Astounding is the word to describe this four-part TV series: it's the most original treatment of the story along with Jean Renoir's THE TESTAMENT OF DR. CORDELIER (1959; curiously enough, another made-for-TV version) and Walerian Borowczyk's DOCTEUR JEKYLL ET LES FEMMES (1981).
While suffering from the occasional longueur (particularly when the youth take center-stage) being necessarily talky, padded and slow-moving it's also utterly riveting, despite the over-familiarity of the narrative, and has several passages that are absolutely brilliant. It's rather didactic but, nonetheless, makes perceptive comparisons between Hyde's compulsion for aggressiveness and the rebellious spirit of modern youth as if the former symbolized a wake-up call to the staid older generation! Incidentally, the Victorian tale adapts surprisingly well to the modern ALPHAVILLE (1965)-esque settings; the script, then, is brimming with philosophical ideas making it at times closer to sci-fi than horror.
Hyde himself, though simply enough made-up (looking quite a bit like the zombie from DEATHDREAM !), is perhaps the creepiest ever depicted; interestingly, he's given a child-like voice as if he's still a developing organism. The character's appearance is, actually, mostly relegated to flashback sequences; the transformation is only seen at the end of the third episode being the equivalent of a 'trip', again, it links his behavior to the liberal attitudes of youth. An inspired touch here shows Hyde starting to take Jekyll over gradually instead of all at once; ultimately, though, something more elaborate than an off-screen demise should perhaps have been concocted (no pun intended)!
This version also jettisons the dual love interest present in most cinematic adaptations, though Hyde is seen being involved in a relationship with a foreign student the narrative utilizes a university campus backdrop which ends in tragedy. The latter is a chilling sequence: Hyde orders his girlfriend to drown her pet dog as a display of her love for him, but she kills herself instead having recognized his evil character!
The cast is headed by Giorgio Albertazzi (what a tour-de-force both as actor and director!) and Massimo Girotti (the story is seen mostly through his eyes, where he fears that Hyde may hurt or even kill Jekyll because of his will that is, until, Jekyll decides to confide in him). New characters add more dimension and scope to the venerable plot: Mrs. Utterson, Paula Poole (Jekyll's secretary) and Robert Levy (his young assistant). Though bearing the unattractive signs of early video technology, the stark cinematography by Stelvio Massi (later a director of poliziotteschi!) is notable all the same. Likewise, the versatile score is excellent part avant-garde (for the horror element), part pastoral/folk (for the college sequences), part exotic (for the brief romantic idyll).
In conclusion, JEKYLL emerges as not only one of the great TV movies but an unsung horror/sci-fi masterpiece. Frankly, it's criminal that this isn't more discussed or readily available (I wasn't even aware of the series' existence myself prior to its late-night TV screening last year, shown on four successive weeks) and should really be put out on DVD pronto!
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