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29 June 2022

Arrow Video teeters on the EDGE OF SANITY (review)

It's "double the terror, double the fun" when Anthony Perkins trades Mrs. Bates for Mr. Hyde in EDGE OF SANITY!

Sexually repressed since his traumatic Freudian childhood experience of his father's infidelity with a prostitute, Henry Jekyll (Anthony Perkins, PSYCHO) has grown into a respected London physician as devoted to his practice as his wife Elizabeth (Glynis Barber, TERROR) is to her charities in London's East End. Experimenting with concentrations of cocaine as a more effective anesthetic than morphine, Jekyll has also been using the compound as a stimulant which he claims makes him feel exhilarated and euphoric. 

One night, however, Jekyll inadvertently inhales the fumes of an accidental chemical reaction and unleashes his repressed self in the form of Jack Hyde, who is a much snazzier dresser and lacks the good doctor's limp. Swaggering down to London's East End, he catches the eye of hustler Johnny (Ben Cole, HOWLING V: THE REBIRTH) who exposes him to the high class brothel of Madame Flora (Jill Melford, THE VENGEANCE OF SHE) but the Jekyll side of Hyde is scared off by the religious blasphemy enacted as entertainments by some of the prostitutes. Hyde runs off into the night and finds himself instead drawn to Susannah (Sarah Maur-Thorp, RIVER OF DEATH), a prostitute who resembles the one he saw with his father as a child. After a scuffle with one of her clients, Susannah disappears but Hyde finds a willing substitute for his more violent attentions. 

 As a killer slashes his way through prostitutes with surgical precision terrorizes London, Inspector Newcomen (Ray Jewers, A BRIDGE TOO FAR) suspects that the killer may be a doctor. Elizabeth suspects that her husband is being blackmailed by his mysterious patient Jack Hyde who she learns through her charity work is well known to the prostitutes for his sadism. Having formed something of a drug-addled unholy trinity with Johnny and Susannah, Jekyll may have willingly given over what was left of himself to Mr. Hyde. 

Fusing the overfamiliar story of Jekyll and Hyde and the overfamiliar story of Jack the Ripper, EDGE OF SANITY plays like Robert Louis Stevenson by way of Ken Russell's CRIMES OF PASSION and Richard Gordon's CORRIDORS OF BLOOD. An atypical Harry Alan Towers production directed by former Jess Franco editor Gerard Kikoïne – who had previously directed the Playboy Channel softcore pics LADY LIBERTINE and LOVE CIRCLES for Towers followed by the back-to-back slavespolitation films MASTER OF DRAGONARD HILL and DRAGONARD for Towers and Cannon – EDGE OF SANITY does not quite succeed as a psychological drama so much as a trashy cult film. Although it foregrounds the repressed desires of Jekyll and reveals that anyone who actually knew him would have recognized him as Hyde, Perkins' accent comes and goes and he is neither as alternately scary or pathetic as the Reverend Peter Shayne as Hyde or Norman Bates as Jekyll. Either the filmmakers were totally disinterested in the conventional Victorian scenes or their bland presentation was meant to reflect Jekyll's disengagement with them first in his work and then in his unfettered debauchery. 

The film's charms are all in the presentation which is deliberately, punkishly anachronistic. The photography of Tony Spratling (THE MAN WHO HAUNTED HIMSELF) – possibly a quota credit since the camera operator is director Kikoïne's usual DP Gerard Loubeau (FIRE UNDER THE SKIN) – juxtaposes the burnished wood of Jekyll's domestic abode and antiseptic whites of his lab and hospital with the rain-slicked, color gel-lit streets of the East End shot at expressionistic canted angles. While some of the exteriors were shot in London, the studio scenes and the bulk of the film's interior and exterior locations – including Jekyll's visit to a Turkish bath which allows for some full frontal male nudity in the unrated version – were shot in tax break-friendly Hungary with sets designed by Tivadar Bertalan (MATA HARI). The wardrobe of the East End scenes seems more retro than genuine to the period, with Hyde's black trousers, silk shirts, and scarves seeming more haute couture than bespoke Victorian menswear, and the prostitutes sequined and bedazzled skirts and Madonna-style crucifix earrings more suited to a French discotheque than the streets of London. Frederic Talgorn's Paris Philharmonic Orchestra score gives the film some additional class (the demo tracks would be repurposed for the Towers-produced Poe slasher BURIED ALIVE directed by Kikoïne in tax-break friendly South Africa alongside the Alan Birkinshaw adaptations of HOUSE OF USHER and MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH). 

