• Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osbourne, The

    Released by: Arrow Films
    Released on: May 11, 2015
    Director: Walerian Borowczyk
    Cast: Udo Kier, Marina Pierro, Patrick Magee, Howard Vernon, Clement Harari
    Year: 1981
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    The Movie:

    Dr. Henry Jekyll hopes to marry the beautiful Miss Fanny Osbourne; to that end, he invites various associates and family members to a lavish dinner party at his posh estate. The guests, however, are unaware that a killer lurks outside, and he soon makes his way into the Jekyll home. Shortly thereafter, various inhabitants are found murdered, their bodies punctured by the sexually rapacious killer’s enormous phallus. While hiding from the deranged serial rapist/murderer, Miss Osbourne inadvertently spies her beloved Dr. Jekyll taking a bath in water polluted by a mysterious chemical substance; when he leaves the tub, he is no longer the man she loves but a slick, heartless being of amoral character, one who longs for sexual freedom. Included among his victims are women, girls, and an occasional man.

    Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic novella The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was first published in 1886 to immediate success. It was quickly adapted to the stage, and with the advent of film, it became a staple of silent cinema, with no less than four adaptations produced in 1920 alone. John Barrymore’s version of that same year introduced the idea of Jekyll’s sinister counterpart being a creature of unbridled lust, an idea that has carried through virtually every adaptation (film, radio, and television) since. The Oscar-winning 1931 adaptation starring Frederick March made this all the more clear by turning Hyde into an evolutionary regression, one whose sole purpose is to satiate his primitive drives regardless of their effect on others.

    Given its inherent issues of right and wrong, repression and indulgence, inhibition and exhibition, the tale was ripe for adaptation by a director unafraid of exploring the fundamentally adult nature of Stevenson’s tale. Polish filmmaker Walerian Borowczyk, a brilliantly subversive filmmaker with pornographic leanings, was just the man for the job. While he had been making films as far back as the 1950s, it wasn’t until the final segment of Immoral Tales (1974), an anthology focusing on risqué love, that he found his true niche. Freely adapting the historical life of Hungarian Countess Erzsebet Bathory, Borowczyk fused arousing nudity with repulsive violence. He wasn’t the first to do so, of course (Spanish director Jess Franco had been tapping that vein for years), but he transcended the exploitative elements of the burgeoning horror subgenre to craft something relatively new and exciting: titillation as horror art. He carried this further the following year with The Beast, but it wasn’t until 1981 that his melding of the various elements achieved a delirious gravitas.

    The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osbourne—also commonly known as Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osbourne, Dr. Jekyll and His Women (from the original French title, Docteur Jekyll et les femmes), and Blood of Dr. Jekyll—is a bizarre film, one difficult to classify but no less critically successful for it. The film took one of the top honors, Best Feature Film Director, at Sitges, and it has remains something of a cult oddity to this day despite a scant release in Great Britain and going straight to home video in the United States, in part because of the director’s approach to the material, in part because of its stars (Udo Kier, Howard Vernon, and Patrick Magee). In some ways, Strange Case is strikingly similar to Stevenson’s original work; in other ways, it’s wildly divergent, a thoroughly modern take wrapped up in period dress. The dinnertime discussion about morality may be the film’s dramatic highpoint, but Borowczyk manages some gorgeous touches from beginning to end, particularly the iconic image of a young girl—fleeing from the evil Mr. Hyde—framed against a window, her horror-stricken face tinted blue by the dusk. Jekyll’s transition to Hyde and Fanny’s subsequent transformation from virginal Madonna to voracious whore help maintain the allure. Too bad, then, that Borowczyk loses control of his film during its final twenty minutes, keeping the pornographic elements intact but dropping the art.


    The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osbourne comes to Blu-ray in a special edition package courtesy of Arrow Films; restored in 2K from an original camera negative, the film is presented in a 1.66:1 aspect ratio in MPEG-4, AVC-encoded 1080p resolution. The image offers an astonishing depth of field, which is noticeable from the opening segment on. Detail is fine, particularly in the sets and costumes. Despite the fact that much of the film was shot with soft photography, the image never loses clarity, and while there is excessive grain in a few of the darker sequences, most of the time it’s organic and adds to the filmic experience. The color grading was overseen by cinematographer Noël Véry and it shows; except for the opening sequence, which contains a bluish tint to reflect its nighttime setting, most of the film features naturalistic colors and lighting. The Blu-ray has been released simultaneously in North America and Great Britain and is region free.

