Starring: Udo Kier, Marina Pierro, Patrick Magee
Director: Walerian Borowczyk
As critic Michael Brooke explains in one of the accompanying extras, this eccentric retelling of the Jekyll and Hyde story came at a time when Walerian Borowczyk was trying to redeem his reputation as a serious filmmaker after a slide into the world of blue movies in the second half of the Seventies. Superficially, it might look like a rerun of La Bete – there’s a big house, a gathering for a wedding and the revelation of bestial impulses lurking beneath a civilised veneer – but in terms of style it’s a break from the Gallic spryness and cheerful sensuality of his most notorious film; a return, at least in part, to the more chilly, remote manner of Goto and Blanche.
The lucky guy getting hitched is none other than Dr Jekyll himself. The great and the good (a general, a priest, a scientist) have assembled in the doctor’s plush London townhouse to celebrate the engagement. These early scenes have a calm, pictorial quality – with snatches of inconsequential chatter and exquisite attention to period detail – which suggests Werner Herzog’s re-imagining of Nosferatu as a possible influence. But when Hyde interrupts the festivities by brutally murdering and raping one of their number, it’s an opportunity for Borowczyk to kick over the traces and indulge in some savage mockery of bourgeois hypocrisy.
Things descend into absurdist farce as Jekyll’s guests find themselves under siege and then promptly shoot an innocent bystander in their efforts to defend themselves. But it’s farce of a grim, deadpan kind, unlikely to raise a chuckle. Likewise, horror elements are present but not exactly correct. The gory deaths are handled in a casual, offhand way, and as the pace picks up the editing becomes rough, choppy, occasionally incoherent.
All in all, it’s a curious melange, moody and disjointed, presented for the most part in smoky, grainy visuals and accompanied by a balefully droning electronic score, but it’s well worth sticking with for the last reel, which delivers a barrage of dark, irrational imagery that makes you think of Bunuel’s Un Chien Andalou. Fans of the director will certainly be glad of an opportunity to watch this rarely seen film on Blu-ray, especially one as well-stocked as this. 6/10
TRANSFER The majority of the movie is filmed in a gauzy, powdery, soft focus style that doesn’t lend itself to a sharp HD transfer, but the more conventionally shot scenes come up very nicely. The introductory sequence, for instance, of a little girl being chased through moonlit alleyways, is composed of crisp, shimmering blues, and details of fabric and décor have plenty of clarity in the early interiors as the guests assemble. Elsewhere, the film is free from debris and scratches. 7/10
EXTRAS Plenty here, although some of it is of a dauntingly high-brow variety. A 2-min animated film by Borowczyk, nice for completists. ~ A 17-min short by Marina and Alessio Pierro that plays with imagery borrowed from the director’s films in an intriguingly portentous way. ~ In a 33-min piece, Michael Brooke provides a detailed and discerning survey of Borowczyk’s career, explaining how he went from making highly regarded animated films in Poland in the 1950s to helming soft core sex films in the 1970s. ~ 14-min video essay on the symbolism of the Vermeer painting mentioned within the film. ~ A very good piece on the music of Bernard Parmegiani, which covers a lot of ground in 10 mins. ~ 6-min video essay on Borowczyk’s interest in Melies and early cinematic techniques. ~ 11-min interview with Udo Kier, who talks about meeting up with Borowczyk to discuss making a film about the bloody baron Gilles de Rais (a project that never got off the ground), and shooting the Jekyll and Hyde movie in a country house outside Paris. He reveals that he was originally supposed to play both Jekyll and Hyde, and complains that the red contact lenses he had to wear were excruciatingly uncomfortable. ~ 20-min interview with Marina Pierro, audio only with stills. A formidably articulate lady, she talks about her own passion for surrealism and describes how she came to be Borowczyk’s muse over the course of six movies. ~ An assembled audio commentary with Borowczyk’s voice coming to us from 1981, and contributions from director of photography Noel Very and others. Although the results are occasionally awkward, several interesting thing emerge, including some technical details about the use of handheld cameras, back-light and smoke, and the revelation that Borowczyk was influenced by Sir Henry at Rawlinson End (although he seemed to think that Vivian Stanshall was a she). 10/10