All Hallow’s Lee – I, MONSTER
I, MONSTER, YOU OKAY
by Anne Margaret Almirall
I was unaware of I, Monster (1971) until a few weeks ago, but I was immediately struck by its title, which made me think of I, Madman (1989) because I enjoy that film very much and then I thought of “I, I, I want the knife” from The Golden Child for no particular reason. The point is, I watched I, Monster, starring Christopher Lee as Dr. Charles Marlowe, a psychologist practicing the then new and experimental Freudian method of psychoanalysis. Marlowe (Lee) invents a drug that is intended to release his patients’ inhibitions by suppressing their superego until the antidote for the drug is given. Things get serious when Marlowe decides to conduct repeat testing of the drug on himself only to become the evil-meanie-pants, Edward Blake (also played by Lee).
If this sounds familiar, you are probably acquainted with Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde or you’ve made the mistake of folding my mother’s towels the wrong way.
The film opens with a brief pan over of Marlowe’s lab; it’s dark, things are bubbling and there is a monkey and a cat, you know how labs are. This is followed by a stiff conversation over stiff drinks with a few of Marlowe’s pals and colleagues involving the separation of good and evil. “Every man has two sides and they can be separated. Which would you choose?” For me, it depends on the holiday and whiskey. Marlowe discusses his intention to try a drug he has developed that is intended to remove one’s inhibitions, hopefully opening up the potential of much more successful psychotherapy sessions and probably nudity. Marlowe’s lawyer and friend, Frederick Utterson, played by Peter Cushing, advises him to protect himself with legal documents before experimenting on his patients with a new, never-tested drug with the potential for mean, terrible things to happen, like murder, rape, beatings, running amok and loads of taunting.
Marlowe passes on the legal advice and instead decides to inject himself with the drug; moments before the needle pricks his arm, his cat meows and seems like a better option for testing. Things did not go as planned and as they say, “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry and then you are beating your deranged, angry cat to death with a blunt object and then covering it with your Tuesday evening cape.” As luck would have it, one of Marlowe’s extremely repressed female patients shows up unexpectedly to see him claiming to be in need of an emergency session. She says she is willing try anything to be able to freely share her subjugated feelings. She didn’t see the whole cat thing. Once his patient is injected, she begins to ask him really personal questions like, “Do you like, like me?” and then she licks her wrist and drops trou. “Can you resist the body of a woman?” He could, but he also considered this test run a success and decides to try it on another patient, the furious, yelling, red-faced, bloated business man who turns into a sobbing, terrified little boy with business daddy issues. Marlowe can see that things are going great and it is time to inject himself and find out what happens with repeat dosages.
Upon the first use, there is an immediate transformation in Marlowe’s face, but it is subtle, mostly grinning excessively and having uncharacteristically prancy eyes. Marlowe becomes his alter ego, Edward Blake, and Blake hits the street and begins pushing people around willy-nilly, laughing a lot and starting little knife fights. With each successive injection and transformation, Blake gets physically uglier, his crimes and general evilness intensify and children find him gross. At this point, Marlowe is still able to maintain separate lives and meet up with friends to converse about the increase in crimes being committed solely for the joy of committing them lately. “There are no such crimes.” Then why did I spend hours applying bologna and Twizzlers to Neal McNamara’s car in high school?
The mysterious Blake has really begun to make a name for himself around town now because of all of the brutal attacks, monster face and his snazzy evening attire. Marlowe’s lawyer, Utterson, even starts to suspect that Blake is blackmailing Marlowe and tries to approach him, which only gets him a lousy cane-near-the-face-shaking and some grunts. Marlowe finally decides his experiment has gone too far and that he must stop taking the drug for good. Alas, just like the time I was locked in a horse stall with an enthusiastic naked guy, it is too late; the transformation now occurs without the drug and, to borrow a psychological term, he suffers from an even more severe case of The Bow Wow Mutton Mug than before. Things don’t end well for Marlowe/Blake and I believe Sigmund Freud said it best after a particularly trying day of shoe shopping, “You’re fucked and then you catch on fire and bump into some paintings and fall down the stairs.” I, Monster, you’re okay. Christopher Lee, your formidable presence and dark, suave demeanor made every film that you were in worthwhile and the numerous roles you played memorable (even if the fact that your character beat the house cat to a bloody pulp at the beginning and it never came up again and no one knows what was going on with that monkey); this was no exception.