Rather than being a Cannon or 21st Century co-production, EDGE OF SANITY was co-produced by Edward Simons' Allied Vision for whom Towers first "rescued" the South African production HOWLING IV: THE ORIGINAL NIGHTMARE by replacing its original director with John Hough (THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE). Towers' wife Maria Rohm (VENUS IN FURS) is credited as associate producer and Claudia Udy (JOY) appears as one of the prostitutes. Although Towers worked on the script early on, it is not credited to his "Peter Welbeck" alter ego, but rather to the equally pseudonymous J.P. Fenix (apparently not a Jess Franco project kicking around since the seventies when Towers produced his version of COUNT DRACULA and Massimo Dallamano's DORIAN GRAY) and Ron Raley who would later adapt Oscar Wilde's "The Picture of Dorian Gray" for Towers' dull update PACT WITH THE DEVIL

Released theatrically by Millimeter Films (HARDWARE), EDGE OF SANITY was released on tape by Virgin Vision in rated and unrated versions along with an Image laserdisc of the latter. MGM released the film to DVD in its unrated form in an anamorphic widescreen/fullscreen double-sided disc with a good transfer but ugly artwork. The film's Blu-ray debut came courtesy of Shout! Factory in a double feature with prison slasher DESTROYER (also featuring Perkins). Fans of expensive German mediabooks could have snapped up a special edition from Wicked-Vision which featured English audio and subtitles for the feature but not the new extras. 

MGM's dated HD master was still quite gorgeous, but Arrow's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen Blu-ray features a ravishing new 2K scan that enhances one's textural appreciation of the film greatly. Rather than concealing Perkins' wrinkles under Hyde's white make-up, they stand out in greater relief on his face making him appear not so much old so much as an emaciated drug addict. There is also an immediately apparent contrast between the real Hungarian location streets and the stylized Whitechapel alleys and the stagey nature of Madame Flora's, a victim's loft (in which she refers to a crack pipe as her "good China"), and even a rooftop is in keeping with the performative nature of characters of which Hyde is first a voyeur and then a participant. The LPCM 2.0 rendering of the Dolby Stereo track also gives Talgorn's score a wonderful sense of breadth, although the live sound scenes stand out from the post-dubbed dialogue. Optional English SDH subtitles are also included. 

While the Shout! release only featured the film's trailer, Arrow have gone all out in a mostly-successful attempt to rehabilitate this trashy film into something more considered. First up is an audio commentary by writer David Flint and author and filmmaker Sean Hogan who note the film's "explicitly Freudian" approach – including veiled remarks about Perkins' double life and the perversely "Hitchcockian" cameo of director Kikoïne during the opening sequence – suggesting that the film is more faithful than some adaptations of the Stevenson novel in that the good/evil dichotomy was not actually between Jekyll and Hyde but between the third party narrator and the portraits of both Jekyll and Hyde as they emerge in the narrative, and that the film deals more with addiction than duality; indeed, they compare the film to Hammer's horrors which pit bland good guys against more seductive evil along with Walerian Borowcyzk's DR. JEKYLL AND MISS OSBORNE in which the transformation to Hyde is explicitly a liberation from Victorian constraints. They also discuss how Perkins better managed to escape typecasting after PSYCHO into a variety of European and American non-genre projects than after PSYCHO II and PSYCHO III, after which he appears to have fully-embraced his cult image. They also argue that the film's anachronisms are intentional rather than sloppy and suggest that Towers was more hands-off on this project by his own remarks about the ignorance of the French art director for historical detail. 

