I, Monster (1970) reviews and Blu-ray news

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[Total: 32   Average: 2.4/5]

‘The most violent creature ever made by man!’

I, Monster is a 1970 British science-fiction horror feature film about a psychologist who invents a drug which will release his patients’ inhibitions. When he tests it on himself, he becomes evil and descends into crime and eventually murder.

Directed by Stephen Weeks (Sword of the Valiant: The Legend of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight; Gawain and the Green Knight; Ghost Story) from a screenplay written by co-producer Milton Subotsky, based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella ‘The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’, the Amicus Productions movie stars Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Mike Raven (Disciple of Death; Crucible of Terror; Lust for a Vampire) and Richard Hurndall. Max J. Rosenberg co-produced.

The soundtrack score was composed by Carl Davis (Frankenstein Unbound; What Became of Jack and Jill?).

At co-producer Milton Subotsky‘s behest, the film was originally intended to be shown in 3-D utilising the Pulfrich effect, however, the idea was abandoned during production leaving certain scenes unsalvageable during the editing process (hence the short running time). Due to the complicated process required to shoot in 3-D, previous Amicus directors Freddie Francis and Peter Duffell had already declined the project. It was taken on at short notice by twenty-two-year-old Stephen Weeks even though he had only directed shorts previously.

Inexplicably, Subotsky also changed the lead protagonist’s names from Jekyll and Hyde to Marlowe and Blake, although other characters’ names remain the same as in Stevenson’s original story.

Blu-ray release:

In the UK, Powerhouse Films is releasing I, Monster on Blu-ray via their Indicator imprint on 28th September 2020. Order via Amazon.co.uk

New 2K restoration by Powerhouse Films from original film materials
Two presentations of the film: the original 75-minute theatrical cut; and the extended 80-minute version
Original mono audio
Audio commentary with director Stephen Weeks (2020)
The BEHP Interview with Peter Tanner – Part One, 1914-1939 (1987): an archival audio recording, made as part of the British     Entertainment History Project, featuring the celebrated editor in conversation with Roy Fowler and Taffy Haines
Introduction by Stephen Laws (2020): an appreciation by the acclaimed horror author
Stephen Weeks at the Manchester Festival of Fantastic Films (1998): an archival video recording of the director in     conversation
Interview with Milton Subotsky (1985): an archival audio recording of the famed producer
Interview with Carl Davis (2020): the renowned composer discusses his score
Image gallery: publicity and promotional material
Original theatrical trailer
Kim Newman and David Flint trailer commentary (2017): a short critical appreciation by the genre-film experts
New and improved English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
Limited edition exclusive 36-page booklet with a new essay by Josephine Botting, Milton Subotsky on I, Monster, an archival interview with Stephen Weeks, an overview of contemporary critical responses, and film credits
World premiere on Blu-ray
Limited edition of 3,000 copies

Reviews [click links to read more]:

“Both stylish and restrained, lyrical and scrupulously realistic in its Victorian period detail […] Weeks was severely hampered by both an obviously shoestring budget and having to begin shooting a 3-D process which was eventually abandoned.” The Aurum Film Encyclopedia: Horror

Lee enjoys the dual role, but plays Dr Marlowe (Jekyll) as uptight and boring, whereas Fredric March and Spencer Tracy played the character as relaxed and normal. As Blake (Mr Hyde), his appearance degenerates, bordering on comical. Perhaps it’s the nasty teeth or the nasty wig. The transformations are mostly cheated, either instantaneous or seen only as shadows.” Black Hole

“The film is something of a struggle to sit through in many ways, the end result being murkily photographed, cluttered with extraneous foreground details and long, pointless cracking shots […] Lee is excellent in both roles, aided by very good makeup effects by Harry Frampton, which becomes more extreme as Blake becomes more degenerate.” Ian Fryer, The British Horror Film: From the Silent to the Multiplex

