It's alive! Welcome to a new era, Hammer. After much time spent lurking in the shadows, we can safely say that Hammer horror is back. Under new ownership, the iconic film production company has relaunched itself into the modern sphere with its brand new release Doctor Jekyll starring Eddie Izzard, adapted from the Victorian novella The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Directed by Joe Stephenson, Doctor Jekyll brings the classic story into the present and for the first time sees Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde as not only female, but transgender too.
The rebirth of Hammer horror
Founded in November 1934, Hammer is one of the oldest film companies in the world and is widely known for its many classic flicks in the horror genre. However, over the past few years Hammer has fizzled into the background, but thanks to the recent acquisition by theater producer John Gore, it looks like Hammer horror is well and truly on its way back.
Under Gore’s management, the company will invest significantly in Hammer Films to breathe new life into the studio, with the first being Doctor Jekyll. “Mr. Gore has swept in and grabbed Hammer and said ‘We’re going for this!’”, says Izzard to GamesRadar+, clearly more than delighted to be starring in the film that is relaunching such an iconic studio. Stephenson describes the bond between Hammer and his movie as “a lovely marriage”, adding that the company's many iconic films influence his own work.
Putting a modern twist on an old classic
The trials and tribulations of Jekyll and Hyde is a well-known tale and has actually been told by Hammer before in their production of Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde in 1971, but in bringing Hammer horror back into the 21st Century, Stephenson chose to set his version of events in modern times.
Doctor Jekyll follows a young man named Rob, an ex-drug addict fresh out of prison and desperate for employment so he can gain visitation rights to see his newborn daughter. His brother sets him up with a caretaking job for a rich and powerful pharmaceutical mogul named Dr. Nina Jekyll. As Rob moves into Jekyll's lustrous mansion he soon realizes there are evil forces at play and Jekyll is not all that she appears to be.
Adaptations of this story usually come in the form of period dramas, however, Stephenson knew from the start he wanted it to relate to audiences today, so decided to set his version of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde in the present time.
“I think I just wanted to do something that spoke to people today,” says the director. “I think period pieces are wonderful but I felt like if you're going to tell this story and you want to do something different with it then you need to have modern characters.”
Not only did Stephenson meddle with the time period, but he decided to reinvent Jekyll and Hyde as Nina and Rachel, casting Izzard in the traditionally male role and leaving out any special effects or makeup in deciphering between the two. “In the book, the Hyde character is very visually different but that wasn't the direction that Joe and the scriptwriter chose to go in”, Izzard explains. “I like that because there is a psychological difference happening and in a lot of the scenes you can't quite tell who is there.” The actor had to rely on her voice and body movements to hint to the audience which personality was in control at each moment.
Hammer in the future
On top of being female, Jekyll is also an out and proud trans woman. Izzard commented on the importance of having trans roles in the horror genre: “I understand the importance of giving women empowerment and agency and being able to play whatever role they wish, and I’m very strongly fighting for that, but this is a trans woman and we haven't really explored that in horror.” The actor, who is no stranger to the horror genre having appeared in the Hannibal series, went on to explain how it is vital to include the trans community in films where the main theme has absolutely nothing to do with their identity. “That aspect that she is trans doesn't affect the story” Izzard says, she is just playing a role like anyone else.
The retelling of such a well-known and celebrated story including cast members of all ages, races, identities, and backgrounds is such an important factor. Stephenson says that he intended from the start to have open gender castings and embrace a new Dr Jekyll in any shape or form.
Izzard, being a pioneer of the LGBTQ+ community, rejoices in the fact that Hammer is moving in the direction of inclusivity and fluidity. The first step is exploring a trans female role in a horror movie, something that the actor says she doesn't see much of. “There are not many trans woman titles out there,” she says as she motions toward her name and picture on the poster for Doctor Jekyll. According to Izzard, it won't stop there: “If we think of LGBTQ roles and different ethnic backgrounds roles - that’s what we’re going to see more and more going forward, anyone playing anything at any time, and it’s a wonderful opportunity and good for the people of the world to see that.”
Ahead of the movie's release, Hammer owner Gore himself declared that the company is officially back and Doctor Jekyll is the start of a new wave of pictures from the production house. If this is the case then we can thank both Stephenson and Izzard for an upcoming string of all-embracing British horror movies that are sure to come.
Doctor Jekyll hits theatres on October 27. For more check out our list of the most exciting upcoming horror movies of 2023 and beyond. Can't wait for the releases? Jump right to the good stuff with our 30 best horror movies that will haunt you long after the credits roll.