Director: Walerian Borowczyk
Arrow Video USA

Years before the execrable MARY REILLY, Walerian Borowczyk imagined a prominent female in the life of Henry Jekyll in HE STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND MISS OSBOURNE, one of the director's hardest to see films finally hitting Blu-ray and DVD in a dual US/UK release from Arrow Video.

Dr. Henry Jekyll (Udo Kier, BLOOD FOR DRACULA) has just published his much-debated book about transcendental medicine espousing his theories that chemicals can help the body reach transcendental states. Unbeknownst to his colleagues, he has succeeded in putting this theory into practice and has been stalking the Victorian London nightlife in another form. On the night of the party celebrating his engagement to beautiful Fanny Osbourne (Borowczyk muse Marina Pierro, THE ART OF LOVE), Jekyll summons his attorney Utterson (Jean Mylonas) to change his will and make a mysterious Mr. Hyde his sole beneficiary rather than his bride or mother. Over dinner, Jekyll finds his theories attacked by his doting mother's bourgeoisie guests – including professional rival Dr. Lanyon (Howard Vernon, THE AWFUL DR. ORLOF), pompous Reverend Reagan (Clément Harari, Franju's NUITS ROUGES), his publisher, fey chemist Mr. Maw, and authoritarian general (Patrick Magee, DEMENTIA 13) and his daughter Victoria – and he retreats to his laboratory. Plunging into a bath of his chemical concoction and emerge as sub-human "inferior" bogeyman Mr. Edward Hyde (Gérard Zalcberg, Jess Franco's FACELESS) who unleashes his fury and libido – by way of a blood red, womb-puncturing sex organ – upon the wedding party, including a more intrigued than horrified Fanny.

Walerian Borowczyk has an obvious reputation as a visual stylist (often also serving as editor and set designer) from his early animation all the way through is soft-focus eighties erotica. With the combination of handheld photography, loose staging, his trademark fascination with Victorian objects over characters, and the promise of naked ladies, it is not readily apparent just how thoughtful an adaptation/interpretation THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND MISS OSBOURNE really is. The opening sequence of Mr. Hyde trampling a young girl is drawn loosely from the novel but his subsequent clubbing of her and attempted molestation tell us that this is not going to be a standard adaptation, but it is far from a sexed-up adaptation of the Robert Louis Stevenson novel (for that you can look to Guido Crepax's graphic novel adaptation). It embodies a sort of Victorian "death wish" from Jekyll's objects d'art like a Teutonic helmet, the giving of wedding gifts like curare-tipped arrows, to Jekyll making Hyde his sole beneficiary and executor of his estate as he plans to entirely unmake himself and placing his seemingly beloved Fanny in peril. Just as Hyde does not seem to care about Jekyll's wishes by destroying his lab, his records, his will (and his lawyer), so too does Fanny's own unmaking of herself include the destruction of the wedding presents including her dowry in the form of a priceless and long-unseen "transcendental" Vermeer painting. Not only does the repressed Victoria welcome her violation and gleefully assist Hyde in the murder of her father (parents do not fare well here), but a brief flash of Hyde's violation of another victim seems to show the victim's hands guiding the path of his organ. In an interview with Pierro on the disc, she sheds light on Stevenson's wife, the real Fanny Osbourne, and that it is she not Hyde who is Jekyll's other half; and this seems substantiated in a shot in which Jekyll sports Hyde's red eyes in his reflection, suggesting that Hyde is part of Jekyll's personality and not some untapped, bestial throwback. Also intriguing is that Stevenson wrote the story while married to the divorced Osbourne, leading many critics of Victorian literature to interpret a certain double life to Stevenson himself.

Not released theatrically or on legitimate video stateside, THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND MISS OSBOURNE was accessible to American viewers mainly through bootlegs of the various cut UK tape releases (under the titles THE BLOOD OF DR. JEYLL, THE BLOODBATH OF DR. JEKYLL, and THE EXPERIMENT) or the Dutch-subtitled tape release. While most of Borowczyk's oeuvre has made it to DVD in the US and the UK, a tangle of rights issues has kept the film from release since the dawn of format. The title came into high demand again following Arrow's the mammoth crowd-funded restoration of five Borowczyk films that resulted in CAMERA OBSCURA: THE WALERIAN BOROWCZYK COLLECTION of Region ABC/0 Blu-ray/DVD combo editions of BLANCHE, GOTO, ISLAND OF LOVE and a combo of animated and short films as well as Region B/2 combo releases of IMMORAL TALES and THE BEAST packaged with a thick book featuring Borowczyk's short-story collection "Anatomy of the Devil" and new and archival writing on the films (the five combos in the set are also available separately while IMMORAL TALES and THE BEAST have been picked up stateside by IFC).

Arrow's all-region Blu-ray/DVD combo features a 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.66:1 widescreen transfer from a 2K scan of the original camera negative. The diffused lighting style of Noel Very had not fared well on video, looking as hazy as an unrestored silent film (with colors looking muted as to be almost monochrome at times), but the new HD master is gorgeous with the once murky opening suffused in cool blue lighting, the details of the faces and costumes distinct through the scrims and smoke. The French and English LPCM 1.0 tracks – the latter featuring Magee's voice – are in great shape, having been as meticulously cleaned as the negative scan with only a few crackles and a layer of hiss remaining. Two sets of English subtitles translate and transcribe the two tracks and offer only minor variations, with the French translation seeming somewhat more literate.

