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April 10, 2016

Movie Review: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osbourne (aka Dr. Jekyll and His Women, 1981)

Directed by Walerian Borowczyk

Movie Review by Greg Goodsell

In Victorian, fog-shrouded London, the engagement party of Dr. Henry Jekyll (Udo Kier) and Fanny Osbourne (Marina Pierro) is underway at a stately manse. Among their many guests are bellicose general (Patrick Magee, the only actor who has to retain his authentic voice for the English language version of the film) (Jesus Franco go-to lead Howard Vernon). Something is not right – an innocent young girl has been beaten to within an inch of her life nearby and a deadly figure begins to stalk the home, murdering and raping the guests. It’s Jekyll's alter ego Edward Hyde (Gérard Zalcberg), transformed after a chemical dip in amber liquid in the bathtub. Fanny is first horrified – but then insists that what is good for the gander is good for the goose and takes a similar dip. Unleashing both their primal, animalistic sides, Fanny and Hyde decimate the remaining guests and set the house ablaze.

The above story is very tragic – but as this supplement-heavy Btu-Ray from Arrow Video (comparable Criterion Collection releases pale in comparison) attests to, the real tragedy was the fact that Walerian Borowczyk was a serious, artistic filmmaker who was pressed out of economic necessity to helm soft and hardcore pornography along with B-grade horror.

Borowcyzk, while creating works of erotica, appeared to have a dim view on this method to get paying customers into theaters. A two-minute short included on this disc, Happy Toy (1979) features simple Victorian rotoscoped images (a girl skipping rope, boys jumping) which through a few haphazard frames is rendered pornographic. A police officer’s whistle is heard, and the film ends. It must be noted that while there is sexual content in Dr. Jekyll, with longing looks at the barely draped Pierro, the blood and gore is all patently unrealistic and ridiculous.

Borowczyk’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osbourne is a low-budget Gothic horror (albeit one with Academy Award-level photography and unusually strong cast) played in a single setting. However, as film fanatic Michael Brooke says in his 32-minute plus appreciation included on this disc says, it was more than enough to send him scurrying into researching Borowczyk’s other films as a result into what initially began as a side-trip in a flea-bag theater on a slow day. Doesn’t it always start that way?

It’s a mixture of fanaticism and love that informs this Blu-Ray release, clearly the be-all and end-all of all things Borowcyzk. We begin with the commentary track: Not one, but SIX edited together commentaries from the film's cinematographer Noel Very, editor Khadica Beriha, assistant Michael Levy, filmmaker Noeli Simsoio, moderated by Daniel Bird – all recorded in different years on different continents – as well as an archived interview with Borowcyzk himself! WOW! All of the interview subject sing of Walerian's accomplishments as an artist of most every discipline (filmmaking, sculpture, painting).

Then there are the interviews: an 11-minute interview with star Udo Kier, who was initially approached by Walerian to be involved in a project about Gilles de Rais, a medieval monster who raped and killed scores of helpless boys. There is also a 20-minute interview with actor Marina Pierro, one of Walerian's closest collaborators and supporters. She shares that while they both shared interest in surrealist art, that she was cast in Walerian's projects based on her looks. An interview with Sarah Mollinson discusses Walerian's collaborations with Hungarian animator Piotr Foldes, whose most recognizable work was the early computer animation short “Hunger,” a horrific short seen frequently on public television that traumatized many young viewers, ye reviewer included.

Included in the short film section is Borowcyzk's final film, the 16-minute Himorogi, combines all of Borowcyzk previous obsessions: animation, black-and-white juxtaposed with color imagery, and the life of inanimate objects. Included in the interview section is a 10-minute interview with Pierro who describes Walerian's unique working and artistic processes.

Other extras on this disc are the 15-minute “Phantasmagoria of the Interior” by Adrian Martin and Christina Alvarez Lopez, a visual essay n the repeat motifs found in this film and the director’s other work.

There is also the featurette “Eyes That Listen” on avant-garde composer Bernard Parmegiani, 10 minutes long that details his film score for the film at hand and other Borowcysk features. There is the brief six-minute short “Return to Méliès: Borowczyk and Early Cinema,” on the director’s love with silent film. There is the film’s theatrical trailer, a reversible sleeve with artwork with the film’s original poster design. And an exhaustively researched booklet.

Anyone with a passing interest in European cinema and Borowczyk should scoop this up toot sweet.

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