Walerian Borowczyk’s The Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll And Miss Osbourne is a straight up shot of arty nightmare fuel that will seep into your pores and haunt you for a while after viewing. The director takes the classic Robert Louis Stevenson tale and like the perverse Jekyll and Hyde here (played here by Udo Kier and Gérard Zalcberg), has his way with the it and creates a pretty stunning and memorable piece of work. This isn’t your garden variety horror flick of the week and nope, it’s not for the kids or easily disturbed at all.
During an engagement party for Jekyll and Fanny Osbourne (Marina Pierro), sexual violence and assorted murders take place over the course of one terrifying evening. Initially, women are targeted but no one is safe from the clutches of Hyde’s perversions. Despite the mansion’s visitors and staff being whittled down every few minutes, none of the well-heeled guests has a clue as to who’s the culprit. As the debauchery continues, Miss Osbourne gets a clue as she’s looking for a hiding spot and spies Jekyll going through his transformation in a can’t take your eyes off the screen scene. Does she flee the mansion and try to find help or at least attempt to escape with her life? Let’s just say Fanny is repulsed on one hand, curiously compelled on the other and the combination makes her want to take a dip into that bathtub full of chemicals.
(thanks, Arrow Video!)
Somewhere in the orgy of weirdness, Hyde and Osbourne meet and it’s not quite love at first sight. Yet the pair can’t stay apart and things take an interesting twisteroo before the finale sweeps you away with its swirling eroticism after all that carnage that’s taken place.
Borowczyk is well known for his confrontational erotic art films such as La Bête (The Beast), Contes immoraux (Immoral Tales), among others. As in those films (and much of his output), there’s plenty of nudity and sexual content in your face. It’s hard to take your eyes off Kier and Pierro’s unique looks, but Zalcberg’s Hyde will make you want to creep under the carpet every time he appears on screen.
There’s also a mix of languid pacing and shocking violence as Mr. Hyde tears through the mansion’s guest list with relish. Not all the crimes are on the bad doctor, by the way. There’s a case of mistaken identity that leads to one death by gunfire (oops) and poor Patrick Magee gets his in a pretty painful manner made doubly so by having his daughter involved in his demise. It’s also a very funny film in spots if you’re open minded enough to catch the jokes it tosses your way. Then again, given how the film opens it’s going to be tough for some viewers to find much to chuckle at. Just consider it a beautiful and bizarre fever dream where you’ll wake up when it’s all over with and that may help.
(thanks, Arrow Video!)
Back to that transformation scene for a minute. Borowczyk wisely decided to not use a variation on the two classic Jekyll to Hyde scenes (1931’s with Fredric March and 1941’s with Spencer Tracy, instead opting for something unique. There’s a bit of that scene in the video above and like Fanny viewing it from her wardrobe hiding spot, you’ll be glued to the tube as the shy but sly Jekyll changes into his molesting and murderous alter ego. I’ll admit to getting a laugh during this sequence because it sure looks like a bathtub full of hot coffee that turns man into monster. If I were Hyde, Fanny could have stopped me cold with a pint of cream and freshly made Madelines.
For all the nastiness taking place, Noël Véry’s dreamlike cinematography and unsettling electronic score by Bernard Parmegiani blend perfectly, yet give the film the effect of an Ergot and Absinthe-powered restless night. The gauzy yet dark, dreamlike look to the film is intentional and the brand new 2K restoration (scanned from the original camera negative and supervised by cinematographer Noël Very) is quite lovely even with all the not so nice goings on taking place. As usual, Arrow Video has packed the Blu-Ray with some nice must-watch special features:
English and French soundtracks in LPCM 1.0 with optional English and English SDH subtitles
Introduction by critic and long-term Borowczyk fan Michael Brooke
Audio commentary featuring archival interviews with Walerian Borowczyk, Udo Kier, Marina Pierro and producer Robert Kuperberg, and new interviews with cinematographer Noël Véry, editor Khadicha Bariha, assistant Michael Levy and writer / director Noël
Interview with Marina Pierro
Himorogi (2012), a short film by Marina and Alessio Pierro, made in homage to Borowczyk
Interview with artist and filmmaker Alessio Pierro
Video essay by Adrian Martin and Cristina Alvarez Lopez
Eyes That Listen, a featurette on Borowczyk’s collaborations with electro-acoustic composer Bernard Parmegiani
Returning to Melies: Borowczyk and Early Cinema, a featurette by Daniel Bird
My review copy was disc-only, so I didn’t get the reversible sleeve with artwork based on Borowczyk’s own poster design or booklet with new writing on the film by Daniel Bird and archive materials, illustrated with rare stills. Ah well, but as with the other Arrow Blu-Rays I’ve reviewed, if the booklets are as well produced as the films, they just add to the value. Depending on your tastes and level of adventurousness, all those bonuses might make a few of you seek out some of Borowczyk’s other works. Prepare for an eye-popping adult education of sorts, particularly if your idea of “normal” sexual behavior revolves around “reality” TV and what Lifetime movies you can binge on over a rainy weekend.