Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde, a contender for the best titled blaxploitation film of all time, has the kind of unsinkably silly premise that was somehow capsized by its high-minded but talentless filmmakers. Director William Crain, the guy responsible for the equally goofy but lifeless Blacula, takes his work much too seriously. I mean, we’re talking about a movie where a black doctor injects himself with an experimental formula and transforms into a giant raging Albino that looks like Solomon Grundy. Crain’s biggest crime is straitjacketing this bonkers premise and taking far too seriously a premise that shouldn’t have a serious bone in its body. There’s no way you could look at Dr. Black and Mr. Hyde and see a goofy but semi-thoughtful lampoon of inner-city neuroses. The title character is referred to at one point as “a cross between the Abominable Snowman and Willy the Werewolf.” Like the film, the line means nothing and yet Crain just doesn’t see that.
Character actor Bernie Casey (Cleopatra Jones, The Man Who Fell to Earth) stars as Dr. Henry Pride, a doctor that treats prostitutes at his clinic while working on an experimental treatment for liver failure. Linda (Marie O’Henry), one of his regular patients and a lady of the night, accuses him of being so clinical and asexual that he’s more white than black, teasing him that he probably drives around in a white car. He does, of course, and that’s why her teasing strikes a chord with him. He’s so uptight that he only pursues Linda after he injects himself with his experimental formula and develops a white glaze over his eyes, a white streak in his afro and a white pallor all over his body. After this transformation, Henry goes on a rampage trying to find Linda, killing pimps and prostitutes in his vain attempt to dominate her.
Watching Casey mow down a switchblade-wielding pimp in his white caddy would be a lot more fun if the whole of Dr. Black and Mr. Hyde were made of scenes like that. Crain tries to make us empathize with his cartoonish hero by giving him a stupid backstory: The reason why Henry hates pimps and hos so much is that his mother was once a prostitute so now he has nothing but contempt for the profession and the lifestyle it engenders. There’s not a lot that’s funny about Crain’s movie, which is a crime considering how much potential for crude satire its title alone suggests. Apart from a couple of scenes of half-hearted carnage, the only time Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde comes to life is the handful of scenes with black-cop/white-cop buddy team Lt. Harry (Milt Kogan) and Lt. Jackson (Ji-Tu Cumbuka), a comedic duo that tells two or three jokes, including the line about Willy the Werewolf, and then just stands around waiting for something to happen.
The film’s finale, where Henry climbs up a radio tower like King Kong, is tonally from a completely different film. But it’s not because it’s shot with Crain’s signature I-have-no-idea-how-to-make-this-scene-work method. I mean, really, how does one screw up shooting scenes from a helicopter as badly as Crain does here? The scene is largely composed of meandering, unfocussed shots of Casey from afar as he clambers up the tower (I’m pretty sure he didn’t have a stuntman, but I could be wrong). It’s like Crain didn’t know when to cut to the next scene, or maybe he just wanted to make the most of the money he wasted filming from a helicopter. Kooky premise or no kooky premise, Crain’s efforts are so bad that they make you wish a director with a lot less good taste and a modicum of talent had helmed the film instead.
VCI seems determined to do nothing with the picture and audio quality of the films they release. No effort was put into restoring the film's sound or picture quality so you get a tinny mono soundtrack and a VHS-quality visual transfer. They're counting on the fact that you want to see a movie called Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde so badly that you can ignore the poor quality of the film and admittedly, I was just that interested in the title, but still: This thing looks and sounds pretty fugly.
There are no extras on this DVD, which is marked up as the "35th Anniversary" edition, save for some trailers for other blaxploitation films. The trailers are fun, but still…really? That's it?
Blacula director William Crain somehow managed to screw up even a film with a title as nifty as Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde. For the morbidly curious only.