SEPTEMBER 1 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : DR. JEKYLLS DUNGEON OF DEATH
Directed by James Wood
Starring James Mathers, John F. Kearney, Nadine James
90 Minutes. Color.
The mid-1980s can be considered a "golden age" of home video. Even though the industry has changed dramatically since then to allow the consumer to bring home (or order online) a movie for less than five dollars (leading to people, even non-collectors or film buffs, to amass movie collections), the seemingly new fad of going to a little shop, selecting a movie, paying a small fee, and bringing it home to watch for the next 24 to 72 hours was mind-boggling. It was during this age that several limited-run and "lost" classics resurfaced for the first time. From drive-in fare to grindhouse fodder to even shot-on-video "efforts," these newly-discovered gems led to the rise of rental fanatics and gorehounds. Oftentimes, such obscurities were released by independent labels in either oversized display boxes (frequently showcasing gory artwork, guaranteed to offend the average renter) or black clamshell cases. One of the films that is a shining example of what captivated the indiscriminate is Dr. Jekyll's Dungeon of Death, aka Dr. Jekyll's Dungeon of Darkness (originally released by Magnum Entertainment). Subsequently re-released by Star Classics and Something Weird Video, Dr. Jekyll finds himself catapulted into the mass market by Cheezy Flicks Entertainment.
The great grandson of the infamous Dr. Jekyll is continuing work on the very serum that causes criminal madness. His dark San Francisco mansion houses his crazed and lobotomized sister, Helga, his hunchbacked assistant, Malo, and his kidnapped victims who are forced to take his serum and fight to the death in the laboratory. He is also keeping fellow scientist, Julia, captive because of her recent rejection of him and his mad infatuation.
Julia's father, Professor Atkinson, is visiting Jekyll, his former student to both learn more about the progress of a new serum being developed and to bereave the loss of his own daughter (in a staged death, a ploy to force the professor to visit the mansion). Jekyll stalls the professor while offending him with films of his violent experiments. When Atkinson finds out the truth about his daughter and refuses to assist the doctor in this experiments, Jekyll keeps him captive.
On the night of Jekyll's ultimate experiment, he coerces Atkinson to take part as an assistant (by threatening to give Julia the serum and force her to fight another prisoner). Helga, who is jealous of Jekyll, tries to kill Julia herself; Malo, whose own regard for Julia is strong, is willing to stop her with his life. Meanwhile, the artificially crazed subjects of the experiment are out of control, and are a threat to the lives of everyone present. And during all of this, a local police detective pays Jekyll a visit to inquire about "missing persons' reports."
Digital video (and the home video formats it has given rise to) has led to collectors and fans keeping a sharp eye out for releases of their favorite films. Some of them have been digitally re-mastered from negatives, inter-positives or rare film prints. Others, however, have suffered the fate of being simply transferred from either broadcast masters (not all too bad of a fate, sometimes via U-Matic or BetacamSP) or directly from old, beaten up VHS tapes. It is likely that this is one of them.
Aside from the lack of detail and uneven colors, there is a video "line" that is present through much of the presentation. It is quite obvious that this release was mastered from VHS. There is a small piece of footage missing from an early scene where Jekyll screens one of his past "experiments" for Atkinson, but it is nowhere near as bewildering as the footage missing from Something Weird's version, which is missing a huge chunk of the film that explains the whereabouts of some major characters in the end. The digital 2.0 mono is as good as the VHS master; however, a film such as this would not benefit from over-equalization. If the audio were given deluxe 5.1 surround treatment with additional bass (and not just a simple 5.1 mono), it would be a terrible mismatch to the image.
The only extras on the disc include a bunch of intermission/snack bar reels and a promo (circa late-1960s) for the MPAA (The Motion Picture Association of America). The MPAA promo is hosted by Julie Andrews and explains the parameters of each rating. It is very amusing to witness such a promo that informs the viewer what dictates cinematic "good judgment."
One would hope that a decently-mastered version of this kung-fu/exploitation/late-night-horror classic is forthcoming, but it can only be reported that this film is simply "available on DVD."