“You fool Hyde, you can never defeat us” – Jekyll and Hyde AD 2016

Jekyll and Hyde 2015 2016

Following the gothic cross-sectional glimpses at Frankenstein and Dracula over the last two years, Jokerside looks at the rocky state of Dr Jekyll and the ever chaotic world of Mr Hyde… From ITV’s recently axed Jekyll and Hyde to what 2016 has in store for the character in adaptation. And yes, requisite mention for NBC…

*May transform into spoilers*

THE DEFINITE ARTICLE SHY NOVELLA STRANGE CASE OF DR JEKYLL & MR HYDE WAS PUBLISHED IN 1886. WITH IT, 36 YEAR OLD AUTHOR ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON NOT ONLY ENTERED THE ILLUSTRIOUS PANTHEON OF 19TH CENTURY HORROR WRITERS, BUT PENNED A SLIGHT STORY OVERSTOCKED WITH INFLUENCES. Although set in the far more commercial London, it makes for a heady exploration of the original city of two-sides, Stevenson’s home town of Edinburgh. In the latter days of the Victorian era, it’s also a handy analogy for contemporary fears for the individual, privatisation and public ownership, and class division. As the 20th century brought new concerns, Jekyll and Hyde was readymade to reflect them, much as the universally adaptable themes at the heart of Bram Stoker’s Dracula ensured it permanent relevance. Stevenson’s story was first adapted for the stage a year after its publication and continues to spread into films, music, books, art across the world. To the point that the good Doctor and his dangerous alter-ego make up the third most filmed literary character. The last decade has seen two major British adaptations, both modernising in their own way, while it’s provided inspiration for serials in America and America. There’s little sign of the original horror icon of split personality disappearing any time soon. And indeed, its themes have spawned other works that have stomped their own giant footprint on popular culture.  Currently mixing with the best of the box office, it’s impossible to look at the current state of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde without mentioning the Hulk in the room…

The shadow of the Hulk

“I decided I might as well borrow from Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde as well “ – Stan Lee, 1974

Few sources have been as overshadowed by their inspirations as Hyde has been by Hulk, and Jekyll by Banner. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s most famous exploration of split personalities is a thinly veiled update, although has had far longer to explore the relationship between both personalities. Banner was similarly driven and doomed by his scientific genius, but never experimented on himself, as Lee drew liberal inspiration from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as well.

The Incredible Hulk currently finds himself in successful, if not straightforward times. Assimilated into the Marvel Cinematic Universe at the beginning, The Incredible Hulk was a modest success in 2008 compared to stablemate Iron Man. Through the witty script of Joss Whedon, the Hulk became one of the stand-outs in 2012’s The Avengers although curiously, never with the suggestion that this audience appreciation could translate to a successful solo outing. Indeed, as Mark Ruffalo was the third actor to take on Banner in so many films, the road was rocky. While solo outing rights remained blocked at Universal, forthcoming buddy movie Thor Ragnarok (due 2017) will pit the green brute alongside the Norse God in a build-up to the two Avengers Infinity War movies that Ruffalo has suggested forms a quasi-Hulk solo movie of its own.

Two-faced

Of all the legacies of Stevenson’s creation, the Hulk sits at the top of the pile, and will be dominating blockbusters for years to come. And as a pop culture behemoth, the Hulkification of Hyde was inevitable almost as soon as Marvel’s pop culture behemoth survived cancellation after six issues in 1963, just as Banner had survived the gamma radiation. Over at DC, the home of personified literary grotesque Gotham City threw up a thin, but fascinating most-of-the-time rogue in Harvey Dent. Two Face surfaced from law rather than medicine, but has proved one of the compelling and tragic figures in the rich tapestry of Batman’s friends and rogues. Obsessed with duality and literally split down the middle as the result of an acid attack that reawakened severe and deep-rooted personality disorder. Taken down by his job, from the heights of District Attorney, he’s Batman’s fallen angel and much like the Hulk (although admittedly a little more black and white), never the villain but an amoral presence in the original Hyde mould. Like Hulk, Two Face has had a mixed form in adaptation. His first big screen moment in 1995 showed how poorly he could be treated as Tommy Lee Jones channelled the nuances of personality disorder through alternating talking and shouting. Fortunately, 2008’s The Dark Knight stunned when it pulled a Two Face origin out of its rich script, drawing on many of the same tragic lines as what might remain Harvey Dent’s finest hour: Batman: The Animated Series’ Two Face in 1992. The Dark Knight did highlight the difficulties of the character however – without re-treading his inherent conflict, Nolan’s masterpiece showed that the fleeting last act emergence of the villain was just about all he needed in comparison with other rogues of Gotham.

