Director: Walerian Borowczyk
Screenplay: Walerian Borowczyk
Based on a Novel by: Robert Louis Stevenson
Starring: Udo Kier, Marina Pierro
Country: France / West Germany
Running time: 92 minutes
BBFC Certificate: 18
This is a Blu-ray DVD Dual format re-issue of the film originally released in 1981. I’d never heard of the director Walerian Borowczyk before being sent this film to review. My research informed me that before making full length feature films the director had a background in fine arts, painting, lithographs, and stop motion animation. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osbourne is an atmospheric horror film. The story is a variation on author Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella The Strange Case of Dr Jeckyll and Mr Hyde. Dr Jeckyll (played by actor Udo Kier) is holding a dinner party for friends and to meet the family of his fiancee Miss Osbourne (played by Marina Pierro). The dinner party represents the surface of civilised Victorian society, with conversation about law, medicine and the role of science. The director outlines his wider intent by intercutting scenes portraying sadistic sexual acts. When Dr Jeckyll escapes to his laboratory to be with his fiancee, he tells her of his goal to ‘wallow in an ocean of freedom and pleasure’. The premise of this film is therefore the contrasting of ordered civility, and the undercurrent of debased and wanton desire without limit.
The atmosphere is enhanced by some of the films technical details, a drama largely acted out within the confines of a house. The repeated images of stairways, corridors, bathrooms and mirrors gives a claustrophobic and internal feel. Throughout the film there is a diffused blue light achieved in part by the use of colour filters and soft focus. This adds to this dreamy atmosphere, as does the occasional use of reversed or negative exposure on the film stock. Borowcxzyk also uses a contemporary electronic score composed by Bernard Parmegiani, which extends the weird atmosphere that runs through the film.
The film is of clear adult content, with scenes depicting the use of mood enhancing stimulants, shooting, stabbing, murder, sexual assault, and the protagonist largely running amok through the house and amongst his guests. I am not sure of the extent to which this film is making a coherent comment on society, although I think there is a legitimate claim that this film is a valid attempt at presenting a dreamlike or surrealist vision, albeit infused with a sexually explicit and pornographic content.
As the film progresses the central male character becomes more unhinged (in relation to his substance misuse and extreme acts of violence), this is further matched by the central female character’s increasingly sensual and sexualised behaviour and portrayal. I was unable to decipher a clear philosophy within the film, other than perhaps the assertion that sensuality and pleasure are driven by a need or a want that has no moral compass or mortal limit. If the film is concerned with making any kind of point, it may to exist as a visual work of art where the viewer is allowed to reflect on their own morality; and it would seem to me that in the film’s cinematography there can be found a fine art sensibility. If this sounds tolerable and appealing to you, I would recommend the film, however there is no real narrative development, or attempt at resolving or progressing ideas (at least that I could make out).
The disc has a number of interesting extra content, including some short films by the director from around the period, an introduction and documentary, a video essay and various interviews. They are worth watching also.
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osbourne is out now on dual format Blu-Ray and DVD in the UK, released by Arrow Academy.
Review by Alex Porter