I, Monster – Blu-Ray Review

Steven Weeks was not a particularly prolific filmmaker, but I, Monster was his first production and probably his best-known credit except perhaps for 1983’s Sword of the Valiant. I, Monster was produced by Amicus, the main rival to Hammer (although there was actually a lot of crossover between the two companies.) It’s a version of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, but for unknown reasons the lead character’s names was were changed to Marlowe and Blake, although some of the other characters’ names remained the same. Around the same time, Hammer did Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde, so that might be the reason, since the two firms were always in competition. Other reports suggest that the names were changed to keep the twist in the tale from the viewing public.

Christopher Lee had been in Hammer’s 1960s version, playing one of the secondary roles, but in Weeks’ production he has the lead. Most people know the general story of the doctor/scientist who tests a drug on himself and becomes his evil alter ego, who turns out to be a murderous monster. Here, his lawyer friend Utterson believes that Blake is blackmailing Marlowe, which of course isn’t possible since they are the same person.

The movie is actually pretty decent, although it has a couple of major flaws. One of these is that Weeks is just not a great director, but all of the usual go-to directors for Amicus or Hammer had turned the project down for some reason, leaving a neophyte in charge. In addition, it was intended to be shown in 3D using the ‘Pulfrich Effect,’ a weird version of 3D that never really became a thing. It has a really odd look to it as a result, and despite coming in at around just 80 minutes there are problems with the pacing. They also ran out of money before the project was finished, so it does feel sort of incomplete.

The film’s best point is that as always, Christopher Lee is really great in the movie. It’s a role that he was born to play, as he gets to do the straight part and also chew the scenery as the doctor’s evil side. Mike Raven co-stars. Raven was a very popular DJ in the ‘60s who brought a lot of Black music to the UK. Raven was also really into the occult, and had been an actor much earlier in his career. Around 1971, he decided to return to film acting in horror movies. His first part was in Lust for a Vampire, one of the Hammer lesbian vampire movies, but he was overdubbed for that and decided to not work for Hammer again. He crossed the street to Amicus to do this role. He’s fine, although he’s not an especially good actor. Peter Cushing appears as Utterson, and is of course pretty good. Cushing was always reliable, but from all accounts he really did not enjoy making this film. Lee runs circles around him in the movie.

It’s a fairly faithful adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s original story, but streamlined for film. There are plenty of extras on the disc, which includes two different cuts—a 75-minute theatrical cut and an 81-minute extended version. I watched the longer one and can’t imagine what was cut out. There is a commentary track from Weeks and another from 2005 with film historian Sam Umland; an audio interview with the film’s editor Peter Tanner, which also serves as an alternative commentary track; an interview with composer Carl Davis; an introduction to the film by Steven Laws (who has provided introductions for most of the Amicus films re-released by Indicator); archival video of Weeks being interviewed by Laws at the 1998 Manchester Festival of Fantastic Films; and an archival interview with Milton Subotsky, the film’s producer and screenwriter, that’s over three hours in length. Also here are the UK and US theatrical trailers, a Kim Newman/David Flint trailer commentary, and an image gallery. The accompanying booklet includes an essay by Josephine Botting, an essay on I, Monster from Subotsky, another archival interview with Weeks, and an overview of the contemporary critical response. That’s about as stacked of a disc as you can possibly get!

★★★½

Ian Schultz

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