Crucially, both Hulk and Two Face are victims of circumstance, although scuppered by their own genius. Still, these villainous and superheroic versions of Stevenson’s character might have brought out the comic book potential of the character, but they haven’t stopped the original making his mark on the medium.

One of the most prevalent examples came in Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen – something even more blatant in the doomed 1997 film adaptation. After Fox’s failed television update has now morphed into a film reboot, that version won’t be going anywhere anytime soon. Still, hopefully they’ll stick closer to the source. As one of Britain’s premier adapter’s and adaption curmudgeons, Moore’s love letter to these literary constructs deserves deft work.

The rebounding comic book stylings of the children of Hyde where also clear in the recent ITV adaptation, which imposed the central figure into a comic inspired set-up and even expanded the universe with nods to Marvel. As Hulk stories had soon developed in the sprawling storylines of comic book chronology, Hyde was now become an indefinite article. He is a Hyde and is not alone, least of all with the late arrival of his sister and lycanthropy dripping through another family line. “I’m a Hyde” his sister said knowingly. But that was just one of the references flowing through the blood of his most recent vehicle…

Jekyll and Hyde (ITV, 2015)

The Gordian Knot…

Before purposefully transforming into Hyde for the final time during the tenth episode of ITV’s big budget repurposing of Jekyll and Hyde, Robert Jekyll drew a comparison between his predicament and the Gordian Knot of Alexander the Great lore. How right he was. Sadly, a month since that finale aired, ITV have not only enacted their own quick slicing solution on the show, but Ofcom have found it in breach of broadcasting regulations. Read more…

Penny Dreadful and Hannibal: Fall of the Witches, Rise of the Dragon

Hannibal meets Penny Dreadful

“Dire combustion and confused events new hatch’d to the woeful time”

A tale of two gruesome halves. A celebration in the brutal wake of Penny Dreadful’s second series conclusion and farewell to Hannibal’s Hannibal as he prepares his last stand against the advent of the Red Dragon. For those up to date with the horrors of both series – these *spoilers* don’t come in the night.

Read on or jump to: Hannibal

Pennies – Penny Dreadful leaves the mortal plain

Penny Dreadful: The Second Season

“I think that you are the most human man I have ever known”

PENNY DREADFUL CONCLUDED EARLIER THIS MONTH WITH A FINALE OF TWO PARTS. TYPICALLY, THE SECOND HALF WAS DEVOTED TO THE INTRICATE RE-POSITIONING OF ITS PLAYERS ON A CHESS BOARD PRIMED FOR ITS LUXURIOUSLY CONFIRMED THIRD SEASON. And that that says more about the show than a first half given over to resolving the second season arc, a battle in the blurred war of dark and light that continues to run like stitching through its take on gothic literature.

The threat of coincidence hangs over all narrative, nowhere more apparently than in episodic television. As America’s television grows to rival its film industry, enticing stars with higher budgets and heightened writing, arcs and themes have developed to match. Many shows have managed to rise above their Hollywood comparators in terms of tight plotting and scripting, although some of the biggest cheat with multiple sketch-based storylines (one set in and around Westeros in particular). Elsewhere critically acclaimed ‘thematic’ series make their job easier by limiting storylines and cast to a single season. But with Penny Dreadful, confronting coincidence while chucking its characters together is very much the point.

