Full Moon Features: Daughter of Dr. Jekyll (1957)

by
Jul. 3, 2020
10:00pm

In Danse Macabre, his 1981 survey of the horror field, Stephen King describes the three major archetypes of horror — the Vampire, the Werewolf, and the Thing Without a Name — in terms of a Tarot deck. When it comes time to turn over the Werewolf card, the novel he discusses in detail is Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and he mounts a persuasive argument since it is about a man who periodically descends into a bestial state. True, Jekyll’s transformation is brought about by chemical means as opposed to the influence of the moon or anything else generally associated with lycanthropy, but that in itself isn’t so unusual. Screen adaptations of Stevenson’s novel have generally shied away from calling Edward Hyde an actual werewolf, though.

One exception to this is the 1957 cheapie Daughter of Dr. Jekyll, which opens with narration describing Jekyll as “a human werewolf” — and the hairy-faced gentleman who appears in its bizarre introduction certainly looks the part. What’s especially odd about him, though, is his response to the narrator’s assertion that “a nationwide sigh of relief” followed the news of the monster’s death. “No longer would the sound of every strange footstep mean terror,” the narrator intones. “The evil thing would never prowl the dark again.” Upon hearing this, the fiend looks straight into the camera and cackles, “Are you sure?” The effect is probably meant to be chilling, but it falls short of that mark.

So it goes with the film proper, in which 21-year-old Janet Smith (Gloria Talbott) drags her smug fiancé George Hastings (John Agar) along with her to the house she’s inherited from her deceased father, not realizing he’s the infamous Dr. Henry Jekyll. (“Not the Dr. Jekyll?” George asks, as if there’s more than one.) This they learn from her guardian, the kindly Dr. Lomas (Arthur Shields), who comes equipped with an Irish accent and an endless supply of warm milk, brandy, and other sedatives for Janet since she soon starts having disturbing dreams.

Of course, it doesn’t help that the villagers are a superstitious lot, to the point where they drove a stake through Hyde’s heart, as this is said to be “the only safeguard, according to ancient tales of witchcraft, that keeps a werewolf from rising out of the grave when the moon is full to hunt for human blood.” So yes, writer/producer Jack Pollexfen threw werewolf, vampire, and witch lore into a blender, hit purée, and this script was the result. That it works even a little bit has to be put down to the professionalism of director Edgar G. Ulmer, a low-budget specialist who previously worked with Pollexfen on 1951’s The Man from Planet X, but he could only do so much.

In many ways, Daughter of Dr. Jekyll is a replay of Universal’s She-Wolf of London from the previous decade since that, too, revolved around a young heiress who’s made to believe she becomes a monster and commits ghastly murders every night. True, Janet wakes up two days running with blood on her hands and nightgown and mud on her shoes, but it’s not hard to guess what’s really going on since Dr. Lomas uses a candle to hypnotize her the first night of the full moon. Meanwhile, arch-skeptic George bones up on the arcane beliefs he’s up against by paging through a handy copy of Witch, Warlock and Werewolf, which has the most adorable illustrations.

Wouldn’t you buy a copy for your bookshelf?