I.P., but it can't have been appropriate kiddie matinee material, even when cut.

The picture gives us a nice bit from Oliver Reed as an irate pimp (!) and a too-brief couple of moments with the talented child actress Janina Faye (Horror of Dracula). When the plot requires a London detective, we're not surprised to see stalwart Francis De Wolff enter the scene. David Kossoff (The Mouse that Roared) is Henry's moralizing friend. He has a welcome moment at the finish, rejecting the Coroner's facile conclusion that Henry Jekyll "ventured too far into God's domain" explains exactly nothing.

The Gorgon

1964 / 1:66 widescreen / 84 min.

Starring Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Richard Pasco, Barbara Shelley, Michael Goodliffe, Patrick Troughton, Joseph O'Conor, Prudence Hyman, Jack Watson.

Michael Reed

Film Editor Eric Boyd-Perkins

Original Music James Bernard

Written by John Gilling, J. Llewellyn Devine

Produced by Anthony Nelson Keys

Directed by Terence Fisher

The Gorgon is one of Terence Fisher's more interesting horrors. Its pointedly female monster is pursued not by a strong Van Helsing-type character but by men weakened by their interest in women. Paul Heitz (Richard Pasco) wants to discover what killed his brother and father, but the authority figures in the tiny town of Vandorf seem intent on hiding the source of a series of unsolved murders. Asylum doctor Namaroff (Peter Cushing) submits false death certificates to hide the fact that all of the victims have been literally turned to stone, or "gorgonized." (It sounds like a cheese-making process, frankly.) Paul sends for his professor friend Karl Meister (Christopher Lee) to help solve the mystery.

In the script provided by John Gilling, the male characters live in various states of impotent fear. None of them seem to have their act together as much as do the women in the plot. Dr. Namaroff is particularly ineffective in controlling women, even a madwoman in his asylum. Nursing assistant Carla Hoffman (favorite Hammer horror queen Barbara Shelley) is repulsed by Namaroff's jealousy when she becomes attracted to Paul. Paul and the Doctor end up fighting each other instead of watching out for the dreaded Gorgon Magaera (Prudence Hyman). The she-creature claims her victims on the second night of each full moon. 27 safe days out of 28 -- that's better odds than living in Chicago or South Central L.A..

Fisher directs this outing with considerable skill, maintaining tension in a story with very little action and far too many scenes where dull policemen talk about the case. James Bernard's eerie Gorgon theme puts new chills into the familiar Hammer castle sets. Barbara Shelley's Carla is a sympathetic heroine to Richard Pasco's sincere hero, but Christopher Lee's professor is the only real take-charge character. Interestingly, this horror piece has no comedic coachmen or gravediggers, giving it a distinctly more sober feel than most other Hammer Gothics. But the younger Hammer fans probably came for the violence, blood and monsters, not Gilling's dramatic conflicts.

What surely stunted The Gorgon at the box office was its lack of a good monster. The tall Magaera is shown too much and is little more than a scowling woman with greasepaint makeup and rubber snakes in her hair. We're told that a complicated mechanical Roy Ashton makeup concept was discarded in favor of a quick fix by the effects department. The movie was obviously done on a tiny budget. The makeup and special effects Hammer were willing to pay for sometimes just weren't up to the job. How the company continually made costume pictures so cheaply is quite a mystery.

Screenwriter John Gilling would move on to direct a pair of similarly low-budget, impressive Hammers, The Reptile and Plague of the Zombies. As a drama The Gorgon can at least make a claim on being different, but I've found it a hard sell to young viewers with no connection to the era in which it was made. My children are all grown now, but as youngsters I turned all three of them into Hammer experts (when their mother wasn't looking). They liked almost everything, but The Gorgon was one of the losers. Why? "It's the rubber snakes, stupid Dad."

Mill Creek's Blu-ray of Hammer Films Double Featureswas reportedly initiated by a response to fan requests. When the company licensed some DVD collections last year, the fans spoke up. Most already had the old Sony DVDs; what they desired were upgrades to Blu. It looks as if Mill Creek has happily complied, and the result on this second set is a happy upgrade. Both the titles appear to be HD versions of the same transfers as released on DVD. I made an A-B comparison with their earlier DVD copies, and found both to be improved -- they always looked quite good but now have added sharpness and improved contrast. The extra crispness of Blu makes a difference when one is watching a favorite.

My recommendation to fans is to let the price point be your guide. I know of at least three friends that have gambled on preorders already, based on the sticker price.

Back at the DVD Savant page I'll soon be covering as many of this year's crop of Halloween goodies that I can get my hands on. Up next time, The Horrible Dr. Hichcock and The Monster of Piedras Blancas.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,

Hammer Films Double Features Separate Blu-ray purchases

Movies: Frankenstein Excellent; Mummy's Good; Jekyll Good -; Gorgon Good +/-.

Video: Frankenstein Good - minus; Mummy's Excellent; Jekyll Excellent; Gorgon Excellent.

Supplements: none

Deaf and Hearing-impaired Friendly? N0; Subtitles: None

Packaging: Keep case

Reviewed: September 3, 2016


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