A stronger field

The depth of the villain was stretched and strengthened…

As Penny Dreadful’s second season unravelled we saw polarisation. Compelling powers pushed and pulled the characters to various extremes, always seen through a finely tuned and psychological needle’s eye.

Writer John Logan’s dialogue and scope improved beyond even the first series. After seemingly setting up (the unnamed) Dracula as the main villain, the second season instead wrenched us into the world of witches – another and effective lieutenant of he who must not be named. Over the course of the season, the result was a rich deepening of the character’s opposition; a villain stretched and strengthened while crucially retaining its mystery. It was a neat trick to the point that a killer twist might not even be confirmed. And on the way there was time for dolls and wax works to take the place of the Grand Guignol. And crucially, lest all humour depart us, a wonderful full-time position in the script for Simon Russell Beale’s Ferdinand Lyle.

One year on

“Modernity personified” in the age of the industrial

Last year’s mid-point look at Season One came from the early gothic slant of Frankenstein. In particular, the stunning adaptation of the good doctor’s story that made up the third episode, which starts with:

“…The brutal lessons of life and death that the young Frankenstein was forced to learn. We see him walking through daffodils and quoting not just Wordsworth, but the poet’s Intimations on Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood. We see the origins of the Doctor of course, and how death set him on an inevitable route. The creature narrates what we’ve seen so far, the Doctor who favoured Wordsworth and the Romantics’ view of the world who creates something that is “modernity personified” in the age of the industrial. It’s no wonder that Frankenstein fundamentally cannot stand his creation, and is incapable of making any effort to make up for his abandonment. It shouldn’t fit quite so well with the other son we’ve seen, not quite, but it does. That’s perhaps due to the quality of the creature’s argument. Tellingly, Frankenstein doesn’t speak for minutes as his firstborn addresses him. When told by his son that they are the Janus mask, “inseparable” his first words, “how could you do that?’ The response that it is a mercy for the tragic Proteus – “you put me through nothing but pain”.

Read more…

Dracula: “Learning from Mis-Stakes” – AD 2015 (Part Two)

Dracula Untold - The Puppet Master Vampire

 

The second part of a look at how the Prince of Darkness is currently faring on screens small and big.  Even while NBC’s primetime Dracula (does Downton) was staked to death, the undead icon still found time to pop up in familiar crypts and unexpected tombs.  Perhaps his most important moment in the 21st century was close at hand: in the heart of Hollywood, dark plans were being written in ancient blood… Dracula Untold.

A Scrape of the Wing

Not the only Drac-on-the-box…

IN THE FIRST PART OF AD2015, NBC’S DRACULA MADE A COMPLICATED STAB AT CREATING A NEW KIND OF DRACULA. Despite that show’s many flaws that, ambition can’t be faulted. The setting and intent were true to the themes of Bram Stoker’s novel, even if it managed to rob itself of many definitive parts of the legend.  Still, that wasn’t the only Drac-on-the-screen. The errant aristocrat had suffered the ignominy of being voiced by Adam Sandler in the 2012 animation Hotel Transylvania. Elsewhere, far from his routes in the Carpathian Mountains, 2013’s Dracula 2012 matched the Prince of Darkness’ tale to Indian folklores.

Dracula doesn’t really have a safe crypt at that network

On television, other incarnations returned from the dead – especially Eddie Izzard’s glorious interpretation of Grandpa Sam Dracula in Bryan Fuller’s 2012 Munsters revival Mockingbird Lane. Darker and more developed than Al Lewis’ 1960s version, his is predatory, homicidal, occasionally revelling in his feral powers and undoubtedly the count with a plan. Amid the violence and dark comedy, there was time to make sure that Grandpa had many of the same undead ‘skills’ Stoker gave him over a hundred years before.

