Walerian Borowczyk – Docteur Jekyll et les femmes aka Blood of Dr Jekyll (1981)



Touted as having been based on a hitherto lost manuscript by Robert Louis Stevenson, writer/director Walerian Borowczyk’s take on the Strange Tale of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde reworks the material as a heady brew of sex, violence, philosophy and surrealistic drawing room farce.

Following a blue tinted title card showing that bastion of respectability and hypocrisy the Houses of Parliament, we emerge into the sort of shadowy, foggy street that you imagine Jack the Ripper must have stalked and a terrified girl. Someone is after her…

She tries to hide, but to no avail and the mysterious figure attacks, then flees in the direction of Henry Jekyll’s town house…

There the guests are arriving for a dinner in celebration of the impending marriage of the good doctor (the iconic Udo Keir) and Miss Fanny Osborne (Borowczyk regular Marina Pierro). Besides the respective mothers in law to be, there is the General (Patrick Magee and voice) and his daughter; Jekyll’s medical colleague Dr Lanyon (Franco favourite Howard Vernon) and the Reverend Donald Regan (sic).

Over the meal this veritable cross-section of the Victorian bourgeoisie discusses Dr Jekyll’s notion of “transcendental medicin”. Lanyon, as a representative of progress and positivism, is dismissive, arguing that it is a priori impossible and illogical to purport to be able to “go beyond” and that such claims are the mark of charlatans or, worse, madmen. The Reverend Regan provides a religious counterpoint, raising the possibility of transcendence through God and Christ while the pragmatically minded General seeks the middle ground. Of the women only Fanny enters into the debate – the others, it seems, have not the capacity for such intellectual speculations – while a jarring “crystal image” – to appropriate a notion of the philosopher and film theorist Gilles Deleuze – shows her stabbing her mother…

As the evening winds down and everyone retires to their chambers Jekyll – increasingly under the influence of his alter-ego – decides to provide a more practical demonstration of what he means by transcendence and transforms himself into Hyde (Gérarld Zalcberg) once more…

With the discovery of Hyde’s victims, the general attempts to take control of the situation, ordering the doors locked, a servant dispatched to fetch help and the womenfolk locked away for their own safety…

Unfortunately the servant is soon found dead, apparently fatally sodomised by the now you see him now you don’t assassin…

Only Fanny seems to have an inkling of – or perverse fascination with – going on and hides herself in her paramour’s laboratory. There Jekyll submerges himself in a bath of blood coloured liquid – an allusion to the Countess Bathory segment of Immoral Tales perhaps – and emerges as Hyde…

Borowczyk’s command of his material is absolute, the carefully controlled and mannered compositions that foreground his much vaunted fetishistic sensibility – there are few other film-makers who can deploy paintings and everyday objects with such signifying value as Boro – that dominate early on increasingly giving way to a gloriously excessive and unrestrained mise en scene as a visual analogue to the unfolding narrative of disintegration and – ultimately, transcendentally if you like – rebirth.

A superlative cast of iconic Euro stars and a stunning minimalist score from Bernard Parmegiani only add to ones enjoyment.

In sum, a beautiful and brutal masterpiece of erotic horror cinema that deserves the audience currently denied it by distribution wrangles.



Subtitles:Dutch, hardcoded