    There are three audio tracks: the first is an English-language track in LPCM 1.0; the second is the original French-language track in LPCM 1.0; and the third is a commentary track in English Dolby Digital 2.0. Sound effects are the same between the first two tracks, though the dub is, of course, different. Both of these tracks sound great, with clear dialogue and distinct effects. There are also three sets of subtitles, the first two being alternate English translation of the film’s dialogue, the third a reflection of the film’s commentary, which is mostly in English but does contain some foreign-language excerpts taken from primary sources. Included in the interview snippets are Borowczyk, Véry, film critic Noël Simsolo, editor Khadicha Bariha, and assistant Michael Levy, with individual segments introduced by Daniel Bird, one of the producers of the BD/DVD release. It should be noted that the English subtitles only appear when one of the interviewees is speaking in a foreign language. Because English is a second language to most of the speakers, the track is sometimes difficult to follow, but there is a considerable amount of background information provided for those interested in learning more about the film’s history and director. During brief moments of silence, the film’s original English track is raised to fill the void.

    Arrow’s Blu-ray release contains innumerable extras. First up are two short films. The first, Happy Toy, was shot by Borowczyk in 1979; only recently ‘rediscovered,’ it is an animated film revealing the influence of Charles-Emile Reynaud’s praxinoscope; it also betrays, as does The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osbourne itself, the heavy influence of early French filmmaker Georges Méliès on Borowczyk’s work. It runs a little over two minutes in length. The second short, Himorogi, hails from 2012 and was made by Marina and Alessio Pierro as an homage to Borowczyk; it runs approximately 17 minutes. There are also interviews with Udo Kier (11:19), the two Pierros (Marina, 20:17; and Alessio, discussing Himorogi, 10:36), and Sarah Mallinson (on Walerian Borowczyk and Peter Foldes; 10:01). Needless to say, Kier’s is the most interesting.

    Next up are various documentaries and essays, including “Appreciation [of Strange Case…] by Michael Brooke” (32:57), a co-producer of the BD/DVD release and a film critic for Sight & Sound; “Phantasmagoria of the Interior” (14:39), a fascinating examination of some of Borowczyk’s ideas, which uses the film’s Vermeer painting as a jumping point. The featurette was produced by Adrian Martin and Cristina Álvarez López. Just as interesting is “Eyes That Listen” (10:02), Daniel Bird’s essay about composer Bernard Parmegiani, which covers not only his work with Borowczyk but also with other notable filmmakers. As with the audio commentary, it contains snippets from an interview with the late composer, which is subtitled in English, as well as interviews with others who worked with him. Finally, the featurette “Return to Méliès: Borowczyk and Early Cinema” (6:50) briefly examines the director’s fascination with early European film, particularly the work of Georges Méliès and Charles-Emile Reynaud. The excerpts from his own films have clearly been remastered and look terrific.

    None of these programs overstay their welcome, and all are informative.

    Rounding out the list of extras is an original French trailer, which runs 1:14. The trailer is made up of still frames from the film rather than live-action imagery. Because the original sound disc has been lost, the producers offer it with three separate audios: musical excerpts from Parmegiani’s score; the soundtrack from the British video trailer for Bloodbath of Dr. Jekyll; or audio commentary from the editor.

    The Final Word:

    The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osbourne is a bizarre film, no doubt about it. And it certainly won’t be to everyone’s taste. But for those interested in seeing a silent film homage with pornographic images complemented by artistic directorial flourishes, Borowczyk’s nightmarish ode to Stevenson is a unique experience. Arrow has given its Blu-ray release a state-of-the-art visual presentation, with good sound and terrific extras. The love and respect with which the company’s producers have treated the film is indisputable.

    Note: This review is of the Blu-ray disc only, from a test disc provided by Arrow to R!S!P!

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!