May 15, 2015

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osbourne

I am not going to bullshit, my favorite cinematic adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic Victorian Gothic novella The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886) is sadomasochistic sod and gutter auteur Andy Milligan’s marvelously misanthropic and all-around mean-spirited British era work The Man with Two Heads (1972), but then again I cannot think of another single version that I actually like, or at least until very recently after finally seeing the pleasantly perverse adaptation directed by a certain Polish “genius who also happened to be a pornographer” that I have been waiting to see for much time. Indeed, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osbourne (1981) aka Docteur Jekyll et les femmes aka Bloodlust aka Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osbourne aka The Blood of Doctor Jekyll aka Le cas estrange du Dr. Jekyll et de Miss Osbourne aka The Bloodbath of Doctor Jekyll aka The Experiment aka Borowczyk's Bloodbath of Doctor Jekyll aka Dr. Jekyll and His Women aka The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osbourne aka Dr. Jekyll and His Wives aka The Blood of Dr. Jekyll aka The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Lady Osbourne directed by master animator turned cinematic auteur Walerian Borowczyk (Goto, Island of Love, Lulu) was available in a butchered extra-low-quality VHS copy with Dutch subtitles, which I refused to watch, until recently with its released on Blu-ray by the U.K. distributor Arrow Video, which does for cult and exploitation films what the Criterion Collection does for classic masterpieces and arthouse works. Admittedly, I am neither a serious fan nor foe of Borowczyk or his oeuvre, but I must admit that my favorite work by the auteur is also probably his most unconventional, so I feared I might not like his R.L. Stevenson adaptation in that it follows in the tradition of most of the filmmaker's other films as flick featuring people dressed up in goofy archaic costumes and make-up engaging in oftentimes absurd, if not sometimes genuinely erotic, sexually debauched acts. Indeed, unlike virtually all of the director’s other films, La marge (1976) aka The Streetwalker aka The Margin starring lapsed Warhol superstar Joe Dallesandro and Dutch diva Sylvia Kristel is not a period piece featuring lavish costumes but a completely modern work set in the present and featuring a modern musical score, hence why I probably found it remarkably more palatable the most of the director’s works (it also does not hurt that Dallesandro and even Kristel give great melancholy performances).

 Of course, Borowczyk is unfortunately best known his bodacious bestiality piece La bête (1975) aka The Beast, but it ultimately pales in comparison to the somewhat goofy (anti)Victorian Gothic eloquence of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osbourne, which is arguably the director at his best, at least as far as his period based works are concerned. Notably, one of the most obvious differences between the Polish filmmaker’s version and other cinematic adaptations of Stevenson's classic tale is that Borowczyk opted to get different actors to play Jekyll and Hyde, with kraut queen of the cult silverscreen Udo Kier playing the former and an authentically grotesque looking French Hebrew named Gérard Zalcberg fittingly playing the latter.  Since Herr Kier and the genuinely horrifying looking Hebraic fellow have similarly petite frames, this novelty actually manages to work quite well, especially if you have ever seen one of the grotesque caricatures from Julius Streicher's infamous tabloid Der Stürmer, as Zalcberg looks like he was truly found in some sort of synagogue of Satan. The film is also notable for being a biting satire of Victorian mores where each characters is more like an archetypical caricature that personifies some negative quality of that zeitgeist (e.g. colonialism, Darwinism, materialism, etc.) than an actual fully developed individual. Indeed, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osbourne features a scathing assault on Puritanism where virginal teens and crypto-homo twinks are literally fucked to death by a sort of proto-bohemian scientist who has combined science and metaphysics to transform himself into a lethal libertine lunatic whose cock can literally rip someone's insides to shred.   In other words, the film is probably Borowczyk's most amorously absurd and jovially wicked work since La bête, but is arguably most notable for being the filmmaker's most Gothic, as well as fittingly dream-like and phantasmagoric, flick as a piece of strangely addictive cinema with signature oneiric cinematography by Noël Véry (Contes immoraux (1974) aka Immoral Tales, Collections privées (1979) aka Private Collections) and sinisterly seductive synth-based score by Bernard Parmegiani (whose song “Dedans dehors” was used by Gus van Sant in Paranoid Park (2007)).

