Mild-mannered foot doctor Henry Heckyl takes a slimming potion invented by a colleague and turns into womanising psychopath Mr. Hype.
There are very few more painful movie experiences than sitting through a ‘zany’ comedy that isn’t even remotely funny. ‘Dr. Heckyl and Mr. Hype’ (1980) delivers this torture in spades! When one of the characters in a film is called Nurse Pertbottom, you know you’re not in Woody Allen’s backyard but you might still expect some ‘Carry On’ or even ‘Airplane!’ type laughs. Nope. Move along, please, nothing to see here…
Writer-director Charles B Griffith was a graduate of the Roger Corman film academy, scripting many of the legendary producer’s most famous features: ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ (1960), ‘Attack of the Crab Monsters’ (1957), even the original ‘Death Race 2000’ (1975). In the late 1970s, when a deal with producers Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus fell through, Griffith pitched them another idea – ‘Dr Feelgood and Mr Hype’ – the story of a hippie who invents a drug that turns everyone into advertising executives. He got the green light on the project but the producers had just taken over the Cannon group and were keen to get some product released. So, he was given 3 weeks to write and prep the film, 4 weeks to shoot and 2 weeks to edit. Having worked under Roger Corman, he must have been used to such timescales and he had directed before (including ‘Eat My Dust’ (1975) starring Ron Howard!) but female lead Sunny Johnson was hired the day before shooting began and instead of getting suave, charming Dick Van Dyke in the title role, he got – Oliver Reed.
Not that you can blame Ollie for all that follows. Yes, he had little talent with light comedy and plays Hype on familiar dead-eyed autopilot but he makes a real effort with the Heckyl character and actually achieves some audience sympathy. Which is actually a bit of a miracle, considering the film’s real problem: the dreadful script. Mixing infantile gags and stupid sound effects with gory ‘joke’ murders is a mix that never gels and, although plot is never a prime requirement in such a film, it’s so all over the place as to verge on the incomprehensible. To give you a sample of what’s on offer, the chief investigating detective is already a patient of Dr. Heckyl’s because – wait for it! – he has flat feet. Ta-Da!
I remember seeing a clip of this at the time it was about to be released and wondering whatever happened to it. Well, apparently it bypassed cinemas and went direct to US cable TV. Now I know why.