Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is one of the most well known horror stories ever told. There has been countless adaptations of the tale, and none of them have ever really scared me…until now.
The Movie Itself [usr 3.5] :
There is something about older horror films that make them inherently more terrifying than the ones we see today. Horror truly is one of the few genres that can really stand on it’s own after time. I’ll admit that some horror movies, when viewed decades later, turn into comical messes, but when one is done right, it ages like a fine wine, keeping it’s edge and intensity after all the years.
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osbourne is one of the latter films. Even though it suffers from a lack of fancy effects and doesn’t have the best picture or audio quality, it has some staying power in it’s ability to scare you, with the caveat that you are able to stomach the film’s almost pornographic style spin on the tale.
The movie opens up with a young girl being chased through the foggy nighttime streets of the city. We soon find out that she is running from a man who quickly catches her and beats her to death with his cane. Throughout this scene, we get a real sense of the tone of the story. Very ominous synths are being played in an manner that cuts straight to your spine, while the screen is filled with dark pictures of a gruesome murder, which you don’t directly see. You will notice through the movie that Walerian Borowczyk, the director, chooses to focus on objects in the room during certain scenes. While this may have been a trick to hide the lack of effects, what it ends up doing is heightening the anxiety and letting the viewer imagine their own grisly images.
Later the same evening, as the girls body is found, she is taken to the home of Dr. Jekyll, where some of the most prestigious people in the city have gathered for an engagement party for Jekyll and his lovely bride to be, Miss Fanny Osbourne. This house is the perfect setting for such a tale. In true horror style, this mansion seems to be much bigger on the inside than the outside would suggest, with hallways upon hallways leading a large array of interestingly set up rooms. The house would be incomplete without secret passages, and of course, the laboratory of the Dr.
Before the girl is brought to the house, we are introduced to our characters that will immediately trigger thoughts of Clue (something that will come to mind again during the confusion of the evening, a real who-dun-it sort of vibe). We have a doctor, a lawyer, a general, and a priest in attendance at this party. A particularly interesting scene involves the discussion of transcendental medicine, in which we discover our Dr. Jekyll is a firm believer in the theory. In truth, he knows more than he lets on, as he has already made a great discovery in the field, one that has turned him into a monster with an insane blood lust.
As you would expect, the party turns into chaos at the arrival of our dead child, and Mr. Hyde shows up to feast upon the confusion. The movie transforms at this point, and the civilized tone from the party turns into all out horror as a series of rape/murders takes place throughout the night.
This is where I must expand upon my earlier statement about being able to stomach this film. Throughout the 70’s and 80’s, the Hammer Horror era, we see a rise in the sexual horror sub-genre. Scenes in this film are near pornographic, with full frontal nudity, explicit description of the injuries incurred from the rapes and murders, and scenes depicting sexually charged murders all making appearances. This content will, no doubt, turn a great deal many viewers off. However, I feel that the director chose to back away from these scenes before they got too intense, and often amount to screen flashes instead of minutes upon minutes of unnecessary content. This type of sexualization is not prevalent in current films, and as such adds to the weight of the tension in the viewer. Ultimately it led to a very strange, unnerving feeling, which I believe was the intent.
Overall, the movie has some shocking surprises, and is not as predictable as I had feared. If you are looking for some gruesome, shocking, and horrifying entertainment, and you dig Hammer style horror, then this is one worth watching.
Video Quality [usr 3] :
The opening of the film shows a couple of screens where the restoration of the film is described in detail. Arrow Films has done a lot of work to bring this 2k restoration to blu ray. I have no doubt that this is the best possible transfer of the movie out there, but the movie itself just doesn’t display all that well. The film was shot with lots of smokiness, which gives the movie a dreamlike sheen, which I found distracting. That being a given, the movie looks like it was intended to, with a handful of small signs of wear and tear on the original film.
Audio Quality [usr 2.5]:
Perhaps the biggest downfall to older movies like this is the audio quality. There simply was not the technology for them to create really breathtaking audio. In this case, we have a mono track, which is serviceable, but won’t really impress anyone. It’s going to sound better than any other version out there, but only so much.
During the opening restoration scenes, we are told that the audio was restored in a way to capture the original film as close as possible. They kept the audio sync from the English dubbing in order to stay as true to possible. I can appreciate this from a fans perspective, but I can’t help but wonder if I would have gained something had they fixed the issue. Throughout the film, the words hardly ever matched the lips of those speaking them.
That being said, I will give credit to this movie for utilizing the synths of the 80’s as a weapon of terror, and not as a tool to emulate action or suspense. The tones used are chaotic and unruly, which made for a scarier experience. It’s hard to really judge a movie based on the limitations of it’s times, but that sadly ends up being the thorn in this film’s side.
Special Features [usr 4]:
Being the first time on a digital format, all of these extras are exclusives, which is pretty nifty. There are some interesting watches in here for sure. Also, if you watch the shorts directly after watching the movie, they will be twice as scary (hot tip for you). If you are a fan of the Hammer style, there’s probably a lot of history for you to take in. I found the Appreciation by Michael Brooke to be particularly interesting.
- Featuring archived interview with director Walerian Borowczyk and new interviews with the films cinematographer, editor, assistant, and filmmakers.
- Short Films
- Happy Toy (1979, 2mins):
- From early in Borowczyk’s carreer. What amounts to pretty much a long gif, this animation is strangely terrifying by itself, having seen the movie before this. On it’s own, it’s probably much less scary, but still is unsettling.
- Himorogi (2012 17mins):
- A short film inspired by Borowczyk’s style. It’s rather unsettling to watch.
- Happy Toy (1979, 2mins):
- Four interviews featuring Udo Kier, Marina Pierro, Alessio Pierro, Sarah Mallinson. We hear some rather interesting stories of the filmmaking process and what it was like in the time this was shot.
- Documentaries and Essays
- Appreciation by Michael Brooke (32mins):
- Film critic Michel Brooke gives a fascinating history of Borowczyk’s career and the transformation of his works.
- Phantasmagoria of the Interior (15mins):
- A video essay that uses the Vermeer painting from this film as a means of connecting the ideas of Borowczyk’s world of objects and how they relate to the repressed world of women.
- Appreciation by Michael Brooke (32mins):
- Eyes That Listen (10mins):
- A sort of mini-documentary slash biography of Bernard Paremgiani, the man responsible for the soundtrack of the film. A fairly interesting watch.
- Return to Melies: Borowczyk and Early Cinema (7mins):
- A shory documentary on early film making and animation, and how Borowczyk drew his inspirations.
- 50gb Blu ray and DVD
- Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1
- English and English SDH subtitles
- Audio Formats:
- English LPCM Mono
- French LPCM Mono
Final Thoughts [usr 3.5]:
This film had very limited exposure outside of a couple of countries in Europe during the 80’s. As such, I would venture a guess that a great deal many people have never heard of it before. If you like the Hammer Horror style movies, I would definitely suggest this pick up. If you are unsure, or don’t know what Hammer Horror is, I would suggest you dive into the genre with a different title.
Full disclosure: This feature was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process.