Brian Clemens is one of the most prolific and talented writers, producers and directors the British TV and film industry has ever been privileged to have*. In 1971, a couple of years after the end of the phenomenally successful ‘The Avengers’, Clemens and producer partner Albert Fennell came to Hammer to make ‘Dr. Jekyll & Sister Hyde’, ‘re-imagining’ (God, I hate that word, especially if it’s prefixed with ‘Tim Burton’) the familiar Robert Louis Stevenson story to include a novel twist: Dr. J doesn’t turn into a monster, he turns into a woman; a woman who looks like Martine Beswick and doesn’t mind flashing the flesh a bit.
Around this simple but brilliant central idea, elements of Jack the Ripper and the Burke and Hare story get chucked in, all wildly inaccurate and out of order in terms of time and place but hugely enjoyable, nonetheless. Clemens and Fennel bring a comic book sensibility to the film, a quick, flashy, funny approach which is broad in terms of brush strokes, always tongue in cheek but lots of fun. They don’t stint on the violence and nudity, either, so they clearly had a very clear idea on what audiences expected at the time. It’s all very 1971, if you know what I mean.
This was not the start of a regular gig for Clemens and Fennell, however, although their example seemed to inspire the next tranche of Hammer releases, which were noticeably less ponderous, cheaper looking but knowing and humourous.
Clemens would return for the rip roaring ‘Captain Kronos, Vampire Hunter’, another film that should have sparked any number of sequels. The history of Hammer is littered with tantalising possibilities and thwarted opportunities, which is not to say that their output is any way disappointing. The fact is, if Hammer had made a thousand films, I would want to see every single one. I love them.
* Just in case you were wondering about Bri’s credentials, here is a partial list of things that he wrote or created or simply worked on: Dangerman; The Avengers; Adam Adamant Lives!; The Persuaders; The Protectors; The New Avengers; Thriller; Hammer House of Mystery & Suspense and, gawd help us, The Professionals. Does that answer your question?