The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Miss Osbourne

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Full disclosure: After my initial viewing of the film, this review was going to be very negative, as I didn’t really enjoy the film. However, I decided to give it another chance, and after some digestion and tempering of my expectations, I rather enjoyed ‘The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osbourne.’ 

Coming from Arrow Video to Blu Ray/DVD combo on May 12th is Walerian Borowczyk’s, ‘The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osbourne,’ a film not for the sexually squeamish with its shocking depiction of T ‘n’ A…’n’ D (think about it!)4

It’s the engagement party for brilliant young Dr Henry Jekyll (Udo Kier) and his fiance, the beautiful Fanny Osbourne (Marina Pierro), attended by various pillars of Victorian society, including the astonishing Patrick Magee in one of his final roles. 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? We know the answer, of course, but Walerian Borowczyk’s visually stunning adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s much-filmed tale is crammed with wildly imaginative and outrageously perverse touches characteristic of the man who scandalized audiences with Immoral Tales and The Beast, not least the explicitly sexualized nature of Mr Hyde’s primal urges.

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osbourne’ starts off with a sequence that’d be at home in a silent film.  Overlaid in blue, a young girl is running down deserted back alleys of London trying to evade Mr. Hyde.  She backs herself into a corner and Mr. Hyde attacks, beats th3e child to death, then runs off.

Then it cuts to the lavish mansion of Dr. Henry Jekyll, as he is finishing a phonograph recording. Guests begin to arrive to celebrate the good Doctor’s engagement to the beautiful Fanny Osbourne, who is of course the first to arrive.  She runs to his lab where they greet each other with lust filled kisses. Other guests begin arriving including Dr. Lanyon (Howard Vernon), Jekyll’s scientific rival and best friend, Reverend Donald Regean (Clement Harari), and the eccentric, despicable General (Patrick Magee) and his daughter, and others including a young ballerina. A little later on, Mr. Hyde himself appears and signs the engagement book.

Not long after the Ballerina’s performance, the Constable comes and informs the party about the Little Girl that was killed, putting a damper on the happy mood. Soon after, the young Ballerina, passed out on a bed, is raped and killed by Mr. Hyde. It is here we get our first good look at him: a somewhat pale man, with his hair cut back, which makes his face look like someone wearing a mask; unnatural, but not grotesque like previous incarnations.  After Hyde leaves, he encounters Fanny in the hall, knocks her down, and kicks her.

When the Ballerina’s body is discovered, the General pretty much goes insane and orders the guests around like soldiers.  He even kills an innocent Coachman standing outside, then when he reports to the guests about the gunshots, he tells them that, “This is war,” and “The Soldier fires the gun. God carries the bullets!”  What follows are the most two graphic scenes in the film. It is also here that Patrick Magee shines as he turns from tough General into sniveling General.maxresdefault

A really interesting effect is employed while Udo Kier is in Jekyll form, as the entire film has a smokey glow; almost dream-like atmosphere. However, when he turns into Hyde, everything loses that glow and is seen for what it is.  In essence, Jekyll’s normality is the fancy dream; the reality is Hyde, who represents what we all wish we could be.  Think about it, if there were no laws (religious or man-made) anywhere in existence, do you think we’d all stand around and sing “Kumbaya?”  Not a chance! We would form into like-minded groups, then tear the outsiders to pieces because, that is human nature.  The score itself was very cool: steadily paced with frantic playing that barely changes, and with no percussion, still manages to keep the tension building.

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The praise of Arrow must be sung yet again they deliver a fine product packed with special features, and a booklet of artwork, photos. The film was scanned in 2k from the original negative, presenting a crisp, clear picture with enhanced colors.  2 of the special features are short films, with one of them from Borowczyk himself, entitled ‘Happy Toy,’ which is a cute animated film that turns into a bizarre Grindhouse experience.

You can pre-order here.

This is not, I repeat, NOT your school book version of Jekyll and Hyde.

Bonus Materials

  • Brand new 2K restoration, scanned from the original camera negative and supervised by cinematographer Noel Very
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentation of the film, released on both formats for the first time ever
  • 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 Noel Very, editor Khadicha Bariha, and assistant Michael Levy
  • 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
  • Returning to Melies: Borowczyk and Early Cinema, a featurette by Daniel Bird
  • Reversible sleeve with artwork based on Borowczyk’s own poster design
  • Booklet with new writing on the film by Daniel Bird and archive materials, illustrated with rare still

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