Call me the Cinema Sadist-when I see a movie so bad it can barely be called a movie, I consider it a spiritual consideration to share that sweet, sweet pain with unsuspecting souls. To wit: Imagine a movie that tries to be a Mel Brooks-style spoof, only it’s not funny. Imagine that it replaces belly laughs with rampant misogyny. Imagine that it stars the acclaimed Oliver Reed—part of a set of mid-century British hellions who revolutionized acting, including Richard Harris, Richard Burton, and Peter O’Toole.
Imagine that Oliver Reed starts talking about feet before the opening credits are over and never fucking stops.
Welcome, gentle victims, to 1980’s Dr. Heckyl and Mr. Hype, which takes the Robert Louis Stevenson horror classic and adds a lot more foot fetishism. In Heckyl and Hype’s defense, Stevenson gets a “with apologies to” credit in the film’s opening, so at least they know what they did. The “they” in question is mainly director/co-writer Charles B. Griffith, who made an indelible contribution to film history when he wrote the original Little Shop of Horrors and then decided, fuck it, he’d re-team with Little Shop co-writer Roger Corman on a script where the esteemed Reed snarls “You kill me, and I’ll haunt you to the cracker factory. I will burn your buns.”
Actually, that makes Heckyl and Hype sound almost entertaining—so let’s take it back. The film stars Reed as a podiatrist in the fictional town of San Texico. He’s obsessed with Coral (Sunny Johnson), who he’s never spoken to—he just hangs out at the bus stop she uses every morning for some light stalking. In an extended opening monologue, we’re welcomed into Heckyl’s psyche; he is, to use modern terms, an incel who’s bitter that no one likes him ‘cause he’s reeeeeal ugly. Which he is—the top of his head looks like a Brillo pad merkin—but the movie’s makeup team isn’t really consistent with extending the dry, goopy fright makeup (Frankenstein spent a bit too long in the self-tanner) to the edge of his face or his neck, so hey, coulda been worse. Heckyl’s ugliness is explained by the fact that his mother sniffed glue, which is also an accusation I could lob at Griffith.
At work, Heckyl’s surrounded by beautiful nurses who only serve to remind him of his own inadequacy—young, hot, mostly line-less women with names like Miss Pertbottom, Miss Nietkiester, Miss Finebum, Miss Rosenrump, and Miss Lushtush. Because of their asses, you see. Heckyl’s fellow doctors have less by way of boner-giving capacity but more by way of actual character. Not much more, mind you—one clearly uses his “treatment” as an excuse to indulge his tickle fetish, and another’s invented a serum that, when ingested, will remove the parts of a person they believe to be ugly, temporarily turning them into their ideal self. I’m sure you see where this is going.
But first, feet.
At approximately nine minutes comes our first foot shot.
Around thirteen, he cradles Coral’s feet near his face—he’s made an appointment to check on a burgeoning bunion—and interior monologues that her “little tootsies” represent “at last a foot I could love. A foot I could eat!” He ends the appointment by telling her “This is where I get off.”
It says something about this movie that I’m not sure if that’s better or worse than the scene we’d been subjected to a few minutes before:
Later, Heckyl looks into a mirror and grandly intones: “Goodbye, o ugly piece of shit.” Which is what I wish I could be saying to this movie, but by this point we’re only sixteen minutes and four foot scenes in—the fourth one being Dr. Heckyl drunkenly caressing his feet after he takes the potion and transforms into the handsome-but-psychotic Mr. Hype. To clarify, the character isn’t drunk, but it’s Oliver Reed, so I think it’s safe to assume.
We still have a lot of road to travel.
Speaking of roads—and speaking of asses and this movie’s love thereof:
I’d say “suck it, Boogie Nights tracking shot,” but if this movie hears me saying “suck it” it’ll probably think I’m referring to feet, so I won’t. The first time I saw Heckyl and Hyde, I smoked copious amounts of weed to numb the pain. The second time — because I’d said I’d write a piece about it but didn’t remember enough about the film, oh God, why do I Pajiba? — I felt my mind trying to disassociate from myself. Which is to say, I’m not 100% confident, but I don’t think there’s an actual scene of foot-sucking (or, for that matter, foot-fucking) in this film. Definitely not the latter, because as Griffiths is eager to remind us, Oliver Reed is a big ol’ virg.
Heckyl, as Hype, is even more narcissistic and sexist than normal. He picks up a sex worker, uses his only friend — which, oh sorry, I forgot to mention, is a taxidermied lion rug he uses as a blanket—as a ventriloquist dummy to have a conversation with her about whether he’s hot. Then there’s this:
Which is awful in all sorts of ways, but this movie’s skewed my brain so badly that my first response was “at least there’s no feet!” If Quentin Tarantion had seen Dr. Heckyl and Mr. Hype as a young, impressionable teen, his filmography would be a lot different and none of us would be quite so familiar with what Uma Thurman, Margot Robbie, et. al. have under their socks. You can’t watch this scene as a youth and remain psychologically whole:
Things happen. Jackie Coogan is there. Turns out—awww—Coral likes Heckyl but not Hype, because Heckyl’s a Nice Guy (you know, stalking aside) and Hyde walks around slapping asses and saying things like, “You ask the mirror on the wall. Who is the grooviest of them all?” To Reed’s credit, he keeps a straight face and an admirable level of gravitas throughout, which has gotta be easy for him to do when he’s bombed on the contents of several pubs and running on autopilot.
By an hour and thirteen, we’re in the home stretch. Character actor extraordinaire Dick Miller has wandered in and out of the film, playing a garbage man. Heckyl has a scene where he digs through a dumpster, an apt metaphor for filming this movie. Oliver Reed…. has worn white bell bottoms.
But the movie has one more trick up its sleeve, something that I’d mercifully forgotten between viewings (thanks, marijuana!) and will never be able to scrub from my mind again. Heckyl, incarcerated, meets a fellow inmate. That inmate is a little person played by Tony Cox, who would go on to star in the much-less-offensive Bad Santa. Tony Cox drinks the potion, turns tall, and is never seen again, because Griffith decided that the one more thing he needed to really make Heckyl and Hyde work wasn’t something boring like a good script or humor, but a cheap joke about little people. I will not make a clip of this scene to put on YouTube. You will have to take initiative of your own should you wish to suffer as I have.
Eventually, Heckyl and Coral confess their love right before Heckyl dies, uttering a last line befitting the tenderness and depth of this putrid firebomb of a film: “Now we’re dead…. and I’m still a virgin.”
Dr. Heckyl and Mr. Hype is available to watch on Amazon Prime. Please don’t.
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