“The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osbourne” (“Docteur Jekyll et les femmes”)
An Adaptation of Stevenson
The engagement party of Dr. Henry Jekyll and Miss Fanny Osbourne is the backdrop of an adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s original novel. After the party, Jekyll and Osbourne, someone yells out that a child has been murdered outside on the street. The party guests watch a dancer perform and during which Jekyll tells a lawyer to change his will and leave everything to someone named Mr. Hyde. Soon after that the dancer was found murdered and the guests at the party realize that one of them must have done so.
Jekyll had been spending a lot of time doing medical research and just recently he published a book that give his thoughts on transcendental medicine. While the party was underway, Fanny went into Jekyll’s lab where she sees him having a bath of chemicals. The chemicals are what cause him to transform into Hyde who is a representation of the bestial side of human nature.
Made in 1981, this is Walerian Borowcyzk’s take on Stevenson’s classic. It is a kinky French horror film, with a disturbingly lustful sadism. Dr. Henry Jekyll (Udo Kier), a wealthy and celebrated scientist, is hosting a party to celebrate his engagement to Miss Fanny Osbourne (Marina Pierro). His crippled mother, his mother-in-law as well as assorted scions of Victorian society, a clergyman, a rival scientist and a general (Patrick Magee), come together for an evening of food and celebration. They are pompous, self-satisfied and bubbling over “with barely concealed desires as they exchange pleasantries and hotly debate Jekyll’s new theory of transcendental medicine.” Jekyll wants his estate given over to the mysterious and as yet unseen Mr. Hyde, and there seems to be a settling of accounts coming up.
The director makes no pretense about not holding to the original story. Jekyll’s assault on the guests is savage, and yet they are complicit in their own downfall, either because he stirs in them their own (scarcely) hidden desires, or because they provide him with the weapons of their destruction. His own sadism is pitched against their own hypocrisy and general vileness. It seems that Fanny also would like to experience transformation.
Borowczyk’s take on the story starts with a dread-provoking, mysteriously filmed sequence of an adolescent girl running for her life from a shadowy man. She runs through alleys and dark buildings before he finally chases her down and beats her with his cane, which shatters. He starts tearing her clothes off, but someone who happened along scares him away.
Meanwhile back at the party we learn that Jekyll has recently published “The Laboratory and Transcendental Medicine”, a book that lays out his new theories of metaphysical medicine and is the topic for hot hotly debated at the dinner table by Jekyll, Reagan, and Jekyll’s colleague and critic Dr. Lanyon (Howard Vernon). Throughout the dinner, we see brief glimpses of horror that will take place before the night is over.
When Victoria, the dancer is upstairs resting after her performance, an intruder she is savagely raped her and left her for dead (which she was). The men at the party think that whoever did this had come into the house. The women are told to lock themselves in the rooms of the house and the men take off to find the perpetrator. The general shoots Jekyll’s coachman by mistake and the general is then jumped on and tied up by the man guilty of the other crimes and then he runs off to commit more crimes and one of those happened to be the sexual assault of one of the young male party guests. Everyone has assumed that Jekyll was outside taking care of his coachman but…
Lanyon gets the women to take a sedative but Fanny does not and she goes to Jekyll’s lab where she sees him bathing in the solution that will cause his transmogrification into Hyde (Gérard Zalcberg). The film keeps the identity of Hyde mysterious for more than half the film, with Hyde’s appearances fast, obscured, and punctuated by unnerving glimpses of perverted savagery. Hyde’s killings are the result of sexual aggression, for in the course of the film he kills at least one man and one woman by sexual penetration (or so we’re told) with his gigantic, animalistic phallus, as Lanyon tells us. Lanyon feels that they are up against a creature that is not just brutal but has no sense of what is allowed and what is not. I could continue telling you about the plot but I do not want to spoil the mystery, etc. For anyone who is interested in the development of the horror film, this is a must see.