Sadism, sleaze and slaughter
Darkly titillating and wryly amusing, this is a very strange case indeedWhilst a bevy of pompous house-guests bicker over his theories on transcendental medicine, the esteemed Dr. Henry Jekyll’s potion addiction proves that they will, one by one, become intimately and fatefully acquainted with his new discovery. For, lurking in the shadows of a vast London mansion is his alter-ego, Mr. Hyde, a primal force of absolute depravity and evil, unleashed without moral restraint, nor mercy. Though perhaps the love and devotion of Miss Fanny Osbourne can quell the raging beast? Or maybe... she’ll just make things worse. Set over one night of sadism, sleaze and slaughter, Polish-born cult filmmaker Walerian Borowczyk’s once censor-troubling voyage through bestial split-personalities pokes an absurdist finger in the eye of Victorian repression.The film also makes for one of the more unusual examinations of Robert Louis Stevenson’s most famous and oft-adapted novel. It stars the genre veteran Udo Kier, who plays the misguided doctor, along with Gerard Zalcberg as the volatile, brow-less Mr. Hyde and Marina Pierro as the sultry Renaissance paramour, Miss Osbourne. It's the latter who must somehow tame them both and as a result Strange Case is a dreamy riot of sexual anarchy and unbridled desires. Whilst gender-baiting and taboo-breaking, Borowcyk’s notorious film is also a sumptuous visual treat that is too flamboyant to be truly nasty, and much too decorative to really disturb. Nevertheless, once seen, it is not easily forgotten.
Blu-ray Picture QualityArrow’s release is completely uncut and has been scanned at 2K from the original camera negative, with colour timing supervised by the film’s cinematographer Noël Véry. The film is presented with an aspect ratio of 1.66:1 and uses an AVC encode.
Hazy, glowing and radiant, Borowczyk’s parlour-room rampage is about as visually dream-like as they come. The image is soft, yet detailed, subdued yet punctuated with vibrancy. Reds, for instance, shriek deliberately from the screen, piercing the gauzy ambience. The General’s red tunic burns, and the blood-red billowing drapes and monstrous penis of Mr. Hyde positively gleam at times. The occasional splotches of gore are similarly bright. Véry’s photography – a wondrous combination of fluid, handheld and formally static – is sensually lit, leading to penumbra-like shimmering around characters and objects. This is not artificial sharpening, and the silvery haloes are all part of the image. And don’t waste your time trying to seek out any traces of DNR. You won’t find any.
Blacks are deep and all but impenetrable
The image retains its grain structure and exhibits nothing in the way of damage, or age-related wear and tear. The painstaking restoration undertaken by the reliably ubiquitous James White has seen to it that the picture has lost none of its original and distinctively diffuse ambience, and that any digital clean-up work has left no evidence of itself behind. The image looks deep and very film-like, and is a real pleasure to view.
Stylistically, contrast is rather soft, conforming to that shimmering, muted and half-delineated period aesthetic that Borowczk is after. Blacks are deep and all but impenetrable. Some may cry “Crush!” but I found the shadows to be exact, fulsome and totally in harmony with the profoundly atmospheric mood of a gothic stately home suffused with dark secrets and vaulted desires. Despite the willowy lighting, these shadows are never compromised or diluted. Skin-tones are pale, but faithful. When faces come in close, they reveal incredible detail, especially on the male countenances when we can survey pores, spots and blemishes as though the actors were really standing before us.
Gerard Zalcberg’s visage as Mr Hyde, whilst hardly the ape-man of Robert Mamoulian’s version, or the grotesque gypsy of John Barrymore from 1920, is still remarkably shuddersome. Close-ups reveal those feral eyes, cadaverous skin and rivulets of blood or diseased potion to an unsettling degree. When subjects move further away, we lose a fair amount of definition. No level of scanning or resolution is ever going to rectify this. It is all down to the photography and the lighting. Figures in the background are often slightly out of focus, and there are times when a character is only partially visible amid sections of blackness. The few exterior shots are filtered with a sombre midnight blue that permeates all. I detected no hint of blanding.
This is another fine restoration from Arrow and fans of Borowczyk can rest easy that this eccentric and semi-erotic classic has been treated with the utmost respect.
A very solid 8 out of 10.
Blu-ray Sound QualityArrow’s release carries three audio options:
Track 1 - English soundtrack, English SDH subtitles (default off)
Track 2 - French soundtrack, English translation subtitles (default on)
Track 3 - Commentary, English translation subtitles where necessary (default on)
Both the English and French tracks are LPCM 1.0
I stuck with the English track because with that one you get to hear the wonderful voice of Patrick Magee, who positively owns the film as the debauched, arrogant, lascivious and rather foolish General. Now, you will already understand that this is a dubbed audio track, and those of you familiar with the usual bugaboo of warped synchronicity of Italian genre films should have no problem with the wayward vocals. But, it has to be said that the dubbing here is atrocious, even by those standards. The voices, however, all come over with clarity, especially that stone-chewing Irish rasp from Magee.
There is some background hiss on the track, but this hardly registers and will not distract. Overall, the audio sounds quite clear and crisp, although naturally very limited in scope. For a film that contains numerous physical assaults, a few gunshots, crashing props and poisoned arrows flying about, the whole affair is decidedly subdued. Even with victims screaming amid slaps and the thrashing from a cane, there is little to trouble the neighbours.
