The onscreen title is DOCTEUR JEKYLL ET LES FEMMES.

London, in Victorian times. Prominent medical man Henry Jekyll (Udo Kier) has invited a small group of society's finest to join him in celebrating his engagement to voluptuous young Fanny Osbourne (Marina Pierro).

Fanny arrives first with her mother, and a painting of a pregnant lady, proffered as a gift to the couple.

As the remaining guests arrive - including an unhinged General (Patrick Magee) in complete regimental uniform, his peculiar daughter, antagonistic Dr Lanyon (Howard Vernon), odd Reverend Donald (Clement Harari) - they sign their names in a book of well wishes and sit to enjoy watching a spot of ballet dancing as the before-dinner entertainment.

Little do they know that a madman lurks the area, having already half-killed a girl in the streets outside with his cane. By the time police arrive on the scene, they are able to deduce that the girl was likely to have been raped by her assailant, had he not been interrupted mid-attack.

Inside the manor house, Jekyll�s party continues obliviously. The guests think it�s odd that he keeps disappearing to his laboratory on occasion, and his lawyer is perturbed by the doctor�s insistence that his entire estate should be left in his will to a previously unheard-of acquaintance called Hyde. Other than that, they�re happy to be well-fed and ruminate over Jekyll�s just-published book on his theories on transcendental medicine as they dine.

Before the evening is through, however, the young ballerina dancer from earlier is found dead in the bedroom where she was sent for a well-earned rest. Even worse, Lanyon�s inspection of her corpse deduces that her vagina has been torn apart by an unfeasibly huge, sharp phallus.

Panic sets in as the guests are paid a visit from a policeman who confirms they are hunting a vicious madman and would-be rapist in the area. Jekyll and his party remain in the house, convinced that the killer is also in there with them �

Leisurely paced for its first hour, writer-director Walerian Borowczyk adapts Robert Louis Stevenson's classic story "The Strange Case of Jekyll and Hyde" in typical style: ornate period settings, gorgeous costume design, character conversations that philosophise over human nature, satirical views of bourgeois values, one scene after another composed with all the meticulous care and beauty of a classic painting ... and, of course, a distinctly fetishist bent towards the kinky running throughout it.

That fetishism extends, as per usual, to Borowczyk's attention to seemingly peripheral details - inanimate objects are focused on for no clear reason other than to invite the viewer to share the Polish filmmaker's appreciation of their design (on this occasion, everything from scales and footwear, and particularly - understandably, given the theme of duality at play - reflections enjoy the limelight).

Despite a somewhat talky first half, the film engages constantly thanks to its beautiful visuals, charismatic casting and Borowczyk's talent at creating a vibe of insidiously incremental dread as the night progresses.

Once we�re past the midway mark, the art-house dressing is bolstered by some pretty extreme imagery as we�re introduced to Jekyll�s evil alter-ego (portrayed here by Gerard Zalcberg) and get to see his monstrous cock in action. Unlike the comparatively amusing scenes from THE BEAST, there is a savagery to these scenes that keeps any sense of titillation at bay.

Given that this is a Borowczyk film, and given its subject matter, it�s surprisingly low on nudity. Most of it is glimpsed in disturbing post-attack snippets, with women�s crotches and buttocks smeared in fresh blood. Still, the final 15 minutes or so rank as some of the most extreme, delirious stuff the director ever filmed. This outrageous finale also makes explicit the fact that Jekyll revels in being able to shake of his repressed urges and indulge in shocking acts, and makes Fanny not only complicit but equally deranged as she joins him in his newfound madness.

Filled with unforgettable images � Jekyll and Fanny bathing in a bathtub filled with the doctor�s curious, mind-changing red liquid; the mysterious painting that continues to watch over the night�s proceedings; the General�s daughter taunting him as he�s tied up and forced to watch Hyde fuck her � THE STRANGE CASE OF DR JEKYLL AND MISS OSBOURNE is as beautiful as it is shocking, as rich with subtext (predominantly, this is an attack on the hypocrisy of Victorian bourgeois values) as it is rife with interesting performances and offbeat characters.

It�s important that Bernard Parmegiani�s electronic score gets a nod too. Idiosyncratic, pulsating and stylish, it�s as integral to the film�s success as it is curiously anachronistic.

Arrow Films Video should be commended for bringing this film, fully restored, to blu-ray and DVD in this dual-format special edition release.

A screener for the region-free blu-ray disc was sent for review. It presents the film fully uncensored at 91 minutes in length (no more genital fogging, for those who've lived with the otherwise uncut Asian version in the past). This is an all-new 2k restoration from the French 35mm negative materials. The correct aspect ratio of 1.66:1 is employed, benefitting from 16x9 enhancement.

A text disclaimer at the start of proceedings explains Borowczyk's predilection for diffusion and back-lighting, which accounts for the soft appearance and the often smoky veneer that lends scenes an otherworldly aura. However, the clarity and cleanliness of the new presentation is exceptional. If you've seen the film before, most likely on VHS, it should go without saying that this bright, colourful and extremely filmic full 1080p HD rendering is countless times better: it looks superb.

