The engagement party for brilliant young Dr. Henry Jekyll (Udo Kier) and his fiancée, the beautiful Fanny Osbourne (Marina Pierro), is attended by various pillars of Victorian society. 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? (From Arrow’s official synopsis)
Polish-born filmmaker Walerian Borowczyk belongs to a small fraternity of directors that brought a unique, artistic, and often dream-like slant to erotic exploitation cinema. Like Jean Rollin, Tinto Brass, and (to a lesser extent) Jesus Franco, he was capable of elevating softcore pornography in a way that impressed otherwise unresponsive critics; though, to be fair, the critical praise ebbed as the content of his films became more explicit (many were disappointed when he stopped making avant garde animated and live-action shorts). Years after their release, his most controversial films, like La Bête (aka: The Beast, a vague Beauty and the Beast variant that included bestiality sequences, 1975), gained cult followings. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osbourne (French: Docteur Jekyll et les Femmes; aka: Blood of Dr. Jekyll and Bloodlust, 1981) is reportedly one of Borowczyk’s more respected softcore/horror amalgams, but also a particularly obscure title outside the savviest exploitation fan circles.
Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osbourne is a sexually-charged nightmare of a movie. Borowczyk borrows the most basic elements of Robert Louis Stevenson’s original story and applies them to a simple narrative structure that is constrained to a single night and location. The tight timeline and spooky mansion setting obviously evoke haunted house tropes, but, when coupled with the carnage and (admittedly underdeveloped) whodunit themes, the set-up also recalls the slasher motifs that were overtaking the horror genre climate of the early ‘80s. Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osbourne appeases then modern trends in a roundabout manner that doesn’t stifle the director’s creative needs. Borowczyk perverts classical sensibilities with his typically hallucinatory vulgarity, creating a dream-like atmosphere that teems with Luis Buñuel-like satire. A bourgeois dinner discussion about medicinal ethics is interrupted by images of bloody death (all glimpses of the film’s climax). A general’s daughter willingly engages in sex with Hyde while taunting her father (whose in the room). In the end, the only way Fanny Osbourne can deal with the emotional stress of her fiancée’s dual personality is to join him. She rolls in his bath full of chemicals and emerges a sexually-crazed Lady Hyde.
Though he doesn’t engage in hardcore excesses, Borowczyk doesn’t skimp on the sex and violence. The most graphic obscenities are left to our imaginations, but the image of Hyde’s Giant Murder Penis and the implication that he’s raping people (women and men) to death is enough to raise the eyebrows of even jaded horror fans. This singularly enjoyable and sometimes extremely challenging experience (some viewers are going to hate every minute of it) is topped off with a cast of cult film royals, including enigmatically sexy icons Marina Pierro (who appears in a number of Borowczyk’s other movies and Rollin’s Living Dead Girl [La Morte Vivante, 1982]) and Udo Keir (whose career was drawing to the end of its biggest surge – i.e. the ‘70s), as well as Patrick Magee (best known for his appearances in Hammer movies and Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange ), and Franco regular Howard Vernon.
This is Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack (and its UK counterpart) marks the first-ever digital home video release of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osborne. The Blu-ray’s 1080p, 1.66:1 transfer was scanned in 2K from the original camera negative and restored under the supervision of cinematographer Noël Véry (he allegedly ‘oversaw the color grading’). It’s especially important to note the scope of the restoration, because many viewers might not know that Borowczyk intended the film to look as if it was shot through a cloudy fish tank. The foggy shapes, soft details, and diffused lighting is all part of the dreamy visual stew that the director cooked up. In the words of the disc’s opening title card, ‘Prominent diffusion and specific lighting setups were used during production to achieve a distinct appearance for creative effect.’ Despite all of the wacky techniques, the hi-res scan yields impressive results. The grain texture is fine and overall detail levels are sharp enough to make out the fine edges and patterns, even in the smokiest environments. The title card also specifies that thousands of instances of ‘dirt, debris, and light scratches’ were digitally scrubbed. What remains is a small collection of white dots and some pulsing effects. Digital noise would be difficult to discern from grain in this case, but I don’t notice any major signs of compression. The palette is generally an eerie, sort of grotesque amalgamation of yellows, greens, and reds with some blue-gelled exteriors. The diffusion smears some of the colors into each other, but do not become soupy.
