Dr. Jekyll’s Dungeon of Death (1979)

Dr. Jekyll’s Dungeon of Death


AKA: The Dungeon

Dr. Henry Jekyll is the great grandson of his namesake, and is currently living in San Francisco. But though he might be a couple of generations removed, it turns out that the apple didn’t fall far from the crazy tree. The new Jekyll is just as intent on perfecting his great grandfather’s notorious formula as his ancestor was. But instead of experimenting on himself, this Jekyll is utilizing minions and having them kidnap strangers off the street, so he can perform his ‘anger’ experiments on them instead. His ultimate goal? To perfect the formula to the point where it turns the subjects into obedient flunkies who can’t feel pain, so that he can form his own personal little rage-filled, indestructible army. The only problem is, he’s having trouble with the whole “obedient” aspect of his plan, as his subjects keep trying to kill everything they come in contact with. So he fakes the death of his beautiful lab assistant Julia, and drugs and imprisons her, all so that he can coax Julia’s well-regarded psychologist father into coming to her funeral, and then blackmail him with her safety once he gets there. It’s not exactly a full-proof plan though, as Jekyll’s madness and obsession grows worse and worse, and the abuse he inflicts upon his underlings causes them to reach a boiling point.


Me thinks the experiments have gone too far.

You know, after watching Filmgore, I had some idea of what I was getting into with this movie and knew it was going to be exploitative. But for a movie with such a narcissistic, violent, obsessive, crazed, sadistic, and incestuous loon as the main character, Dr. Jekyll’s Dungeon of Death really seems to have forgotten to add in any exploitation in their exploitation flick. Beyond a handful of drips and splatters there is very little in the way of blood and absolutely no gore. And for a film whose director’s only two other film credits include porn titles, I think most people would be shocked to find out that the movie strikes out with a big, fat ZERO in the way of nudity. You get just a bit of shoulder, and that’s it. So if you saw the poster artwork and were roped into the film with the promise of buxom babes decked out in see-through negligees, let’s just say that you’re going to walk away from this film profoundly pissed off. So what does this film have to offer you instead? Karate.

Yes, you read that right.


Also some wrestling, but mostly it’s karate.

Dr. Jekyll’s Dungeon of Death blesses (or curses, take your pick) the viewer with not just one, or two, or hell, even just three Karate scenes, but instead makes you sit through no fewer than FIVE separate instances of various individuals beating up on one another. Jekyll tests his aggression drug by injecting his kidnapped victims with a serum and then letting them duke it out while he watches, and because of that we, the audience, get to sit through somewhere around 20 minutes of fight scenes, which translates to about 20% of the whole movie, give or take. But, like, seriously, that’s it. Despite him constantly talking about his work, that’s the extent we see of his ‘experiments’. We never even see him do something as simple as mixing together chemicals. It’s needle to the neck, watch Jekyll observe with depraved joy as they punch and kick one another, rinse and repeat. He seems to enjoy it so much that I’m not even convinced that he’s tinkering with the formula, he just gets his rocks off watching people brutally beat up on one another and kill themselves. As for why all these people who were supposedly randomly picked up off the street seem so fluent in karate… well, that’s never adequately explained. Jekyll tries to write it off in one scene as them being prison volunteers who just so happen to all know martial arts. But considering he’s up to his sixteenth victim at this point, unless his kidnapping thug is intentionally swiping people up off the street from right outside the karate dojo, that seems pretty implausible, even by crappy B-movie logic. If these were just randos I guarantee there would be a lot more clawing, slapping, hair pulling, and nut punching. On the plus side though, all the fights on display, while often feeling savage and unsettling, seem to be rather well choreographed with actual people who know what they’re doing, so that’s a nice touch, even if it’s obvious that close to half their attacks are clearly missing their opponents by a country mile. So it’s not perfect, and all the sequences last far, FAR too long, but at least it’s clear that they put some thought and planning into the fight scenes. Which is more than can be said for the rest of the film.