Extras start off with an audio commentary track that is actually a compilation of audio interviews with late director Borowczyk, critic Noël Simsolo, cinematographer Noël Véry, editor Khadicha Bariha, and assistant Michael Levy. Since the Borowczyk interview was conducted by Frédéric-Albert Lévy of "L'Écran Fantastique" during the film's editing, Borowczyk is reluctant to reveal certain twists of the story but he does connect with the themes of the Stevenson story in addition to remarks about the shooting and how certain effects were achieved (his decision to have another actor play Hyde came after much experimentation with make-up and prosthetics). Véry recalls how shooting began with Martin Bell, but the British DP worked too slowly. Throughout the commentary, he discusses how the lighting style in the film evolved from flat to backlit and diffused (and the adjustments to the diffusion he had to make at different focal lengths and apertures using Zeiss' early high-speed lenses). Levy recalls being just out of film school and approaching film scholar Peter Cowie at a film festival for advice about how to get into film. Cowie recommended Borowczyk who had a reputation for promoting new talent, and Levy would spend a few months trying to contact the director (whose film GOTO, ISLE OF LOVE he so admired). He unfortunately spends most of his time on the track discussing the political aspects he sees in Borowczyk's work, which leads to some rather dry discussion. The track is often not scene-specific but Bird does address a range of topics while also making connecting remarks for the excerpts. He points out the influence of the British film SIR HENRY AT RAWLINSON END on the tone of the film, as well as the use of Bell and Magee (Borowczyk does not recall the French title and assumes that writer/co-star Vivian Stanshall is a woman based on his given name).

Two short films are also included on the disc. The first is Borowcyk's "Love Toy" inspired by the images produced Charles-Émile Reynaud's praxinoscope while "Himorogi" is a homage to Borowczyk co-directed by Marina Pierro and Alessio Pierro (who photographed as well as designed the sets a la Borowczyk) with music by JEKYLL composer Bernard Parmegiani that utilizes props and other objects belonging to and created by Borowczyk (including Pierro's necklace from JEKYLL, her veil and spike nails from LOVE RITES, and the projector from PRIVATE COLLECTIONS), as well as projected stills of Pierro from his films. Udo Kier appears in a brief interview in which he recalls that Borowczyk initially contacted him about appearing in an anthology short about Gilles de Rais (the historical figure who inspired Bluebeard). That project fell through but he would be cast by Borowczyk as Jack the Ripper in LULU (a project begun by THE NIGHT PORTER's Liliana Cavani) followed by JEKYLL. He conveys his admiration for Borowczyk's attention to detail and relative freedom given to the actors, his co-stars (particularly Pierro and Magee), and the film's special effects (including the painful hard glass contact lenses).

Pierro is present in an audio interview over a series of stills from her various Borowczyk films. She recalls her audition for BEHIND CONVENT WALLS being no more than her being able to tell him she spent a day on a Visconti set and spending more time discussing painting and surrealism. Of JEKYLL, she recalls that Borowczyk was offered the project but was uninterested since there were no female characters until he discovered the existence of Stevenson's wife Fanny Osbourne. She states that the title THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKLYLL AND MISS OSBOURNE depicts Fanny as Jekyll's true other half and that he hated the title DR. JEKYLL AND HIS WOMEN (as well as the Italian title IN THE ABYSS OF DELIRIUM). She briefly discusses her six films with him and the perception of her as Borowczyk's muse (partially due to her character in THREE IMMORAL WOMEN being modeled after Raphael's "La fornorina"), as well as "Himorogi".

Alessio Pierro discusses "Himorogi" as well, and how he learned everything he knows about filmmaking from Borowczyk and how he attempted to emulate that in the short's presentation of the objects using stop-motion, reverse photography, and transparency projections. Borowczyk's assistant on LOVE TOY Sarah Mallinson discusses her working relationship with him and fellow animator Peter Foldes (with whom she was also romantically involved) and their attempts to promote non-Disney animation in France before Borowczyk moved on to live action. Scholar Michael Brooke provides an appreciation in which his analysis of the film towards the end of the featurette is less interesting than his adolescent memories of sneaking into the X-rated theater that was showing the film expecting cheap thrills and being inspired to seek out more of the director's work (which at the time could still be found on exploitation double or triple bills as well as film festivals). He spends the middle of the featurette discussing Borowczyk's beginnings in Poland and his move to Paris. He also discusses the myth that Borowczyk sold out to softcore pornography and how his former critical supporters were dismissive of his more financially successful works.

Adrian Martin's and Christina Alvarez Lopez's video essay "Phantasmagoria of the Interior" provides interesting context for the film's themes and visual inspirations. Of the Vermeer painting "Woman in Blue Reading a Letter", it is described as the "idealization of domestic love" while also revealing that the subject (Vermeer's wife) was repeatedly attacked by her psychotic brother with a stick (cane) while pregnant. Clips from the film and paintings are used to illustrate Borowczyk's visual style (for instance, the contrast between the women photographed against flat backgrounds and the men within deep spaces). "Eyes That Listen" is part montage of Borowczyk's images scored by Parmegiani and a 2008 interview with the late composer who expresses the belief that the music should not comment on the scene but draw attention to the images. "Return to Méliès: Borowczyk and Early Cinema" discusses the homages and influence of Méliès, Reynaud, and Eisenstein in the film. The original French audio is lost for the film's trailer but it can be viewed with a mix of Parmegiani's music, the narration from the UK video trailer THE BLOODBATH OF DR. JEKYLL, or optional commentary by editor Bariha who recalls that Borowcyzk looked at the film's rushes and took photographs off the screen to animate them in the trailer, and that he chose frames from the rushes for the press photos rather than images shot by a still photographer. The disc's reversible cover and booklet were not supplied for review. (Eric Cotenas)