The original mono French and English dub soundtracks are presented in uncompressed PCM 1.0. The French track was transferred from the original magnetic reels (with significant repair) while the English track was culled from an alternate source. Being a French-made film, the French track is probably the better option, but both tracks were significantly ADR’d, so, like many ‘genre’ films of the era, lip-sync is occasionally off in either case (Kier and Magee are clearly speaking English, but not in their own voice). Though both tracks use generally the same sound effects and music, there are significant aural differences. The French track is less consistent in terms of overall volume and notably muffled. On the other hand, it sounds slightly more natural than the English track, which is uncanny in its crispness and wider disparity between the effects and dialogue. Bernard Parmegiani’s intense ambient score is instrumental (excuse the pun) in completing Borowczyk’s vision and is well represented in both, with the slight edge going to the English track.
Commentary featuring interviews with Walerian Borowczyk, producer Robert Kuperberg, and new interviews with cinematographer Noël Véry, editor Khadicha Bariha, assistant Michael Levy, and filmmaker Noël Simsolo, moderated by filmmaker and Borowczyk enthusiast Daniel Bird – This ‘commentary track’ was largely culled from a 1981 interview with Borowczyk (recorded while he was cutting the film) and is presented alongside new interviews with the other commentators. Bird introduces the track and each participant, some of which are subtitled. Scene-specific commentary is usually preferable, but, in cases like these, a well-edited amalgamation can work very well. The quality of the discussion ebbs and flows according to the contributor. Borowczyk himself plays the most informative role.
Jouet Jouyeux (aka: The Happy Toy, 2:20, HD) – A 1979 animated short film by Borowczyk based on Charles-Émile Reynaud’s praxinoscope that was recently rediscovered by archivists.
Himorogi (17:00, HD) – An impressionistic 2012 short film shot in grainy black & white by Marina and Alessio Pierro. It was made in homage to Borowczyk.
Hello Mr. Jekyll: An Interview with Udo Kier (11:20, HD) – Kier covers his time working Borowczyk, including behind-the-scenes stories of Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osbourne and footage from his previous collaboration with the director, Lulu (1980).Audio interview with Marina Pierro (20:20, HD) – The actress discusses her inspirations and her long relationship with Borowczyk, set against stills from their films.
Interview with Himorogi filmmaker Alessio Pierro (10:40, HD) – The director discusses his short film and its Borowczyk ‘Easter eggs.’
Sarah Mallinson on Walerian Borowczyk and Peter Foldes (10:00, HD) – Assistant to Borowczyk and animator Foldes discusses her work with the filmmakers. Unfortunately, the brief clips and title cards didn’t quite do enough to contextualize the discussion, so I think a lot of the discussion went over my head.
Documentaries and Essays:
An Appreciation by Michael Brooke (33:00, HD) – The Sight & Sound critic and long-term Borowczyk fan recalls his affection for the filmmaker with a biographical slant. The content of the essay is solid and informative (it turns out that Borowczyk painted several of those brilliant Polish film posters you see all over the internet), but would’ve probably been more potent in a written form. Footage from the director’s animated and live-action shorts, and feature-length productions is also included.
Phantasmagoria of the Interior (14:40, HD) – A video essay by Adrian Martin and Cristina Alvarez Lopez that centers around the film’s use of a Johannes Vermeer painting and the ways the artist inspired Borowczyk’s photography.
Eyes That Listen (10:00, HD) – A look at Borowczyk’s collaborations with electro-acoustic composer Bernard Parmegiani, as well as other animators. It includes more footage from shorts and feature films.
Returning to Méliès: Borowczyk and Early Cinema (6:50, HD) – A featurette by Daniel Bird that explores the heritage of Borowczyk’s brand of filmmaking, specifically the relationships between live-action and animation. It includes even more footage from the shorts and an archive interview with Borowczyk himself.
Reconstructed trailer, including music-only, English voiceover, and commentary options (1:10, HD)
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