The fact that it was again the NBC network that wavered over Fuller’s direction and decided not to pick-up the series suggests that Dracula doesn’t really have a safe crypt at that network. The silver lining to that incredibly premature cancellation was that Fuller was then free to create marvellous modern horror Hannibal for the network instead; that’s one form of copious blood-letting they obviously don’t mind.

Elsewhere the count took various cameo roles in 2013, including a vivid guest spot for a sadistic Vlad Tepes on Fox’s Da Vinci’s Demons. Just across from that Wales-shot series, the rejuvenated Hammer studios talked about Dracula a bit, but as with Herr Frankenstein, so far haven’t been able to find the fresh approach to the legend they insist on.  All in all, it looked like the future may be a little more modern…. Until that theory was quickly debunked by ABC’s modernised fusion of gothic and romantic horror icons.  2013’s Gothica fell at the pilot stage, although there was to be greater success in that mash-up, Abbot and Costello approach over on cable…

Penny Dreadful (2014 – )

When you’re dealing with the undead there’s no rush

Read more…

Dracula: “Vlad about Town” – AD 2015 (Part One)

Dracula AD2014 on television and film

 

Following last year’s dissection of Frankenstein’s make-up in 2014, Jokerside turns to the original Dark Knight – the one who’s never allowed to retreat to the shadows. Just how is the legendary Prince of Darkness fared on the small and big screen in the peaceful few years before that other Batman swings back? In this first part, a look at NBC’s high profile adaptation… Er… Dracula.

DRACULA’S HUGE IMPACT ON POPULAR CULTURE BELIES THE ORIGINAL NOVEL’S LIFESPAN OF 118 YEARS. It was theatre and film that gave him wings, starting with a performance at the Lyceum penned by Stoker himself. And after a slow start the Count soon came to carve a significant cultural footprint in the 20th century thanks to the contemporary advent of film.  Despite the legion vampires who have followed him he’s never stayed out of view… And as recent adaptations show there are plenty of facets left to explore.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula

“Stoker’s real masterstroke was to ally vampirism with sophistication “

No real introduction is necessary. There are reasons why the vampire that Bram Stoker crafted stood cape and fangs above all the blood-suckers that had come before. While the tale was lodged in late Victoriana it has refused specific categorisation in invasion, horror or gothic genres. And that proved a significant benefit in the century that followed, with adaptations dragging Dracula into every genre imaginable.

Stoker’s opted to title his protagonist Dracula rather than the mooted Count Wampyr, for reasons unknown. Apart from a modicum of subtlety you would hope. There’s little to suggest that he knew a great deal about Vlad the Impaler, the 15th century member of House of Drăculești and infamous protector of the Romanian people, who went by the name of Dracula. Though by seizing that family name, Stoker opened up a treasure chest of exploration – as potent for writers as the more obvious facets of blood, horror and immortality. But away from Eastern European royalty, Stoker’s real masterstroke was to ally vampirism with sophistication. The central European locale, the entwining of love and vampirism, the superstitious deterrents… They had all existed before, notably in Dracula’s Irish near-comparator Sheridan le Fanu’s Camilla. But Stoker bolted on Victorian sensibilities to the myth of the vampire, including aristocracy, society standing, land-owning and the natural development of The Grand Tour. It was a compelling mix and one that proved irresistible when the character hit screens a few decades after publication: particularly Bela Lugosi’s imperious entrance on the stairs of Castle Dracula in 1931. Bram Stoker seized on many contemporary elements to craft his tale. And at the tail end of the gothic era it proved inspired and highly influential.

As with that other giant of Victorian literature, soon to earn a deerstalker and cape of his own, the temptation to update the 19th century setting is all the more irresistible when there is ready-made mystery in the origin. Although, as Hammer’s soulless and fairly disastrous Seventies updates to the myth show, it’s a tricky business. Still, the Count is endlessly resourceful in his reincarnation, and as recent adaptations show he’s as full-blooded as ever. Read more…

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