” …this wouldn’t be an Amicus film without the ever-reliable conservatism of Milton Subotsky, and the screenplays failure to offer more radicalism and satire (Hammer’s The Two Faces of Doctor Jekyll (1960) is a much more socially committed version of the tale) is a missed opportunity. Nevertheless for fidelity to the original text I, Monster remains a film of note.” The Celluloid Highway

“ …the film is basically a vapid attempt to give yet another psychological interpretation of the Stevenson story.” Cinefantastique

“…The predictability of the story feels like a flaw. Other flaws are too much talking and debating. But fans who know of these flaws from the start, and who aren’t expecting much action or gore, should like I, Monster quite a bit. Weeks is under undistinguished as a director but uses slow subtle pans to fine effect. Lee is very good, especially during the initial stages of the transformation.” David Elroy Goldweber, Claws & Saucers: Science Fiction, Horror, and Fantasy Film: A Complete Guide

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“Production standards are high and capture Victorian London, but one wishes director Stephen weeks had plucked up the story shortcomings.” John Stanley, Creature Features

“It is a shame that writer-producer Milton Subotsky’s Amicus Productions’ budget is so obviously pared to the bare minimum. But the story, the energetic acting and the imaginative direction by Weeks – making his first feature at the age of only 22 – go some considerable way to compensate.” Derek Winnert

“The script presents some interesting links between the then-cutting edge Freudian psychiatry and Marlowe/Jekyll’s serum but falls short by giving the doctor no backstory or interest on any level. He puts his serum to work as soon as the picture starts, leaving little room for anything like character exposition. Lee‘s much too stiff and inexpressive as Marlowe, like a block of ice.” DVD Talk

“Thanks to Lee‘s acting and Weeks’ imaginative direction, I, Monster stood a very good chance of being the classic rendition of Stevenson’s familiar story; indeed, fragments of it still look that way. But, in its final truncated form, the film is vitally compromised…” Jonathan Rigby, English Gothic: A Century of Horror Cinema

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“While I, Monster ultimately feels more like a made-for-TV project than a proper feature—and while the change of character names seems pointless since Stevenson’s narrative survives largely intact—it’s always a kick to see Cushing and Lee share screen time. Better still, composer Carl Davis bathes the film in a sophisticated musical patina thanks to a dense orchestral score right out of the Masterpiece Theater playbook.” Every ’70s Movie

“The movie is enhanced by very good performances from Christopher Lee (as Marlowe/Blake) and Peter Cushing (as Utterson), and […] keeps fairly close to the original story. The biggest problem with the movie is the lifeless direction; if the performances were less accomplished, this movie would have been a major snoozefest.” Fantastic Movie Musings and Ramblings

“Subotsky’s script goes nowhere, and wastes Lee and also Cushing […] Subotsky wanted to film a faithful version of the book, but on celluloid it needs more, and this film seems twice as long as it’s 75 minutes, not helped by poor direction from Stephen Weeks and a well-cured piece of ham from Mike Raven, a disc jockey who wanted to be a horror star.” Andy Boot, Fragments of Fear: An Illustrated History of British Horror Films

I, Monster largely avoids the blood and certainly avoids the boobs that were becoming a feature in films of this nature at the time, and doesn’t even show us a full transformation until the end, where it’s the usual dissolve technique. Makeup artist Harry Frampton created some very good makeup for Lee as Blake though, making him look uglier and uglier in quite a convincing manner without going over the top.” Horror Cult Films

“Acting and art direction are good, the script less so while the direction is flat and uninvolving.” Alan Frank, The Horror Film Handbook

“Stephen Weeks […] has worked hard to renew our insight into a plot which has been subjected to so many exotic variations over the years […] Unfortunately, despite its stylised direction and evocative trappings, I, Monster is dogged by an extreme repetitive script.” British Film Institute’s Monthly Film Bulletin