  After featuring Gothic text stylized credit sequences and an inter-title reading, “There was something strange in my sensations, indescribably new and incredibly sweet. I knew myself, at the first breath of this new life, to be tenfold more wicked and the thought delighted me like wine,” that immediately exposes the fact that the eponymous young scientist with the split-personality actually embraces his truly monstrous evil half, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osbourne opens in a fairly subversive, although not all that gratuitous, fashion with a little girl being chased by a dandy-like mystery man who ultimately corners the scared child, brutally beats her to death with his cane until said cane smashes into pieces, and then finishes things off by proceeding to sexually pillage her tiny body. Of course, the killer is played Mr. Hyde (played by genuinely horrifying looking Hebraic frog Gérard Zalcberg, who is probably best known as the guy that cuts a faceless chick’s head off in Jess Franco’s rather retrograde Eyes Without a Face (1960) remake Faceless (1987)), but he will not be making his official grand appearance until much later in the film. Eponymous young scientist Dr. Henry Jekyll (Udo Kier in another classic cult role where he betrays his rampant homosexuality) is engaged to get married to his beloved brunette bimbo fiancée Miss Fanny Osbourne (Marina Pierro of Borowczyk’s Immoral Women and Jean Rollin’s The Living Dead Girl (1982)) and to celebrate he has a engagement party the night before the wedding, but unbeknownst to his friends and even his beloved, he has much bigger plans than just dinner and a glass of expensive aged wine, as he is a mad scientist with a murderous thirst for flesh and he plans to brutally bugger and ultimately killer every single person at the rather quaint get-together. The party is attended by a number of important friends and acquaintances that Dr. Jekyll seems to hate just as much as he likes, so it does not seem all that strange that he decides to get a little bit of revenge against them by getting in touch with his atavistic side by transforming into his less than handsome yet savagely sexually virile alter-ego Mr. Hyde. Indeed, Dr. Jekyll is kind of a passive aggressive pussy who even seems like a pansy compared to his effete and overweight Reverend friend, so his decision to go beyond good and evil seems like a highly personal one, as it affords him the rare opportunity to carryout all of his most depraved and grotesque fantasies and fetishes while incognito while also using the opportunity to seek revenge against his dubious compatriots.  Of course, Dr. Jekyll's activities while come at a high prize, namely his original identity.

 In an imperative scene where each character is more or less an archetypical aspect of Victorian culture, virtually all the male characters and none of the female characters, who would not dare to open their mouths when male intellectuals are speaking, argue about science, religion, and materialism. When Dr. Jekyll’s rival/associate Dr. Lanyon (Howard Vernon of Jean-Pierre Melville’s debut feature Le Silence de la Mer (1949) and Caro and Jeunet’s Delicatessen (1991)) argues that “nature prohibits metaphysics,” a certain ostensibly devoutly religious man named Reverend Donald Regan (Clément Harari of Radu Mihaileanu’s Train of Life (1998)) becomes rather annoyed and replies, “What do you say when patients are cured when in a transcendental state?,” in a fairly bitch fashion. Dr. Lanyon is a proud materialistic atheist who believes he is rather courageous due to his spiritual impoverishment, thus he is rather annoyed by the fact that Dr. Jekyll has attempted to combine science with spirituality, stating to his associate in a self-righteous manner, “…as a man of science, you cannot believe in this transcendental medicine. You seek the alchemist’s goal but using modern scientific research results obtained from other men’s research. A bit lazy, wouldn’t you say?” Naturally, Dr. Jekyll is not too happy with Dr. Lanyon insinuations, so he defends himself by proclaiming, “History will prove me right, at least I hope so […] I shall not cease working until you all have been completely shown that transcendental medicine is no threat to empiricism…But rather it permits action that paves the way to transcendentalism…” Ultimately, the dinner concludes on a humorous note when an elderly highly decorated military man known simply as ‘General’ (Patrick Magee of Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (1971) and Barry Lyndon (1975)) stating in a conspicuously comical fashion, “Finish off this war, Sir. Only peace assures progress.” 

 After dinner, Fanny declares, “It’s ruined our night” after it is revealed that the little girl featured at the beginning of the film was murdered right outside on the street not long ago, but the party guests attempt to keep up the semblance of a happy and celebratory attitude by giving various priceless gifts to the engaged couple. Dr. Jekyll’s mother gives her son and his fiancée a once-lost painting by Dutch painter Johan Vermeer that was apparently hidden in a basement for two centuries which Reverend Regan is rather fond of as reflected in his rather pretentious remark regarding the work that it is, “The apotheosis of all humanity in my opinion.” When Fanny attempts to prove she is not completely brain-dead by describing the painting as “transcendental,” she is berated by her social-climbing mother for having the gall to be a woman who actually expresses her opinion about something. When Mrs. Jekyll shows off a 13th-century Teutonic warrior helmet, Germanophobia comes out in full force, with Dr. Lanyon describing the artifact as “The quintessence of collective fear” and the Reverend describing it as, “A work of an artist guided by Satan.” Unfortunately, all the bourgeois posturing comes to a swift end when someone brutally rapes and kills a petite virginal teenage girl who performed a dance at the party before the dinner. To demonstrate his knightly chivalry, the General demands that all the women be locked in rooms and have their doors guarded. Naturally, it does not take the General long to overact, as he accidentally kills Mrs. Jekyll coachman and he apologizes in a somewhat absurd and less than sincere manner by remarking, “Misfortune follows misfortune. Madame, I have murdered your chauffeur. My humblest apologies. It’s war. It’s like war. The soldier fires…the good lord carries the bullets.” Upon inspect the dead teenage dancer’s corpse, it is revealed that her vagina was ripped open to the point of making a hole five times its original size. On top of that, the phantom-like murderer's mysterious meat-cleaver was so long and sharp on the end that it pierced through the teen’s stomach from the inside. 

