“He would be the most dangerous human being on earth. A monster.”
That’s how a learned doctor describes the titular character in I, Monster. Unfortunately, the script, from Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde, doesn’t live up to its own hype.
Christopher Lee, sporting an unwieldy hairpiece, plays Marlowe, a psychiatrist in early 20th century England exploring Freud’s theories of the id, ego and super-ego. Marlowe invents a drug that removes the ego and super-ego, leaving only the primal id.
Well, mostly. At first, the subjects turn primal. Violent, lusty, or terrified. But later, the titular character shows signs of an ego, formulating long term plans and deferring gratification. I’m not sure we’re meant to notice this behavior.
Anyway. After dosing his cat, and a few of his patients, Marlowe begins experimenting on himself. This brings forth the contemptible Mr. Blake. Marlowe’s transformation is physical as well as mental. The more corrupt and immoral Blake becomes, the more hideous Blake’s visage. It’s not clear how this relates to Freud’s theories.
In time, Marlow’s friend and solicitor Mr. Utterson, played by Peter Cushing, comes to believe Blake is blackmailing Marlowe. Seeking to aid his friend, Utterson investigates Blake, and begins to suspect the unthinkable truth.
I, Monster disappoints given its two leads. Lee is magnetic during his transformation scenes, and repulsive yet captivating as Blake. Cushing’s character is little more than a plot device, but he’s still fun to watch. A Jekyll and Hyde story featuring these two shouldn’t be so forgettable.
Where the film shines is in its art direction. Marlowe’s laboratory has a cluttered, lived-in feel that lends atmosphere while avoiding the usual mad scientist tropes. His club sees cultured, well-dressed gentlemen sipping whiskey in overstuffed chairs while discussing professional and philosophical issues. I could almost smell the leather and tobacco.
Yet, the film doesn’t work. Even at a scant 75 minutes, I, Monster is too long. There’s just not enough story to sustain a feature length film. Having Marlow inject the serum instead of gulping a potion is a nice touch, but the script doesn’t run with the addiction metaphor.
Instead, we see characters walking down hallways, walking across rooms, and going up and down stairs. Lots of extraneous shots that add nothing, but seem necessary to pad the running time. Perhaps these bits were part of the abandoned attempt to utilize the Pulfrich effect for 3-D.
Regardless, one could drop fifteen minutes and have a solid film, but then it wouldn’t be a feature. The studio, Amicus, is best known for their horror anthologies. Films like Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (1965), Torture Garden (1967), The House That Dripped Blood (1971), Tales from the Crypt (1972), Asylum (1972), Vault of Horror (1973) and From Beyond the Grave (1974). Perhaps they would have done better by shortening I, Monster and using it in one of them instead.