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
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.
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.
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
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
DR. JEKYLL AND HIS WOMEN (DR. JEKYLL ET LES FEMMES; BLOODBATH OF DR.
JEKYLL; BLOODLUST; THE EXPERIMENT; THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND
Director: Walerian Borowczyk