 While the General acts like he is leading a major war campaign around Dr. Jekyll’s humble abode, he becomes so deathly afraid upon being confronted by the considerably grotesque-looking Mr. Hyde that he does not even have the testicular fortitude to shoot him. Ultimately, Mr. Hyde decides to have a little fun with the General by ripping off all his prized medals from his military tunic and stomping on them and then ties the old military fart to a chair and declares, “You will be transported to paradise old man.” Indeed, Mr. Hyde proceeds to hump the General’s hot slut daughter from behind while forcing the rather sexually repressed military man to watch the debauchery. Needless to say, the General is rather perturbed to see a monster member that is as long as a sword go in and out of his debutante daughter’s naughty bits. While the cock killed the teenage dancer, the General's daughter demonstrates she has more martial prowess in her pussy than her father has in his entire body by wallowing in being rammed from behind with Mr. Hyde’s ludicrously large liver-lifter. When Mr. Hyde eventually gets bored and leaves, the General promises not to punish his daughter if he unties her, but when she frees him the military man unwittingly reveals his decidedly dysfunctional (and some would say incestuous) sadomasochistic sexual proclivities by bending over his little girl and brutally savagely whipping her bare ass. Meanwhile, Mr. Hyde demonstrates he is half-homo by savagely sodomizing Dr. Jekyll’s young blond twink friend Mr. Moore to the point where he is almost killed and puddles of post-anal-virginity blood surround his limp body. Mr. Hyde also murders Dr. Jekyll’s Arab servant ‘Apu’ when he attempts to go to the police to get help, but the man with the monster cock might be a tad bit xenophobic as demonstrated by the fact that he penetrates the towelhead with a sword instead of his cock. 

 When Reverend Regan delivers a letter to Fanny from Mr. Hyde where he tells his fiancée that it will not be possible for him to see her that night and that she needs to wait for him to come to her, the little lady gets suspicious and decides to investigate. Ultimately, Fanny finds her beau in his lab and watches him transform into Mr. Hyde upon taking a somewhat hysterical bath in liquid that looks like sewer water. Needless to say, Fanny is petrified when she sees Mr. Hyde emerge from the bathtub and declare, “Fill me with hatred.” As Mr. Hyde, the quasi-supernaturally schizophrenic character proceeds to torture and kill any and every person he can find in the house, including his mother, who he forces to endlessly play the piano while he is terrorizing people. When Mr. Hyde finds Fanny, he sinisterly states to her, “My dream is to watch you die” and “My pleasure is seeing your dead body” and ultimately severely injures her hitting her with a poisonous African arrow that was given to the two love birds by the Reverend as a wedding gift.  Naturally, when Mr. Hyde bumps into the General and his daughter, he kills them both with the poisonous, even though the latter declares her love to him since she loved being fucked by him.  When Mr. Hyde runs into Dr. Lanyon, he convinces him to follow him to his lab and plays a phonograph where Dr. Jekyll demands that he give his ‘friend’ a certain chemical if he ever wants to see him again. Of course, Lanyon reluctantly obliges and when Mr. Hyde transforms into Dr. Jekyll upon drinking the serum, the old materialistic scientist is so shocked by what he sees that he cannot believe his eyes, thereupon causing him to suffer a heart attack that he drops dead from. 

