Movie Name: Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde
Studio: Dimension Pictures, Inc.
Release Date(s): January 1976
MPAA Rating: R
Dr. Henry Pride (Bernie Casey) is a successful doctor searching to cure cirrhosis of the liver and failing to prove his work is succeeding. When he tests the serum on himself, Pride finds himself transformed into a monster with immense strength and a white hue. Pride’s alter ego has lust and deadly intentions and those who get in his way will pay. As the police close in on Pride’s alter-ego, Pride finds himself on the run.
Directed by William Crain, Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde is a blaxploitation horror film. The movie is based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1886 classic The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The movie was relatively poorly received but has gained a cult following.
Blaxploitation is tricky. It was social commentary, but it also often ended up falling into bad stereotypes. It was both innovative and somewhat harmful…and Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde is no different in that sense.
The movie does have a lot of different messages going on it. Pride’s character (who is aptly named) is living in a world that most African Americans at the time didn’t experience. He was a respected black doctor who is even criticized in the movie for slumming it by working for low income families. The experiment he is in echoes the infamous Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male which ran from 1932-1972 with patients not knowing they were participants and changed how test subjects were told. Pride becomes a giant white man (who looks more like an albino but is always identified as white by others) who goes on rampages in the poor African-American neighborhood of Watts…it is ripe for study, but the movie’s plot itself is pretty flimsy.
Bernie Casey is good as the likable, but careless Pride. He can play both roles believably and does seem intimidating as the Hyde character. The movie suffers from a lack of a strong lead with Pride’s assistant Rosalind Cash as the potential lead but really taking second fiddle to Marie O’Henry who tries to stop Pride. Ji-Tu Cumbuka and Milt Kogan play the police trying to find the killer who also represent both races.
The visuals of the movies both are good and bad. While the film is shot rather stylishly, the copies of the movie are often dirty and gritty. The location of Watts is also good and the Watts Tower is often cited as an ode to King Kong with Pride’s alter ego falling to his death much like the great ape…another allusion.
Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde is if nothing else an interesting movie and an interesting movie to study within a genre that itself says a lot about America and the times when they were made. Blaxploitation films gave a lot of actors roles that would have never been available to them in mainstream movies, but sometimes the roles came at a cost by amplifying stereotypes. Check out Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde for a so-so movie with an interesting look at race and society in the ’70s.