Review: The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Miss Osbourne
Blu-ray: The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Miss Osbourne (1981)
At the engagement party of Dr Henry Jekyll (Udo Kier) and his fiancée, Fanny Osbourne (Marina Pierro), people begin to disappear. When brutilised bodies turn up it soon becomes clear that a madman has broken into the house , but who is responsible and why does Dr Jekyll keep sneaking off to his laboratory?
I’ve never seen any of Walerian Borowczyk’s films and sadly missed out on Arrow’s box set before Christmas. So in an effort to get behind the man, the myth, I watched the incredible extras on this disc before the film. Arrow, for me, are the emperors of extras and this package is positively packed with them. Along with several films by, and influenced by Borowczyk is a superb piece on his career by Michael Brooke, and although he does look slightly uneasy talking straight to camera, it’s a very interesting and informative piece (in future Arrow, get Mr Brooke filmed ‘Properly’!). I’m glad I watched these extras first as they gave me a real insight into the director and prepared me for the film itself as I think my opinion would have been slightly different if I had no ‘background’ on the man and his previous works.
Here we have a version of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, with added girlfriend. The film itself is quite insular insomuch as it doesn’t really leave the vast, twisty, Victorian mansion. Despite the size of the rooms and the concentration of gazing at the décor and inanimate objects, it is still claustrophobic. The story itself is straight forward; Dr Jekyll turns into Mr Hyde and rapes and murders everyone who crosses his path. No one ever questions where the good Dr is during these attacks, and when he re-appears looking a bit breathless and damp no one really notices. But that’s not the point of the story, it is of course our two selves, evil versus good and what we are capable of. The difference being in this story is that we also see the doctor’s girlfriend transform and become one with the ‘evil’ doctor.
Udo Keir as the Dr is rather restrained in this film and gives a credible performance, with Gerard Zalcberg playing the mad Hyde complete with massive erect bright red penis. Although Borowczyk’s film played in a lot of porn cinema’s and he had a reputation for making ‘questionable’ films (porn), despite it’s rather graphic content (that big red cock) it’s definitely not porn. It reminded me of a more sexualised Hammer Horror.
The film itself is beautiful to behold; misty and dreamy in that languid Peter Weir ‘Picnic at Hanging Rock’ way. So very European, the light glows like a Vermeer (that’s mentioned several times in the script), that lingering camera casts the eye back to some 17th century painting. As Udo looks into the camera as he changes, his yellow eyes glow like a beatific icon. The electronic soundtrack is perfect as producing a sense of foreboding.
This is a film I need to watch again, and probably review again after I’ve had time to really think about it. But in the meantime – this is a definite buy. I honestly can’t label it, to me it’s neither horror or art, but a dream. It’s certainly made me want to seek out Borowczyk’s other films. Another amazing release from Arrow, special Kudos to Brooks and Simonetti!
SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS:
- Brand new 2K restoration, scanned from the original camera negative and supervised by cinematographer Noël Véry
- High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentation of the film, released on both formats for the first time anywhere in the world
- English and French soundtracks in LPCM 1.0
- 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 filmmaker Noël Simsolo, moderated by Daniel Bird
- 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
- Jouet Jouyeux (1979), a short film by Borowczyk based on Charles-Émile Reynaud’s praxinoscope
- Interview with Sarah Mallinson, former assistant to Borowczyk and fellow animator Peter Foldes
- Returning to Méliès: Borowczyk and Early Cinema, a featurette by Daniel Bird
- Theatrical trailer with optional commentary by editor Khadicha Bariha
- Reversible sleeve with artwork based on Borowczyk’s own poster design
- illustrated booklet with new writing on the film by Daniel Bird and archive pieces by Walerian Borowczyk and Andre Pieyre de Mandiargues
Review by Tina (co-host of 60 Minutes With) from a disc kindly supplied by Arrow Films.