Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Review: The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Miss Osbourne (1981)

The synopsis of this film reads: 'It’s the engagement party for brilliant young Dr Henry Jekyll (Udo Kier) and his fiancée, the beautiful Fanny Osbourne (Marina Pierro), attended by various pillars of Victorian society, including the astonishing Patrick Magee in one of his final roles. But when people are found raped and murdered outside and ultimately inside the house, it becomes clear that a madman has broken in to disrupt the festivities – but who is he? And why does Dr Jekyll keep sneaking off to his laboratory?'

Why indeed? This film is one of those which can be examined in detail, the meanings and interpretations pored over ... and yet as a film, it is really not that enjoyable, mainly because it doesn't make much sense, eschewing style and interpretation over actual plot. Much of the film seems to consist of people running about an old house, along corridors, up and down stairs, and opening and closing doors. The director has a habit of focussing the camera on certain apparently unimportant elements in shot rather than actually trying to create a meaningful narrative, and so the viewer is left wondering what is going on.

When you add to this a soft porn element, such that the women are beaten and abused sexually, with the camera lingering on blood on flesh, buttocks and pubic regions, then the film starts to move from being a horror film (which perhaps it purports to be) into some other genre of voyeuristic and tacky film making.

Watching the film, the plot is pretty impenetrable, and the above description is about all you can discern. There are some great characters, in particular Udo Kier as Dr Jekyll who manages to just about stay serene and above it all, and also Patrick Magee as a somewhat mad general, who bizarrely gives a sheaf of poisoned arrows, and bow, as an engagement present (lucky that these become useful later in the film to kill off most of the characters), but who also has a daughter who suddenly decides to be ravished by Mr Hyde in front of her father, and he then whips her and kills her (perhaps for her act of decadence, it's not clear).

As with most Jekyll/Hyde films, there's the transformation element, and here it is quite cumbersome. It seems that to transform into Hyde, Jekyll needs to bathe and submerge himself orgiastically in a bath of some sort of mysterious salts ... emerging as the transformed Mr Hyde (played by another actor, Gerard Zalcberg). This takes place over several minutes while Jekyll's fiancée Fanny (Marina Pierro) watches from a hiding place in the bathroom. He then heads off to indulge in a mania of destruction and killing throughout the house, until Fanny decides to transform herself, despite the fact that to change back, Hyde needs some sort of potion provided by the doctor (Howard Vernon), and there is none of this left. So she bathes in the red waters, followed by Jekyll, and then both Hyde and a contact-lensed Fanny head away from the house in a coach, ravishing each other as they go.

It's a strange film indeed. As I say, very hard to follow as the plot is obscure, and full of long, meaningful shots and portentous camera work. The sexual elements are not enjoyable, and sit uneasily with the horror stylings, and things seem to happen just because they can, eschewing plot and logic.

There are some aspects which I liked. The incidental music is electronic and atonal, and works to highlight the action well. Kier is very good as Jekyll as I say, and some of the camera work and lighting is very nicely handled. Overall for me, though, it's a thumbs down. Not a film I suspect I will be watching again.

As usual, Arrow have included an impressive package of extras, including two short films by the director, interviews and documentaries exploring his work.

Special Features

·         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 SDH and English subtitles
·         Introduction by critic and long-term Borowczyk fan Michael Brooke
·         Audio commentary featuring archival interviews with Walerian Borowczyk 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
·         Phantasmagoria of the Interior, a video essay by Adrian Martin and Cristina Alvarez Lopez
·         Eyes That Listen, a featurette on Borowczyk’s collaborations with electro-acoustic composer Bernard Parmegiani
·         Happy Toy (1979), a short film by Borowczyk based on Charles-Émile Reynaud’s praxinoscope
·         Introduction to Happy Toy by production assistant Sarah Mallinson
·         Returning to Return: Borowczyk and Early Cinema, a featurette by Daniel Bird
·         Reversible sleeve with artwork based on Borowczyk’s own poster design

·         Booklet with new writing on the film by Daniel Bird and archive materials, illustrated with rare stills

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