Blacula director William Crain takes another horror franchise and gives it the Blaxploitation treatment.
Bernie Casey can do no wrong in my book.
The incredibly talented actor has lent his hand to projects such as Sharkey’s Machine, Never Say Never Again, and who could forget his role as Mr. Ryan in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. I’m Gonna Get You Sucka would not have been the same without the presence of a true African American acting legend. The guy is a stud and in every role he portrays he brings a lot of that to the screen.
Dr. Black and Mr. Hyde rides hot on the coattails of the success of Blacula. When William Marshall took to the screen as the fanged black knight, the people demanded more and the studios obliged. Blacula‘s domination at the box office in 1972 opened the door to studios giving classic monster films the blaxploitation treatment. Suddenly we had Blackenstein, ghost stories like J.D.’s Revenge, and the mad scientist story Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde – but blacker.
The film Dr. Black and Mr. Hyde tells the story of Doctor Henry Pride, a prize winning medical researcher who serves the black community by working at the free clinic and the local arts center. As a boy, he grew up in a higher end whore house in Los Angeles with his mother who was the house maid. She was a kind lady, but she had taste for the liquor which ultimately leads to her demise as a victim of liver failure. The young Dr. Pride goes door to door in the whorehouse begging for help, but no one steps up to help his dying mother. As such, prostitutes aren’t his favorite people.
When the story begins, Dr. Pride (along side his bae Dr. Worth) are researching a liver regenerative medication. Their trials with lab animals are a bust, so of course Dr. Pride decides to take it a step further by testing it on an ailing liver patient in his hospital, with dire results. The patient dies after a horrific transformation turning her skin and hair white and becoming completely psychotic, attempting to strangle a nurse. Pride then turns to himself as the next Guinea Pig.
At the free clinic where he volunteers, Dr. Pride is a saint. He is a patient man full of empathy treating everyone from little old men to small children to ladies of the night. One such lady is Linda, a prostitute being treated for liver issues as a result of hepatitis. Dr. Pride tries to coax her to change her ways and become something more for herself, but she rebuts stating that he is “white”. He wears a white coat, drives a white car and likely dates a white woman (which he does not). This is the first time we experience Dr. Pride being harassed in such a manner.
One night he decides to try his liver regeneration serum out on himself. After a painful transformation, the doctor emerges with white hair, sky blue eyes and white skin – and a nasty disposition, The “new” Dr. Pride decides to hit the street looking for Linda and tears shit up the entire way, taking out street trash and pimps. After a huge altercation at a local lounge where prostitutes hang, Dr. Pride reverts back to his “normal” form and realizes that his formula is more than just a liver medication.
The film continues on with Pride continuing his transformation into his albino other self, knocking off prostitutes one by one. After a failed attempt to coerce the prostitute Linda into taking his serum, his cover is blown and she threatens to take him to the police if he doesn’t turn himself in. This of course does not set well with the doctor and shit goes south for Linda.
Central to films such as Blacula and Dr. Black and Mr. Hyde is the reappropriation of the monster as an empowering black figure. There is a softening, romanticizing, and even valorizing of the monster. The doctor is named Pride, his assistant is doctor Worth, two individuals who spend their time giving back to the community instead of pursuing their own selfish ideals. Then there is the subject of Pride’s transformative form as a white skinned, white haired, blue eyed angry devil with a pension for disposing of street walkers. Can we sympathize with this character? African American director William Crain attempts to do just that.
Pride’s own vengeance towards prostitutes is an underlying anger that is unearthed with the introduction of the serum. He becomes the complete opposite of his own “by day” persona and exacts his vengeance upon those who he feels are exemplary of those who neglected to help his mother in her time of need. This I feel is common to all of us, we all have those one or two things that hide under our surface and are just inches away from coming out at any given time in any given circumstance, but we have that one shred of control that keeps us from becoming a monster.
Dr. Black and Mr. Hyde is a lot of fun to watch, especially Marie O’Henry who plays Linda the prostitute. Her on screen spunk and charisma make the story more volatile and gives the audience someone to care about among all of the trash that Pride takes out on the streets. Seriously, she’s hot as hell and it makes you wonder why she had to fall into the limbo that great African American actresses like Sugar Hill’s Marki Bey did. Dr. Black and Mr. Hyde is a harder title to find, but a great watch for fans of the Blaxploitation genre and 70’s horror as well.