The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Miss Osbourne (1981) | Walerian Borowczyk’s ravishing take on the classic tale is ripe for reappraisal on Blu-ray
Walerian Borocywck’s 1981 arthouse take on Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic allegorical tale is a ravishingly surreal oddity laced with satirical dark humour, an important work within the director’s oeuvre, and one of the best interpretations of the iconic story. Now, from Arrow in the UK, the French-West German erotic thriller has been given an exclusive Blu-ray release.
‘Long live the novelty of my sensations!’
A gentile engagement party for Dr Henry Jekyll (Udo Kier) and his fiancée, Fanny Osbourne (Marina Pierro) descends into murder and mayhem when a madman breaks into Dr Jekyll’s London townhouse and starts raping and killing his guests. But why is the good doctor never around whenever another guest comes under attack?
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Miss Osbourne is like peeping through a Victorian Mutoscope, where an Orton-esque farce or a scandalous Bunuel-esque drama unfolds like a perverse wet dream. Rape, sodomy and murder are all carried out in dark corners, behind flapping velvet curtains and closed doors, involving the pillars of Victorian society, before a bizarre metaphysical marriage of flesh, blood and sexuality brings the waking nightmare to a delirious climax…
If Borocywck wanted to place us inside Louis Stevenson’s own fever-infected unconscious when he dreamt up his original 1885 Jekyll and Hyde manuscript while recovering from a serious illness, then he certainly nailed it with this 1981 erotic thriller. And if he wanted to portray Jekyll’s transformation as a violent rebellious assault on Victorian morality, taste and decency, then he nailed that too.
With a meticulous eye for detail in the film’s sets, décor and ephemera, and gorgeous soft-focus camerawork that evokes sepia photo montages of old (like the work of Oscar Gustav Rejlander), Borocywck’s barely-seen film (it was only ever screened in soft-core sex theatres and arthouse cinemas) will make you swoon or snore – depending on what kind of cinephile you are.
While I’m a big fan of Borowczyk’s aesthetics, what really drew me here was Udo Keir (as Jekyll) and Patrick Magee – two character actors whose careers have often skirted cinema’s lunatic fringe. I love them both in whatever they do (good, bad or dreadful), and Magee (playing a pervy General) certainly doesn’t disappoint, especially as his inimitable booming voice is retained on the dubbed English track.
Euro-cinema’s go-to weirdo Keir, meanwhile, is far more restrained than usual (he’s also dubbed, which is a pity), and doesn’t get to let loose except in the film’s key transformative bath scene – in which he thrashes about like a big kid at bath time – before turning into the eyebrow-less Mr Hyde (Gérard Zalcberg).
But the film’s most memorable moment – and it’s most accomplished – is the film’s long final scene in which Hyde/Jekyll and Fanny literally feast on each other inside a hansom carriage as it races through a fog-bound London. It’s key to Borowczyk’s themes of transcendence that get lost amid the shouting and sodomy earlier on in the film, but which play out with brutal beautiful carnality.
While Borowczyk is best known for his sensational erotic offerings like The Beast and Immoral Tales, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Miss Osbourne is a poetically macabre offering that’s ripe for reappraisal and this meticulously-curated Arrow release is the way to go. It also looks and sounds fantastique, and makes for a great companion piece to the Borowczyk retrospective box set that Arrow released back in 2014 (and which quickly sold out).
THE ARROW ACADEMY RELEASE
• New 2K restoration (in all its diffused loveliness), scanned from the original camera negative and supervised by cinematographer Noël Véry, with restored English and French soundtracks in LPCM 1.0, and optional English subtitles.
• Audio commentary featuring a 1981 interview with Walerian Borowczyk and new interviews with cinematographer Noël Véry, editor Khadicha Bariha, assistant Michael Levy and filmmaker Noël Simsolo.
• Happy Toy (1979): arty short based on Charles-Émile Reynaud’s praxinoscope, which reveal’s Borowczyk’s naughty sensationalist side.
• Himorogi (2012): this wordless short by Marina and Alessio Pierro is a sight and sound response to Borowczyk’s aesthetics.
• Interviews with Udo Keir, Marina Pierro, Alessio Pierro (on Himorogi), Sarah Mallinson and Peter Foldes.
• Appreciation by Michael Brooke.
• Eyes That Listen: featurette on composer Bernard Parmegiani.
• Phantasmagoria of the Interior: video essay by Adrian Martin and Cristina Alvarez Lopez.
• Returning to Méliès – Borowczyk and Early Cinema: featurette by Daniel Bird.
• Theatrical trailer.
• Reversible sleeve with artwork based on Borowczyk’s own poster design.
• Booklet, with new writing and archive materials (Daniel Bird and Michael Brooke have great fun with the production credits).
Posted on May 20, 2015, in Avant Garde, Exploitation, Horror, Might See, Might See, World Cinema and tagged 1980s erotic horror, ARROW ACADEMY, Arrow Films & Video, Exploitation, Might See, Patrick Magee, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Miss Osbourne, Udo Keir, Walerian Borowczyk, World Cinema. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.