Friday, 22 May 2015

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Miss Osbourne (1981)

Walerian Borowczyk and Arrow Films strike again with a beautifully restored version of one of the director's more difficult to see works. THE STRANGE CASE OF DR JEKYLL & MISS OSBORNE has been known under a number of titles over the years. I originally saw it under its on-screen title here of DR JEKYLL ET LES FEMMES. In fact the title was pretty much all I saw, as the print was so poor it was difficult to make out much else, particularly during the darker sequences.

We're in the realms of art house-horror, with the emphasis distinctly on the former. Anyone coming to this film expecting any kind of straightforward Robert Louis Stevenson adaptation is going to be disappointed, possibly shocked, and quite likely not a little bored. Mr Stevenson gets a name check, but this is essentially Borowczyk all the way, and if you're not a fan of this auteur this one's unlikely to convert you.

In Victorian London guests converge at the house of Dr Henry Jekyll (a thinner than thin Udo Kier) to celebrate his engagement to Fanny Osbourne (Marina Pierro, who looks as if she could quite comfortably put her screen fiance under her arm and carry him off to her cave). The guests consist of, amongst others, a doctor (Jess Franco standby Howard Vernon), a military man (beautifully bonkers Patrick Magee, all in scarlet to match his face) and a priest. There are also various ladies who are due to end up in assorted states of undress and bloodedness. As the night goes on the house is invaded by the evil Mr Hyde who proceeds to wreak havoc with his huge (prosthetic) willy. 

Of course, we all know who this fellow actually is, so Borowoczyk quite sensibly doesn't waste much time (or any special effects) detailing Udo's transformation into an entirely different actor. As Dr Jekyll's house guests end up the subject of a catalogue of rape, flogging and murder, the viewer is left to appreciate Mr Borowczyk's rather singular take on the Dr Jekyll tale, using it to not just trash Victorian society, but suggest that Mr Hyde might actually be the hero of the tale (or at least the natural result of such repression), rather than the villain.

Despite the abundance of blood, nudity, deviant behaviour and scenes that remain shocking to this day, Borowczyk's DR JEKYLL won't be for everyone, and it certainly won't be for every horror fan. Made the same year as FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2 and AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, this is definitely one for the art-house rather the popcorn crowd. Conversations about transcendence ramble on over dinner, the few action scenes feel deliberately static, and the gory bits are presented with a minimum of sensationalism. Think of one of Jean Rollin's slower films set indoors and that might give you an idea of what this is like.

Arrow's presentation of DR JEKYLL on Blu-ray is, as every other review has already stated, a revelation to those of us who first discovered the film in one of its previous awful incarnations. Night scenes are clear (the opening pursuit of the little girl looks marvellous) and the action in some of the almost pitch black scenes inside the house can now be made out. There are two language options. I would suggest the French dialogue track with subtitles if you are in an art-house mood, or the English language option if you fancy revisiting the days of dodgy dubbed Euro-filth (with added genuine Patrick Magee!). Extras include a commentary that incorporates archival interviews, a couple of short films, interviews with Marina Pierro and a number of other Borowczyk collaborators, as well as a piece on composer Bernard Parmegiani. There's also an introduction by Michael Brooke, a trailer, a booklet, and a video essay.

Arrow Films released Walerian Borowczyk's THE STRANGE CASE OF DR JEKYLL & MISS OSBOURNE on dual format Region 2 DVD and Region B Blu-ray on 11th May 2015

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