What effects there are come across reasonably well. Nothing is drowned-out or lost. There is even some attention paid to the signing-in of the doomed visitors in the guest book. We can readily hear the light scraping of the pen against the page as each puts their moniker down. But the most emphatic element is the unique and experimental electronic score from Bernard Parmegiani, whose anachronistic tones and pulses genuinely do seem to fill the room. Although even here, with some sustained mid to moderately high pitches, voices and activities remain clear and are not swallowed. I actually love this minimal score. It reminded me, at times, of Popol Vuh’s work for Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu, with its haunting ear-worm cadence.
Again, this is a fine restoration. No bells or whistles. Just an accurate representation. 7/10.
Blu-ray ExtrasArrow delivers another outstanding package that is sure to please fans. Blu-ray and DVD versions are included and we also have:
An Appreciation - By critic and long-term Borowczyk fan Michael Brooke that is informative, comprehensive and genuine.
An 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.
Brand new interviews - With Udo Kier and Marina Pierro.
Himorogi (2012) - This is a short film by Marina and Alessio Pierro, made in homage to Borowczyk.
Happy Toy (1979) - This is a short film by Borowczyk inspired by Charles-Émile Reynaud’s praxinoscope
Introduction to Happy Toy - An introduction by production assistant Sarah Mallinson.
Interview - With artist and filmmaker Alessio Pierro.
Phantasmagoria of the Interior - This is a video essay on Borowczyk’s Dr Jekyll by Adrian Martin and Cristina Álvarez López.
Eyes That Listen - This is a featurette on Borowczyk’s collaborations with electro-acoustic composer Bernard Parmegiani.
Returning to Méliès: Borowczyk and Early Cinema - This is a featurette by Daniel Bird.
Theatrical trailer - The film's theatrical trailer.
Reversible sleeve - With artwork based on Borowczyk’s own poster design.
Booklet - With new writing on the film by Daniel Bird and archive pieces by Walerian Borowczyk and André Pieyre de Mandiargues, illustrated with rare stills.
Blu-ray VerdictUdo Kier has never shied away from the more extreme and avant-garde end of the horror spectrum. With lead roles in the nasty Mark of the Devil and the Paul Morrissey/Andy Warhol 3D extravaganzas Flesh For Frankenstein and Blood for Dracula, a guest cameo in Argento’s Suspiria and walk-ons in the likes of Blade, Feardotcom and the dreadful Mother of Tears, he seems to savour claret-flavoured outings, the more flamboyant the better. And considering he has played both Baron Frankenstein and Count Dracula, as well as Jack the Ripper in Borowczyk’s own Lulu, it is really only fitting etiquette that he should essay the foolhardy scientist Doctor Jekyll to round out that grisly roster of Victorian horror poster-boys. That said, he inevitably plays second fiddle to the outrageous performance from Gerard Zalcberg, whose feverish intensity and insane antics certainly linger in the mind.
Despite chronicling a bizarre and bloody rampage, Strange Case, like the novel it is based upon, is really a sideswipe at social mores and the psychological duality of the supposedly moralistic. The repressed sexuality of the 19th century has long been utilised to expose the lecherous core of the aristocracy, but the notion gains its most visceral, demented and inordinately beautiful treatments here. If there is any substance to the fact that Stevenson’s first draft of Dr Jekyll was ripe with soon-to-be-removed fervent erotica, then it seems apparent that Borowczyk has totally embraced it and produced what could, indeed, be one of the most faithful “alternate universe” adaptations of the literary classic.
Neither outright horror nor parlour-room satire
Yet, even as graphic and grotesque as it can be, I would hesitate to call Borowczyk’s production a “horror” film. The art-house sensibility and the arch atmosphere of decadent observation do not lend themselves to any degree of fear, or even revulsion, despite the copious killings and the rampant sexual violence. The overall mood evoked is one of perverse curiosity and sardonic bemusement. This is not to denigrate what Borowczyk had achieved. Far from it. I find the film to be weirdly compelling and daftly entertaining, essentially wrought-about by the ogreish and demonstrative performance from Patrick Magee, who died a year after making this. But it is certainly something of an acquired taste, and if you come to it expecting conventional thrills and chills, or some thoughtful dissection of the emotional and psychological damage of a split-persona, you will surely be disappointed.
It is definitely a genre film but, in true Borowczyk fashion, it skews towards the temptingly theatrical, and takes a few meandering esoteric turns along the way. Personally, I enjoyed this rather left-field take on Stevenson’s classic beast-in-man tale, but I can appreciate that it will not appeal to a great many people. Neither outright horror nor parlour-room satire, Strange Case has shades of the soft-porn farce, a sprinkling of acid-tinged surrealism and lashings of darkly amusing perversity. Arrow’s package for this once controversial and offbeat adaptation is outstanding. Lots of extras add meat to what is already a terrific restoration of a tremendously visual and highly stylised production. Oddball and eccentric, it may be... but I still recommend The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osbourne for those who like their perversions a little more refined.
You can buy The Strange Case of Dr, Jekyll and Miss Osbourne on Blu-ray here
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