Kikoïne appears in two interviews recorded for the Wicked-Vision release and ported over here with English subtitles. In "French Love" (21:12), Kikoïne discusses working in his father's dubbing and editing studio – including the French dub of Hammer's DR. JEKYLL AND SISTER HYDE which had Jekyll's feminine alter ego committing Ripper-style murders of women to obtain female hormones necessary for their transformations – moving onto softcore and then hardcore films before wanting to move on in 1982 after the French government changed the rating system, and meeting Towers at Cannes who offered him the chance to direct two of his Playboy films followed by the two Cannon films. In addition to recalling how he "tamed" Oliver Reed, he also mentions little-appreciated late-Cannon/21st Century Film art director Leonardo Coen Cagli. 

"Staying Sane" (24:17) is more focused on EDGE OF SANITY with Kikoïne recalling the offer from Towers – who had always previously communicated with him in English but revealed his fluent French – meeting Perkins in Hollywood, insisting that Jekyll and Hyde should not die since "evil never dies," and deciding against using prosthetics for Hyde in order to "free Norman Bates" (which apparently amused Perkins). Kikoïne delves heavily into the film's production design choices – from Madame Flora's to Jekyll's lab – to the wardrobe choices like Hyde's anachronistic Doc Martens and steel-tipped belt, as well as working with Perkins who shared Reed's interest in the technical aspects of filmmaking but was in the director's words a "class act." 

"Edward's Edge" (20:22) is a brand new interview with producer Edward Simons (COMMUNION) who recalls that Towers pitched the film to him, coming up with the "Edge of Sanity" title to distinguish it from the many other Stevenson adaptations, the commercial element of casting Perkins and Barber – Towers filled out the rest of the cast from his stable of performers – having his eyebrows plucked to placate Perkins when the same request was made of him for Jekyll's look, plans to shoot in the UK or Prague before settling on the more economical Budapest, the seasoned Hungarian crew, a humorous anecdote about Perkins' reaction when Simons insisted on bringing him to the British embassy in Hungary, and the film's screening at the Avoriaz Fantastic Film Festival. 

"Over the Edge" (26:18) is a brand new interview with Stephen Thrower, author of NIGHTMARE USA, who discusses Towers and his Jess Franco credits, Kikoïne's adult career, the British/Hungarian co-production – Simons had worked for Brent Walker Film Distributors before Allied Vision – as well as the influences of Ken Russell and Derek Jarman while also suggesting that the blasphemous element seem shoehorned in here since lapsed Catholicism does not seem to be part of Jekyll's repression. 

Most informative is "Jack, Jekyll and Other Screen Psychos" (28:37), an interview with Dr Clare Smith, author of JACK THE RIPPER IN FILM AND CULTURE, who discusses the coinciding publication of the Stevenson novel, the Ripper murders, and the rise of the British tabloid press – and how the latter contributed to the image of Whitechapel as foreign and criminal – the source of theories that the Ripper must be a medical man, the early transition of the Ripper into cinematic bogeyman with the anthology Waxworks and G.W. Pabst's adaptation of Frank Wedekind's PANDORA'S BOX in which Louise Brooks' prostitute Lulu meets her end with Jack the Ripper as a client. She also discusses how Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes has shaped our image of the ripper and the films in which the two appear like A STUDY IN TERROR and TIME AFTER TIME, the inaccurate portrayal of the Ripper's victims on film, and the rise in Ripper speculative fiction and films in the 1980s with the centennial of the murders, some of the more outlandish suspects – including American stage actor Richard Mansfield who was in London performing a stage adaptation of the Stevenson novel during the murders as well as even ALICE IN WONDERLAND author Lewis Carroll – as well as some of the latter day theories like Patricia Cornwell's libelous book about artist Walter Sickert (whose great-nephew had been the source of the popular theory of the Ripper being a royal family surgeon covering up an impropriety of which the prostitute victims were witnesses). 

The disc closes out with the film's U.S. theatrical trailer (0:59) with its trio of taglines "Twins of terror are better than one", "Mother's gone away, brother's here to stay", and "It's a ripping good time!" Not provided for review were the reversible cover featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys and the illustrated collector's booklet featuring new writing on the film by Jon Towlson (the latter included with the first pressing only).

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