Audio comes in choices of French and English LPCM. I started off with the latter, as the disc defaults to that option. However, it soon becomes apparent that the original French soundtrack is the way to go. While both sound very clean and consistent (infrequent background noise and echoey effects are also explained in the aforementioned disclaimer), the English dubbing is inadvertently laughable. It lessens the arthouse feel of the film, transforming into something more trite. It's perhaps worth noting, however, that Magee's own voice is used on the English track - so at the very least he's been dubbed on the French version. Easily readable English subtitles are optional.

An animated main menu page gives access to a host of pop-up options. Among these is a scene selection menu allowing you to jump to various points of the film via 12 chapter stops.

Extras are plentiful.

They commence with a cut-and-paste audio commentary track which is really entertaining and insightful. Various contributors are interviewed, the best of which is obviously the director himself, in an archive chat from the days of the film's editing in post-production. He proffers interesting thoughts on how he developed the themes of the source material, his filmic reference points, and discusses the design of the film. Cinematographer Michael Levy reveals how he came on board late in the day, and elaborates on the unusual lighting and diffusion techniques that were employed. Critic Noel Simsolo offers a more analytical approach. The whole thing is held together expertly by choice pieces of relevant trivia from moderator Daniel Bird. Optional English subtitles are provided for the portions not spoken in English.

Kier is not only a living legend for genre fans but a genuine raconteur: his tales of aborted projects with the director, working with him on LULU and finally bagging the role of Dr Jekyll make his 11-minute new onscreen interview immensely enjoyable. Once again, this serves as proof positive that conventions should stop chasing Bruce Campbell for special guest slots and bag this much more human personality - who boasts a far greater cinematic legacy - while they still have the chance.

A couple of intriguing short films make for most welcome additions. The first is a Borowczyk oddity from 1979 entitled "Happy Toy". It's only 2 minutes long, but is sufficiently surreal and beautiful in delivering its ode to the early days of animation. "Himorogi", from Marina and Alessio Pierro, is a contemporary (2012) homage to Borowczyk's style. Relying on visuals rather than dialogue, it's an attractive and dreamlike piece which echoes many of the director's earlier works - specifically "Angels' Games". It runs at 17 minutes in length.

Michael Brooke is on hand for an engagingly thorough, enjoyable 33-minute probe into the director's works and common themes, culminating in a persuasive argument for THE STRANGE CASE OF DR JEKYLL AND MISS OSBOURNE being the ultimate summation of the filmmaker's recurring tropes and motifs. Interspersed with relevant clips throughout, this makes for a great - spoilerific - accompaniment to the main feature.

A 20-minute audio interview with Ms Pierro is set to stills from this film and others (BEHIND CONVENT WALLS etc) as she discusses working with the late director, "Himorogi" and her own interpretation of THE STRANGE CASE OF DR JEKYLL AND MISS OSBOURNE.

"Himorogi" is discussed further during a 10-minute interview with Alessio. The latter two features are both conducted in Italian, with English subtitles.

Sarah Mallinson, Borowczyk�s assistant on "Happy Toy", offers 10 minutes of interesting insight into meeting and working with the maestro.

"Phantasmagoria of the Interior" is a 14-minute featurette where text is interspersed with clips from the film while we examine the motifs and themes being conveyed by the Vermeer painting which figures so prominently throughout.

"Eyes that Listen" merges a 2008 interview with Parmegiani together with text and clips, focusing over the course of 10 minutes on what his music adds to proceedings.

"Return to Melies" is a 7-minute look at how Borowczyk was influenced by the cinematic pioneer�s works.

Finally we get the original French trailer. The soundtrack elements to this have been "lost": as compensation, we get to choose whether to view it with a clip of Parmegiani�s score, the English trailer�s voiceover, or a brief commentary track from editor Khadicha Bariha. This runs at 101 seconds in length.

All bonus material is presented in HD.

A second disc, a DVD, presents all of the above content (including the film, of course) in standard definition.

The package is completed by double-sided reversible cover artwork and a splendid 40-page book. Bookended by the usual film credits and restoration notes, this book - slickly designed and attractively illustrated throughout - offers a wealth of additional musings. From Bird's new essay on the film and its themes, through Andre Pieyre de Mandiargue's original article from 1981, to archive reviews and even an extract from Borowczyk's original script, this is fascinating stuff. Bird also provides new notes on the disc's two short films.

THE STRANGE CASE OF DR JEKYLL AND MISS OSBOURNE is prime Borowczyk, and an excellent accompaniment to the sterling work Arrow did on his earlier films last year (THE BEAST, BLANCHE, IMMORAL TALES etc). It's also a tremendously delirious art-horror film that's just ripe for rediscovery.

Highly recommended.

Review by Stuart Willis

Released by Arrow Academy
Region B
Rated 18
Extras :
see main review