 After his old buddy/nemesis Dr. Lanyon abruptly drops dead, Dr. Jekyll retrieves his ladylove Fanny even though she complains, “You’re not really here, Henry. You’re dead […] You’re wounded me. You said you pleasured in seeing me dead,” so he attempts to calm her fears by remarking, “Both of my faces are me. They’re both me and each of them is perfectly sincere. I am not more myself when I throw off inhibitions, plunge into wickedness, than I am when I work long hours to acquire knowledge to alleviate suffering from pain.” While Fanny rests on a bed, Dr. Jekyll begins running a bath so that he can transform again and while he is doing so he explains to her, “I’m rather pleased with my body as it is. Each experience costs me five years of life and I know, little by little, I am losing control of my original, my higher self, more and more I identify with Dr. Edgar Hyde, my second bestial self.” Fanny must really like what Jekyll has to see about getting in touch with his “bestial self,” as she storms in the bathroom, pushes her beau out of the way, and jumps into the thus bathtub, thus transforming her into a salaciously sadistic beastess with startling red and yellow eyes. Of course, Dr. Jekyll does the same thing and the two celebrate by completely destroying everything inside the house, including the priceless Vermeer painting and all their other wedding gifts. Of course, they also make sure every single person in the house his dead, including a negress maid, whose unclad corpse is hung upside down from a rope while blood drips out of its cuntlet (which, for whatever reason, auteur Borowczyk opted to get a super extreme close-up shot of). After setting the house on fire (in one particularly potent shot, a book reading “In Celebration of the Engagement of Doctor Henry Jekyll and Miss Fanny Osbourne” burns), the two loony lovebirds get in a coach and proceeds to passionately fuck while licking one another’s wounds in a literally and figuratively climatic closing scene juxtaposed with otherworldly orgasmic music that immaculately accentuates the ‘eccentrically evil’ sort of ecstasy the two characters are experiencing.  What the two lovers do afterwards is anyone's guess, but one must at least assume that they end up fucking a number of people to death. Personally, I find that The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osbourne concludes on a rather romantic note as Jekyll/Hyde and Fanny become united for eternity in debauchery (as Hyde reveals before they both transform for the last time, he has ran out of the antidote that allows to morph back to normal).

 Undoubtedly, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osbourne makes the perfect triple feature with Paul Morrissey’s Warhol produced monster movies Blood for Dracula (1974) and Flesh for Frankenstein (1973) because not only do all three films feature Udo Kier portraying a classic monster movie villain, but also because they are all sadistically satirical subtextual works that play with genre conventions in a most subversive way to the point of making a mirthful mockery out of its Victorian source material. Of course, whereas Morrissey’s films are culturally cynical anti-leftist works that cleverly, if not callously, criticize everything from communism to the counterculture movement, Borowczyk flick features a full-force antisocial assault against not only Victorian culture and mores, but the British Empire and old school English character in general. Indeed, in its depiction of Arab and negro servants as symbolic as Britain’s colonialism and inclusion of an arrogant psychopathic General, hypocritical pervert Priest, and smugly materialist scientist, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osbourne manages to cover most of the uniquely unflattering elements of what was once the largest and most powerful empire in the world. Of course, the fact that Borowczyk changed Dr. Jekyll from a sort of philanthropic humanist who tragically develops a second evil alter-ego after taking the serum like in Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella into a somewhat unhinged pansy pervert scientist who delights in being able to commit grotesque sex murders while in the inconspicuous guise of an evil alter-ego demonstrates what little respect the Polish auteur had for ‘Victorian gentlemen’ and humanity in general.  Indeed, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osbourne is certainly more effective than any of the anti-British Nazi propaganda films I have ever seen.  One could certainly interrupt the end of the film where the titular antihero and antiheroine destroy everything they own, set the house on fire, and then proceed to copulate in a coach as Borowczyk's histrionic tribute to the death of the Victorian era. 

 One of the most striking aspects of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osbourne is that is manages to juggle classic Victorian Gothic elegance with decidedly depraved kitsch debauchery involving giant erect monster members and mutilated negress meat curtains, among other things. In that respect, aside from marginal (and inferior) works like Giulio Questi's rarely-seen E.T.A. Hoffmann adaptation Vampirismus (1982), the only film I can really compare it to is Leslie Megahey’s Sheridan Le Fanu adaptation Schalcken the Painter (1979) as both works feature classic aesthetic influences ranging from Vermeer to the use of chiaroscuro as seemingly influence by the works of Early Netherlandish painters like Jan van Eyck and Hugo van der Goes with scenes of seedy psycho-sexual horror, but of course Borowczyk’s film is much more debauched (notably, Megahey described Schalcken the Painter as being highly influenced by Borowczyk’s Blanche (1972)). While Megahey’s film features a fairly traditional music, the score created by Bernard Parmegiani for Borowczyk’s film is fairly ambient and hypnotic and oftentimes resembles the musical pieces created by Bobby Beausoleil and The Freedom Orchestra for Kenneth Anger’s Lucifer Rising (1972), thus further accentuated the film’s already ominously oneiric yet orgasmic tone. Indeed, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osbourne feels like it was directed by a goodhumored Jack the Ripper with a hatred for the English the transcends that of the average drunken IRA member.  Personally, I think that Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are sort of stand-ins for Borowczyk himself, as the former reflects the normal everyday man and the latter represents him as the cinematic auteur who sires the most waywardly wanton and elegantly of celluloid dreams, with The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osbourne most certainly being one of his most accomplished fetishistic filmic fantasies as a work that boldly blurs the line between the artsy fartsy and the aberrantly absurd.

-Ty E

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