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DR. JEKYLL AND HIS WOMEN

This film, known by at least half a dozen different titles, is the late Walerian Borowczyk’s highly idiosyncratic take on DR. JEKLL AND MR. HYDE, a profoundly eerie and poetic film that may be Borowczyk’s masterpiece.

The Package
     I think it’s safe to say there will never be another filmmaker like the Polish Walerian Borowczyk. Probably best known for the notorious bestiality-themed 1975 art film THE BEAST, Borowczyk, a former animator, specialized in perverse and surreal fare like GOTO, ISLAND OF LOVE, BLANCHE and LOVE RITES. During the late seventies and early eighties his films grew increasingly pervy, culminating with Borowczyk helming EMMANUELLE 5 in 1986, which one critic accurately likened to “a master chef behind a fast food counter.”
     DR. JEKYLL ET LES FEMMES (1979) was a largely faithful adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE, but with one added element: A woman named Fanny Osborn. The character was inspired by Robert Louis Stevenson’s wife, who reportedly found the initial version of the tale so shocking her husband was moved to burn it. Borowczyk alleged he’d found a copy of the original DR. JEKYLL manuscript and used it for his adaptation, although he later admitted the claim was a publicity stunt.
     The film is also notable for its many differing cuts and title changes. The most prevalent title is DR. JEKYLL AND HIS WOMEN, which adorns the (allegedly) uncut version containing the X-rated sex and gore most other prints lack. This includes the British version, entitled BLOODBATH OF DR. JEKYLL, which was shorn of a massive amount of footage, and the version released on video in Canada, called BLOODLUST, which was similarly butchered (in the U.S., FYI, the film has never been released on home video in any form). It’s possible that a truly “uncut” print may never turn up, as over the years the film has been severely cut and recut by many different hands.

The Story
     In a dark alley a little girl is beaten to death by a shadowy figure. Around the same time a dinner party is being held at the mansion of the eminent physician Dr. Jekyll, who’s celebrating his engagement to the virginal Fanny Osborne.
     After a lengthy philosophical discussion with some scientifically inclined guests about Jekyll’s unorthodox chemical discoveries, Jekyll disappears...and the child killer seen in the prologue, a creepy dude with slicked-back hair and shaved-off eyebrows, turns up in the house--and promptly rapes a young female guest with his foot-long cock! This causes a frenzy among the other guests, particularly a nutty English general. The murderer puts a stop to the general’s shenanigans by tying him up and forcing him to watch as his teenage daughter is ravished by the intruder (and the girl for her part doesn’t seem at all upset!).
     A bit later Jekyll turns up to tend to his wounded guests. Fanny grows suspicious of her fiancée and so watches through a crack in a door to Jekyll’s study as he immerses himself in a bathtub filled with a blood-red potion, and emerges from the water as the killer, a.k.a. Mr. Hyde.
     The latter embarks upon a killing spree with poisoned arrows unwittingly bequeathed by the general. He plucks nearly everyone in the house, including Fanny herself, before he’s cornered at gunpoint by a friend. In order to keep from being shot Mr. Hyde takes a drink of his potion and turns back into Dr. Jekyll. But the latter is now fully in thrall to Hyde’s perverted desires, and wastes no time preparing another bath-full of the potion--his last batch.
     Just as he’s about to immerse himself, however, Fanny jumps into the bath and transforms into a red-eyed seductress. Jekyll follows her lead, turning into Hyde for one last time, and the two embark on a rampage of joyous debauchery.

The Direction
     Those expecting a “well made” film will likely be disappointed by DR. JEKYLL AND HIS WOMEN. In the manner of most Walerian Borowczyk films it’s edited in choppy and haphazard fashion, with a wobbly, hard-to-follow narrative. Craftsmanship and storytelling were things Borowczyk never had much use for. His focus was on lush, fetishistic visuals, with the actors situated on equal footing with--or at times entirely dwarfed by--the incredibly opulent décor (here as in nearly all his films Borowczyk acted as his own art director).
     The images are as strange and beautiful as any Borowczyk ever created, given a burnished sheen by cinematographer Noel Very and enhanced by the profoundly ominous synthesizer music of Bernard Parmegiani. All combine to form a profoundly dreamlike atmosphere that may be totally unique--and totally disturbing in its evocation of the seduction and catharsis of evil. This may be the only Jekyll & Hyde movie to fully plumb the tale’s dark currents, presenting Jekyll’s transformation into Hyde as an experience of pure ecstasy--whereas the latter’s turning back into Jekyll is depicted as an unbearably painful ordeal.
     Offsetting this are some wildly discordant performances. Gerard Zalcberg is unforgettable as the browless Mr. Hyde, but many of the other actors, including Udo Kier and Patrick Magee, seem like they’re in an entirely different movie.
     Luckily the final scenes, in which Hyde and Fanny embark on their apocalyptic rampage, are stunning, with the already-overheated atmosphere giving way to an unforgettable orgy of unfettered delirium.
 

Vital Statistics

DR. JEKYLL AND HIS WOMEN (DR. JEKYLL ET LES FEMMES; BLOODBATH OF DR. JEKYLL; BLOODLUST; THE EXPERIMENT; THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND MISS OSBOURNE)
Allegro Productions

Director: Walerian Borowczyk
Producers: Ralph Baum, Robert Kuperberg, Jean-Pierre Labrande
Screenplay: Walerian Borowczyk
(Based on a novel by Robert Louis Stevenson)
Cinematography: Noel Very\
Editing: Khadicha Bariha
Cast: Udo Kier, Marina Pierro, Patrick Magee, Gerard Zalcberg, Howard Vernon, Clement Harari, Jean Mylonas, Eugene Braun Monk, Louis-Michel Colla, Catherine Coste, Rita Maiden, Michele Maze, Agnes Daems

     

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