Director: Gérard Kikoïne
Writers: J.P. Felix, Ron Raley
Starring: Anthony Perkins, Glynis Barber, Sarah Maur Thorp
Duration: 85 mins
BBFC Certification: 18
For some actors, a single role can come to define them so much it later becomes impossible to escape from its shadow. Anthony Perkins was one such victim of this cinematic curse. Despite a career and filmography that exhibited a wider variety of roles than you might expect (such as his great turn in Orson Wells’ The Trial) Perkins never did quite manage to shake off Norman Bate’s chilling aura.
By the 1980s, however, it seems that Perkins had given up trying to escape the shadow of his most famous role and was instead basking in its darkness. A return to Bates in 1983’s Psycho II saw the actor begin to embrace the kind of roles he had avoided for so long. 1989’s Edge of Sanity is just one of these latter day performances, which sees Perkins embrace his inner psycho once again in this visually ravishing mish mash of Dr. Jekyll and Jack the Ripper.
Produced by one man film factory Harry Alan Towers and directed by Gérard Kikoïne (a French director who had previously specialised in making classy, well produced porn films for the French market) Edge of Sanity takes a leaf out the 1971 Hammer film Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde by combining Robert Louis Stevenson’s immortal tale of dual morality with the real life case of Jack the Ripper.
Perkins plays Dr. Jekyll, who is close to developing a revolutionary new anaesthetic. When an accident occurs at his lab, his formula reacts with another chemical, resulting in an intoxicating mixture that turns the timid Dr. Jekyll into a monster of sexual depravity and violence.
And that is really all there is to the plot. Jekyll gets more and more addicted to unleashing his alter ego, alienating himself from his loving wife (British TV staple Glynis Barber) as his crimes slowly become attributed to a serial killer the media names The Ripper. Anyone coming to Edge of Sanity expecting a faithful take on Stevenson’s novella will come away sorely disappointed. Edge of Sanity takes the barest bones of the plot and runs away with it in its own unique and not entirely unsuccessful direction.
Indeed, any faults in the film’s narrative are more than made up for by the aplomb in which director Gérard Kikoïne approaches the material. Scenes in which Perkins plays Dr. Jekyll feel comfortably like a traditional Hammer horror; yet when Mr. Hyde emerges, Kikoïne allows his film to take on its own unique identity.
Fusing a Victorian aesthetic with the fashion trappings of the 1980s, during Hyde’s moments Edge of Sanity emerges as a deliriously odd and entertaining take on the Jekyll/Hyde mythos. Shot against a suitably grim and dark Victorian backdrop, the prostitutes in the film are typically dressed like Madonna cosplayers while as as Hyde, Perkins himself looks like a middle aged goth who has stumbled out of a Cure concert. There is even an infamous moment where Glynis Barber pays someone with an 80s pound coin.
Some have argued that this bizarre melding of past and what was then the present was due to either the laziness or stupidity of the film makers. Watching the film today, its unique look feels utterly bold and, more importantly, deliberate. With Jekyll’s drug of choice appearing to be, to all intents and purposes, cocaine, Edge of Sanity suddenly seems to be making a comment on the nature of addiction while criticising the dark vapidity of a morally bankrupt 80s culture.
Kikoïne does more than just smash the present into the past. He infuses his film with bold, garish lighting, dutch angles and imaginative camerawork, making it a homage to Giallo and German Expressionism. While the narrative may not always engage, the visuals certainly do their best to draw you in.
Perkins also helps to elevate the film above its potentially trashy origins. Offering a brilliant physical performance that perfectly captures the two sides of his fracturing personality, he is both crazed, depraved and sympathetic, delivering a final moment that ends the film on bleak, unexpectedly nihilistic note.
Critically mauled upon release and consigned to the cinematic dumpster ever since, Edge of Sanity is certainly worthy of reappraisal. It may not be a long lost masterpiece, but is certainly is a stylish, subversive and entertaining Victorian slasher offering a great late career performance from Perkins. He may only ever be remembered for Psycho but Edge of Sanity proves that he should be remembered for so much more.
Edge of Sanity is being released by Arrow Video. The film has undergone a new 2K restoration by Arrow themselves from the original camera negatives and it looks glorious in motion. Deep, rich blacks, bold colours…the film’s visuals practically pound out of the screen. There were no encoding errors or issues I noticed either. Overall a fantastic presentation.
The Extras are as follows:
- Brand new audio commentary by writer David Flint and author and filmmaker Sean Hogan
- Over the Edge, a brand new interview with Stephen Thrower, author of Nightmare USA
- Jack, Jekyll and Other Screen Psychos, a brand new interview with Dr Clare Smith, author of Jack the Ripper in Film and Culture
- French Love, a career-spanning interview with director Gérard Kikoïne
- Staying Sane, Gérard Kikoïne discusses Edge of Sanity
- Original Theatrical trailer
David Flint and Sean Hogan provide a loose, chatty and thoroughly entertaining commentary, where they discuss the film’s more subversive qualities. Offering a wealth of background info and analysis, this is well worth a listen.
The are two interviews with director Gérard Kikoïne on the disc. The first offers a general career overview while the second focuses more on Edge of Sanity. Gérard Kikoïne is interesting and engaging in both, offering some great anecdotes (Oliver Reed!) and behind the scenes trivia.
The disc also hosts three other interviews. Stephen Thrower offers a half hour appreciation of the film. Like Flint and Hogan, he feels that there is far more to Edge of Sanity that its initial reception may have suggested. He also provides great background info on the film and all the key players. Strangely absent from the listing on Arrow’s own website is an interview with producer Edward Simons, who provides a 12 minute look back on the film, focusing particularly on his time with Anthony Perkins. The best interview on the disc however comes from Dr. Clare Smith, who provides a fascinating look at the cultural depictions of Jack the Ripper, covering everything from the killer himself to his victims. She ends on an appreciation of how Edge of Sanity fits into other Ripper films. Fascinating and engaging, if you only have time to watch one extra on the desk make it this one.
The disc also comes with a trailer and a booklet, which I wasn’t able to read for this review.