“Most of those who have seen I, Monster review it fairly mediocrely. In fact, I, Monster is an extremely good version of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Most interesting of the changes it rings up is to take the story directly into the realms of Freudian psychology. Other versions, like the 1941 adaptation, had dealt with Freudian psychology, but not particularly well.” Moria

“Stephen Weeks’ directing style is constantly on the move to emphasis a never used 3D process, and the budgetary restrictions hamper the visual effects. Weeks seems like a more interesting character than director but this is amiable fare that’s as warming as a mug of Horlicks, and about as scary.” The Movie Waffler

“The basics are there and I’ve read countless reviews which state that its one of the most faithful adaptations of the novel but I, Monster is dull, plodding and a real slog to get through. It’s hardly a total failure but not an interesting one at that.” Popcorn Pictures

“While not the most horrific or intense film Amicus ever made, it is quite watchable and almost indistinguishable from the real Hammer product.  Perhaps the most intriguing detail is that Lee handles the initial transformation without makeup – and even the later makeup remains heavily restrained…” Rivets on the Poster

” …Lee, notching up another of his monster roles, lacked the chances in the material to provide a performance that was anything but dutiful to the text, yet uninspired cinematically. That was the main drawback, we’d seen it all before and nothing here justified going back to the old story without doing anything more inspired with it.” The Spinning Image

” …an attractive film to watch with good period wardrobe and lovely interior design full of domestic Victorian clutter. Marlowe’s laboratory has all the necessary bubbling flasks and flaming Bunsens and his descent into progressively more ugly incarnations of Blake are effectively managed with just about the right amount of make-up.” The Spooky Isles

“As a horror film, there is little to really frighten anyone. What is frightening is the fact that there is the possibility that within us all lays another person, one who has no qualms about caving into those primal urges of violence and murder or possibly even worse. That would come across in the film more than anything and most of that was thanks to Lee and his performance.” The Telltale Mind

“It was Subotsky’s aim to produce a faithful version of Stevenson’s story […] forgetting that a Victorian novel might not be the best template for a Seventies horror film. With huge expanses of dialogue lifted directly from the page to the screen, it should have been no surprise to anyone that the resulting film was rather dull…” David Flint, Ten Years of Terror: British Horror Films of the 1970s

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“The 3-D effects are fairly obvious as the camera continually prowls around the sets and occasionally something is thrust at the audience. Lee is a very good individual role and does his best to make the most out of the uninspired screenplay, a feat he was often required to perform throughout his career. Gary A. Smith, Uneasy Dreams: The Golden Age of British Horror Films, 1956 – 1976

Choice dialogue:

Doctor Charles Marlowe: “The face of evil is ugly to look upon. And as the pleasures increase, the face becomes uglier.”

Cast and characters:

Christopher Lee … Doctor Charles Marlowe / Mr Blake
Peter Cushing … Utterson
Mike Raven … Enfield
Richard Hurndall … Lanyon
George Merritt … Poole
Kenneth J. Warren … Deane – Demons of the Mind; The Creeping Flesh; Doctor Blood’s Coffin
Susan Jameson … Diane
Marjie Lawrence … Annie
Aimée Delamain … Landlady (as Aimee Delamain)
Michael Des Barres … Boy in alley
Lesley Judd … Young Woman in Alley [uncredited]
Ian McCulloch … Man at Bar [uncredited] – Zombie Holocaust; Contamination; Zombie Flesh Eaters; The Ghoul

Filming locations:

Shepperton Studios, Shepperton, Surrey, England from 10th October 1970. Existing outdoor sets from Oliver! and Anne of the Thousand Days were used.

Technical details:

75 minutes
Eastmancolor
Aspect ratio: 1.85: 1
Audio: Mono (RCA Sound System)

Theatrical release:

In the UK, it was released by British Lion Films on 1st November 1971 with a BBFC ‘X’ certificate (passed 17/05/1971). In the USA, it was released by The Cannon Group in 1973.

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