Dr Jekyll's Dungeon of Death (1979) poster

Dr Jekyll’s Dungeon of Death (1979)


USA. 1979.


Director/Story/Producer/Photography – James Wood, Screenplay – James Mathers, Music – Marty Allen, Special Effects – Ripley Quinby III. Production Company – Hyde Productions, Inc, Nevada.


James Mathers (Dr. Henry Jekyll), John Kearney (Professor Atkinson), Dawn Carver Kelly (Julia Atkinson), Nadine Kalmes (Hilda Jekyll), Jake Pearson (Boris), Tim Nicholson (Malo)


In San Francisco, Dr. Henry Jekyll, the grandson of the famous doctor, tries to perfect a serum that harnesses aggression. He conducts repeated experiments pitting different men, men against women and people of different races against each other, but his experiments have been a failure so far. He is joined by Professor Atkinson, the father of his girlfriend Julia. Jekyll tells the professor that Julia has died but delays showing him the body, while he in fact is keeping her a prisoner in another part of the house.

Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886) is one of the classic horror stories, featuring an upstanding scientist who creates a potion that brings out the bestial, uncivilised part of human nature, which he calls Mr Hyde, only for the violent, rapacious Mr Hyde to become uncontrollable. There have been a large number of films adapted from the story beginning with multiple versions in the silent era, as well as a plethora of sons, daughters, descendants, comedy treatments and crossovers with other Famous Monsters. (For a more detailed listing of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’s screen appearances see my essay Jekyll and Hyde Films).

This is a Jekyll and Hyde film in name only. It features the grandson of Dr Jekyll who is also a scientist. However, we no longer have any experiments about unleashing the dark side of human nature and Jekyll transforming into Mr Hyde. This Dr Jekyll spends all his time attempting to perfect a serum that amplifies human aggression. We mostly see a lot of fight scenes – men vs other men, men vs women, or different racial groups pitted against one another. That and this Dr Jekyll keeps his girlfriend a prisoner in one of his rooms, intending to do something to her, although it is not clear what.

Dr Jekyll (James Mathers) and lab assistant Boris (Jake Pearson) in Dr Jekyll's Dungeon of Death (1979)
(l to r) Dr Jekyll (James Mathers, also the film’s screenwriter) and lab assistant Boris (Jake Pearson)

What we have is really more of a random Mad Scientist film that appropriates the Jekyll name. For some reason, the film is filled with fight scenes that go on for minutes at a time – the end credits list assorted karate adepts who have taken place in these. This is mildly interesting but these simply consist of a camera sitting on the other side of the room watching people fight and are not dramatically staged as movie fights scenes usually are. These quickly becomes repetitive with the fight scenes being allowed to drag on for minutes at a time.

The film sits astride the exploitation films of the day and is an almost sordid little film. The hunchbacked lab assistant is a deformed, imbecile played by an African-American actor (Jake Pearson) who is made up in a way that resembles Blackenstein (1973). At one point, James Mathers whips Pearson while wildly yelling “love is painful” over and over. There is no nudity but Jekyll is seen molesting the imprisoned girl, while his sister stands nearby playing with herself.

One of the most bizarre elements is the performance of James Mathers, who also writes the screenplay. Mathers overacts in a way that gives the impression he was trying to enunciate each line of dialogue using every muscle of his face at once.

Trailer here

Full film available here

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