DR. JEKYLL AND HIS WOMEN (1981) – The Dungeon Review!
I am most intrigued by the work of Walerian Borowczyk. I have seen just two of Borowczyk’s 43 director credits; The Beast and Dr. Jekyll and His Women. Accompanying the film were trailers for other Borowczyk offerings. Particularly intriguing were Immoral Tales and Behind Convent Walls which look like they are packed full of sex and surrealism. Borowczyk’s films range genres but all the titles I read up on all seem to have a heavy sexual vibe. Borowczyk is quoted as saying “Eroticism, sex, is one of the most moral parts of life. Eroticism does not kill, exterminate, encourage evil, lead to crime. On the contrary, it makes people gentler, brings joy, gives fulfillment, leads to selfless pleasure.” The Beast and Dr. Jekyll and His Women was enough to prod me into investigating the director; the more I read about Borowczyk the more I feel compelled to seek out his films. Unfortunately it would seem that Mr. Borowczyk’s films are hard to come by. The version of Dr. Jekyll and his Women I watched is apparently the only uncut version that exists for the film. It was dubbed and had Dutch subtitles. Even under these less than ideal conditions I thoroughly enjoyed it. There really needs to be an original French language version with English subtitles! Until then you can pick this version up from Trash Palace.
Dr. Jekyll and His Women opens with a quote from Robert-Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
“There was something strange in my sensations, indescribably new, and incredibly sweet. I knew myself, at the first breath of this new life, to be tenfold more wicked and the thought delighted me like wine.”
We begin on a dark street; a little girl is being pursued by a man who eventually beats her to death. We are than whisked off to the Jekyll manor where a celebration is going on. The celebration is in honor of the engagement of Doctor Henry Jekyll to Miss Fanny Osborne. Their youngest guest performs a dance recital while Henry’s mother accompanies on piano. Afterwards the group dine together and engage in a heated discussion on the validity of Jekyll’s research into transcendental medicine. We are shown violent snippets of murderous acts among the dinner dialog. Meanwhile the young dancer seen falling asleep at the table is resting in a guest room. A scream alarms the group who discover the body of the young dancer. Panic breaks out in the house as a maniac lurks and Dr. Jekyll is nowhere to be found.
This is definitely one of the more warped versions of Stevenson’s story I have seen adapted to film. The stuffy Victorian setting is rocked by Hyde’s presence. Doctor Henry Jekyll’s alter ego Edward Hyde is a sexual sadist with a huge penis. I specifically mentioned that he has a huge penis as we are given great detail and visual evidence. During an examination of one of Hyde’s victims we are told the penis is 6 centimetres in diameter and 35 centimeters in length. “Due to the unusually pointed tip and the hardness of the shaft Miss Victoria’s belly was perforated from inside just below the stomach.” Egadz! And this is the guy Henry Jekyll trusts with his life and has left all his worldly possessions to. Of course Henry Jekyll and Edward Hyde are one person. Borowczyk uses two different actors to portray the two characters. Udo Kier is Henry Jekyll and Gerard Zalcberg is Edward Hyde. Kier is studious and mild-mannered as the Jekyll character is traditionally portrayed, but Kier’s version is definitely hornier than others. Kier is a fascinating man to watch and he is a perfect choice for the serious Jekyll. I instantly recognized Zalcberg from Jess Franco’s 1987 film Faceless; which I recently watched and reviewed. In Faceless Zalcberg plays Gordon an Igor/henchman type and he is pretty damn creepy. He is an unusual looking guy whose face and sinister performance stays with you. He plays Edward Hyde, another odious character, in Dr. Jekyll and the Women just as convincingly. The General is one of the guests invited to the celebration of Henry and Fanny’s engagement. What a crazy character! The General is surly and bombastic and exhibits some rather erratic behavior. He brings arrows with poisonous tips from “The Dark Continent” as an engagement gift (they cause a bit of havoc later on). For no apparent reason whatsoever, the General attacks Fanny who pushes him away causing the General to walk off in a huff.
“Look who’s come to join us…your lovely daughter! Eager and willing….”
The General is cornered and overtaken by Hyde. He is tied up and submitted to watching his daughter have sex. The General’s daughter voluntarily bends over and exposes her bare buttocks for Hyde. After the General is untied he slaps his daughter around and then gives her bare ass a spanking with some rope. Patrick Magee is as mad as a hatter and is very watchable as the General! Howard Vernon has a memorable supporting role as the combative and arrogant Dr. Lanyon. So where does the “and His Women” part of the title come in?
Dr. Jekyll doesn’t really have “women” he has “a woman”; that woman being the lovely Miss Fanny Osborne. The happy bride to be does a little spying on her intended. She sees Henry pour something into a running bath. Once immersed Henry thrashes about the tub and emerges as Edward Hyde. Later Fanny gets the wrong end of a poisonous arrow and also ends up bathing in Hyde juice. Fanny’s bathing transformation scene is the most superb, sexy, trippy thing and it doesn’t let up until the credits role. Celebrate with anarchy; stab your mother, drink blood, set some stuff on fire, The lovers remain in each other’s arms to the end. Marina Pierro has been featured in several of Borowczyk’s films as well as Jean Rollin’s Living Dead Girl. In Dr. Jekyll and the Woman Pierro plays the confident and comely Fanny Osborne and has a strong presence. She is also a lovely psychotic Hydess!
I can not lie, the dubbing and the subtitles are a bummer. It was distracting at times. There was also a couple of bits of editing that were sketchy. Why does the General attack Fanny? I have no idea if it was bad editing or I missed something really subtle that provoked it. I watched Dr. Jekyll and His Women twice in the last 3 weeks and it eluded me. A scene featuring Fanny and Hyde and the General’s poisonous arrows actually made me chuckle. Fanny has an arm full of arrows that she throws like a girl in Hyde’s direction and manages to hit him. Not scratch him but put an arrow right through his arm! This is followed by Fanny running down a set of stairs to stand idle as Hyde loads his arrow into his bow and shoots her. It is a mess of a scene but its a fleeting moment in what was otherwise an enthralling watch.
Dr. Jekyll and His Women offers drama, violence and sex that will probably make your mother uncomfortable; so don’t watch it with her. Borowczyk mocks the stuffy Victorian characters he focuses on and throws in an ample amount of sadism. Borowczyk’s violent, erotic, quirky and poetic Dr. Jekyll and the Women is a unique and twisted take on Stevenson’s classic story that is well worth a look. Highly recommended.
IN CELEBRATION OF THE ENGAGEMENT OF DOCTOR HENRY JEKYLL TO MISS FANNY OSBORNE. The happy couple at a party in their honor.
Howard Vernon plays the arrogant Dr. Lanyon.
A dance recital is performed to entertain the guests.
Patrick Magee plays the General. The General is one erratic and bombastic son of a bitch.
Fanny spies on Henry and learns his heinous secret.
Jekyll is amazed at how close a shave he got with that new straight razor.
The General’s Daughter. “Look who’s come to join us…your lovely daughter! Eager and willing….”
Hyde practices his archery while the General’s daughter cheers him on.
Gerard Zalcberg plays Edward Hyde.
Fanny Alexander played by Marina Pierro.
Doctor Henry Jekyll played by Udo Kier.
Burn all proof.
Dungeon Rating: 4/5
Directed By: Walerian Borowczyk
Starring: Udo Kier, Marina Pierro, Patrick Magee, Gerard Zalcberg, Howard Vernon, Clement Harari