The Third Annual Halloween Horror Movie Marathon Begins!

As I came home from work the other night I felt the wind picking up. I enjoyed the sound of it rustling through the trees. I left the screen door open to let the chill blow into our home; it has been a warm summer and I found the crispness refreshing. It would seem that the long days of summer are finally waning to make room for the long, dark nights of the coming fall and winter. Fall… winter… that means the holidays are coming and Halloween is nearer than you think! It’s time for me to build a long list of horror films to watch over the next couple of months.

And so I welcome you, ghosts and ghouls, to my Third Annual Halloween Horror Movie Marathon! It’s that time of year where I’ll wrestle with beasts and apparitions, demons and dementia, screams and blood; in other words, I’ll try to scare myself by watching a handful of horror flicks. You know what’s even scarier? It’s election season. In just a couple of months we may take a horrifying turn into a world ruled by those lacking reason and sanity, who feed on your fear and are driven to possess and control your very soul, whatever that may be. So rise from the grave, my tired zombies, and vote this November or the bloodsucking zombies may win!

I feel like I’m off to a late start this year, so let’s get going! And what better movie to start things off with than one of the most famous studies of good and evil…

“Can a man dying of thirst forget water? And do you know what would happen to that thirst if it were denied water?”

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931) — Directed by Rouben Mamoulian. Starring Fredric March, Miriam Hopkins, Rose Hobart, Holmes Herbert, Edgar Norton.

1931 saw the release of two of the most influential films in the history of horror, Dracula and Frankenstein, both released by Universal Pictures. Horror cinema would likely not be what it is today without those two films. At the end of that same year Paramount Pictures released Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which is no less fantastic, though possibly not as well remembered by most average movie-goers. Which is surprising seeing as it’s the only one of the three films to have won an Academy Award. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is listed in the book I’ve mentioned beforeHorror! 333 Films to Scare You to Death, so I can knock another film off that list. The author does a much better job of briefly discussing the themes of the film than I do but I’ll give it go anyway.

Fredric March is Dr. Jekyll, a generous doctor in Victorian England who, when he’s not helping patients in the free ward, is attempting to study the science behind the nature of good and evil. His engagement to Muriel (Rose Hobart) is controlled by her father, a Brigadier General (Halliwell Hobbes) who is put off by Jekyll’s impatient insistence on moving up the wedding date. On the way home with his friend Dr. Layton (Holmes Herbert),  Jekyll stops the beating of Ivy Pearson (Miriam Hopkins), a singer in a local pub. The desperately horny Jekyll takes her up to her boarding room, lingering there in her fawning presence long after an engaged man should. He finally leaves after Layton barges in the room, catching the pair in a kiss. When his fiancee and her father leave town for an indeterminate period, the sexually frustrated Dr. Jekyll sets his experiment into motion and downs a chemical concoction that transforms him into the evil Mr. Hyde… which doesn’t bode well for our poor Ivy.

If it has been some time since you’ve seen an old black and white horror film and you’ve forgotten how great they can be, this is a good one to turn you back on to them. The fantastic cinematography in the opening scenes took me by surprise as we follow Dr. Jekyll, the camera showing us his point of view as he heads out to the lecture hall. It’s been some time since I’ve seen Dracula or Frankenstein, but I don’t recall such innovative use of the camera. The transformation sequences are equally impressive; color filters and clever camera motions are used to make the transformation appear to take place in one continuous shot.

Fredric March’s physical, animal, and sometimes comical, performance of Hyde is likely what won him the Academy Award but his portrayal of the repressed and despairing Dr. Jekyll is also notable. Poor Jekyll, so desperate to get laid and yet desperate to control the natural longings a Victorian morality tells him is wrong. But who can blame the young doctor and his yearning for Ivy after her arousing display of sexuality?

Speaking of which, the beautiful Miriam Hopkins is also fantastic. Her seductive performance was cut for prints of the film released during the era of the Hays code. What a shame that must have been. The terror she suffers during her captivity at the hands of Hyde perhaps survived these cuts but I can’t imagine losing any part of her crucial first scene that, from what I can tell, provides the motivation for Jekyll’s continued experiment with the drug that turns him into an animal. “Free at last” indeed.

Check it out if you get a chance. I thought it was in the public domain and easily available for download online, perhaps on archive.org, but apparently not. It is available for rent on Amazon Instant Video for $2.99. It’s a small price to pay to watch one of the classics. Or you can do what I did and check your local library. They could use your help anyway.

Here’s a fantastic essay on the film. Warning: it describes the entire plot so it is best read after watching the movie.

One of the classic transformation scenes from Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

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One Response to “The Third Annual Halloween Horror Movie Marathon Begins!”

  1. Michael K. Vaughan Says:

    This was a great movie indeed! I remember seeing this when I was a teenager and have never forgotten it. Miriam Hopkins left me in the same condition as the good doctor.

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