Walerian Borowczyk (director)
Arrow Films (studio)
27 April 2015 (released)
01 June 2015
In 1981, Polish cult director Walerian Borowczyk made a rare excursion into the world of horror with his highly individualistic take on Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic.
With the usual Borowczyk trademarks of bums and overtly large male genitalia, plus a generous helping of surreal art-house imagery, the film is without doubt a pleasure to look at. However, adherents of Stevenson’s novella may struggle to come to terms with this rather offbeat interpretation!
Presumably the readership will be familiar with the strange case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, however, Borowczyk took considerable liberties not only with the well-known plot but also with the setting, which here almost entirely takes place in the grandiose house of Dr. Jekyll (Udo Kier).
Celebrating his engagement to the beautiful Fanny Osbourne (Marina Pierro), who in fact was the real-life wife of writer R.L. Stevenson, various guests assemble at the house, amongst them the opposing Dr. Lanyon (Howard Vernon), a surly old General (yet another ott performance by veteran actor Patrick Magee), the Reverend D. Regan (Cément Harari), as well as the mothers of Jekyll and of Fanny.
The evening starts of well enough over a sumptuous dinner, sparkling conversation and a dance performance by a young girl… which is interspersed with images of the brutal murder of a young girl on the streets of London earlier on.
However, it is not before long when the pleasant ambience turns to terror as the guests are getting bumped off one by one a la Agatha Christie. Of course, there difference here is that we know from the outset who the murderer is. The murderer, ah yes! Rather than suffering transformation via consuming a concoction of chemicals, Dr. Jekyll simply empties the phial into the bathtub. After splashing about for some considerable time he submerges himself and re-appears as the distinctively bizarre looking Mr. Hyde (Gérard Zalcberg). Unlike in the novel, this Mr. Hyde kills with the aid of his unusually large member – buggering both male and female victims alike, tearing their innards to shreds in the process. What a way to go!
As the atrocities and perversions (remember it IS Borowczyk) mount, perhaps the most unusual derivation is that in this film, Fanny also takes a bath in the aforementioned chemicals – and you can work out yourself what the result holds in store! Do we have a woman who can ‘accommodate’ this monster?
Being the perfectionist that director Borowczyk was, the film is not only fragmented in montage style but feels like a trip to an art gallery. The dialogue, which fluctuates between philosophical babble and inconsequential occurrences, is invariably secondary to the visual action. The same can be said about the central performances of Udo Kier’s ‘Dr. Jekyll’ and Marina Pierro’s ‘Miss Osbourne’ (the latter being a friend of the late director). Some of the scenes are unnecessarily played out, which somewhat dulls the edge and distracts from the tension. Despite an atmospheric period feel throughout it is simply impossible to believe we are in London, as indeed we are not (the film was shot in the outskirts of Paris).
Released in Dual-Format edition, the many SPECIAL FEATURES include:
* 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 and English SDH subtitles
* Introduction by critic and long-term Borowczyk fan Michael Brooke
* Audio commentary featuring archival interviews with Walerian Borowczyk, Udo Kier, Marina Pierro and producer Robert Kuperberg, 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
* Video essay by Adrian Martin and Cristina Alvarez Lopez
* Eyes That Listen, a featurette on Borowczyk’s collaborations with electro-acoustic composer Bernard Parmegiani
* Jouet Jouyeux (1979), a short film by Borowczyk based on Charles-Émile Reynaud’s praxinoscope
* Interview with Sarah Mallinson, former assistant to Borowczyk and fellow animator Peter Foldes
* Returning to Méliès: Borowczyk and Early Cinema, a featurette by Daniel Bird
* Theatrical trailer with optional commentary by editor Khadicha Bariha
* Reversible sleeve with artwork based on Borowczyk’s own poster design
* illustrated booklet with new writing on the film by Daniel Bird and archive pieces by Walerian Borowczyk and Andre Pieyre de Mandiargues