This movie has some of the worst dialogue and cheesiest acting you’re likely to come across in a film like this, and the fault for that mostly sits squarely at the feet of Director/Writer James Wood and Writer/Main Protagonist James Mathers. The script and dialogue for this film are absolutely horrendous. The plot is basically non-existent, or at least not nearly full enough to fill the full 90-minute runtime they were aiming at. So scenes are needlessly stretched out, or repeated, seemingly just for the sake of filling time. Characters often repeat the same lines of dialogue from scene to scene over and over again with no variation (though, in fairness, how many different ways can you call a guy crazy?) And that’s assuming what they’re saying even makes sense to begin with. Jekyll’s motivation and train of logic are basically indecipherable, which I’m sure you can partly write-off as him just being a crazy loon, but that doesn’t explain everything that comes out of his mouth. During the beginning of the film he spends time talking vaguely about getting ‘revenge’ in regards to Julia’s father Professor Atkinson, but we never learn what he wants revenge for. Then by the time you hit the halfway point Jekyll seems to have moved on to trying to convince Atkinson to help him with his experiments, and the movie seems to have completely forgotten about that little revenge sub-plot entirely. Even the positively portrayed Atkinson doesn’t fare much better. When Jekyll shows him a video of his ‘experiments’, the professor continually interrupts Jekyll’s dialogue to tell him how awful he is, yet at no point does he take steps to do something as simple as, say, turn the projector off or even leave the room. He just passively continues to sit there, complain, and yet still watch the film. I know British people are all about manners and decorum and shit, but seriously dude, that doesn’t apply to being forced to watch your host’s snuff film. Just leave.


No, don’t stay the night! LEAVE.

Then there’s the acting which, despite consisting of six main and secondary characters, basically boils down to a two-man show between James Mathers as Jekyll and John Kearney as Atkinson. Why? Because beyond the cop that shows up at the end, the rest of the characters don’t have any lines. Dawn Carver Kelly’s role as Julia’s consists of nothing more than vague mumbling and screaming. Jekyll’s sister Hilda, played by Nadine Kalmes, has no lines due to a lobotomy, and only expresses herself with moans, shrieks of pain, and intent, bug-eyed staring accompanied by a creepy grin. And Jekyll’s two flunkies, Boris and Malo, played by Jake Pearson and Tom Nickleson respectively, don’t get to say anything either. Hell, Nicholson doesn’t even get the privilege of a grunt. So rather than experience some kind of ensemble cast, instead we just get to watch Mathers’ absolutely hammy and sometimes hysterically over-the-top performance of an increasingly unhinged Jekyll as he yells, tortures people and spouts complete nonsense. Kearney’s Atkinson is subdued by comparison. He’s basically the Anti-Jekyll, and I have a feeling he was meant to be Jekyll’s polar opposite, but he repeats himself so much, and is often given so little to do that he comes across as too distant, to the point that he almost feels completely detached from what he’s doing or even what’s going on around him.


This is it. This is her whole schtick.


They used this exact same scene for his reaction shots three separate times.

I’ve read comments about Dr. Jekyll’s Dungeon of Death’s poor video quality, but the streaming version that appears to be circulating now seems to be from the Bluray restoration done by Vinegar Syndrome, so while other parts of the film are a mess, the visuals at least look pretty decent. The dark shadows have been cleared up, the colors really pop, and everything looks like a classic gothic horror piece, as I’m sure it was originally intended. Except for those moments when characters appear to be located in a black, featureless void.


I think they were just trying to kill time with most of these, honestly.


Sadly it happens a lot…

It’s just too bad the rest of the movie is often such a confusing mess, because Dr. Jekyll’s Dungeon of Death is the only instance of a Gothic/Martial arts themed mash-up that I can think of. Which sounds like a combination that should be super fun, but alas, in this instance it is not. Instead it’s more often a rather tedious, chaotic garble of dialogue and plodding or laughable scenes. Jekyll’s an evil creep of the highest order and his many twisted and violent predilections make for an interesting and despicable villain, but that isn’t enough to make up for the long moments of tedium, the outlandish acting, or the boring plot (that really sounds like it should be more fun, but isn’t.) If you’re interested in the curious or oddball exploitation flicks of the 70’s, then by all means, give this one a look-see. Just be sure to prepare yourself before you do.

Dr. Jekyll’s Dungeon of Death is available on a variety of streaming services.

Dr. Jekyll’s Dungeon of Death is also available on DVD. There’s also a Limited Edition Bluray, but it is out of print.



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