The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osbourne Blu-ray Review

Grotesque Victorian shocker featuring a monstrous Mr. Hyde succumbing to his basest impulses

A respectable dinner party honoring the engagement of Dr. Henry Jekyll and Fanny Osbourne turns into a night of sheer terror for everyone in the house. Director Walerian Borowczyk adds an overwhelming dose of sexual frenzy and violence to Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous tale in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osbourne. The 1981 psycho-sexual horror film stars Udo Kier as the troubled Dr. Jekyll and Patrick Magee in one of his final roles. The cult film stumbles through a confused opening act before finding its footing to deliver one of the most bizarre, unforgettable climaxes ever filmed.

Robert Louis Stevenson invented one of the most lasting literary characters of all time with the poor Dr. Jekyll, a man that had a hidden alter-ego lurking inside him at all times. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osbourne is a nightmarish interpretation of the concept, helped along by an imposing electronic score by Bernard Parmegiani. The sexually explicit film revels in its twisted fantasies and bloody violence, pushing far past the limits of good taste. Walerian Borowczyk’s moody direction and arthouse sympathies play up the claustrophobic atmosphere inherent to its narrative. A madman is loose in the opulent Victorian mansion and the guests have little idea what is happening as they die.

The fairly simple story is a mere prelude to the far more important philosophical themes that Walerian Borowczyk wants to build on the basic framework of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Dr. Henry Jekyll (Udo Kier) is a fervent believer in what he calls “transcendental medicine.” He is hosting an elegant engagement party for himself and Fanny Osbourne (Marina Pierro). Things are seemingly going fine when a madman no one seems to know starts going around and terrorizing the guests. Inexplicably trapped inside the mansion, the guests retire to their own rooms.

The madman is Mr. Hyde (Gérard Zalcberg), a brutish man that has no moral problems raping and killing the guests. The man’s agenda seems unclear at first, especially when it’s revealed he has been working with one of the guests. Why does Dr. Jekyll keep leaving the party while his guests are getting murdered in the most gruesome ways possible? One woman ends up dead from a brutal rape at Mr. Hyde’s hands. This movie is never squeamish about turning away from the bloodiest deaths possible. Mr. Hyde has no boundaries for his desires. He is a creature of pure lust and violence.

The movie’s only power comes from the twisted path it takes in the clash between Mr. Hyde and Miss Osbourne.

The story heats up as Mr. Hyde turns his attention towards the lovely Miss Osbourne. Their meeting changes the entire dynamic of the film as Borowczyk’s true intentions with its aims become clear. How will she react when she discovers her fiancé‘s dark secret? What had been a confusing script with too many characters is whittled down to a mere handful of players by the end. The movie’s only power comes from the twisted path it takes in the clash between Mr. Hyde and Miss Osbourne. The result is an unforgettable statement of psycho-sexual drama that may scar some viewers.

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osbourne is a strange movie indeed. The dream-like atmosphere and menacing electronic score work better than expected for a horror movie set inside a Victorian mansion. The sexual violence is so over the top that it distracts from the film’s ultimate value.

Movie ★★★☆☆

Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osbourne Blu-ray screen shot 9

The 1981 European film gets a fresh restoration from the original camera negative, handled directly by Arrow Video. Despite the new film transfer done with best practices, this is a soft, diffused movie experience with average detail. The new 2K film restoration has been done under the supervision of original cinematographer Noël Véry.

The AVC video encode uses high parameters to handle the gritty grain structure in a transparent fashion. I would hate to see film elements this rough handled by some other distributors. Picture quality may have well turned out unwatchable. Properly framed in its 1.66:1 theatrical aspect ratio common to European cinema, the 1080P presentation has just enough definition and clarity to remind viewers this is truly an improvement over standard definition video. That marks a large leap in quality from prior versions of this film, most of which have been cut for various reasons.

My only quibble with the transfer itself is the mildly bright look, possibly the product of an elevated gamma level. It definitely pushes the contrast, occasionally blowing it out. Some blooming occurs in specific scenes, a heavy dose of romantic lighting leads to the problem. This type of soft-focus cinematography was all the rage in the late 1970s, seen on a wide variety of British and European movies.

Video ★★★☆☆

English and French soundtracks are included in mono PCM sound quality. Some attempt has been made to restore the audio, fixing some of the existing clicks and dubbing issues. There are still minor lip-sync issues present. Fidelity is not really an issue for the soundtracks. The mono presentation has a rich sound with intelligible dialogue. The imposing electronic score is somewhat anachronistic for a film in the classic Victorian period but works as an effective accompaniment in terror.

The optional English SDH subtitles display in a white font.

Audio ★★★☆☆

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osbourne is coded for regions A and B. This release includes the film on both DVD and Blu-ray in Arrow’s trademark clear plastic Blu-ray case. This set of special features explores Walerian Borowczyk’s early forays into animation and experimental filmmaking. It’s a lavish tribute to the filmmaker, interviewing the two lead actors and a fairly long video essay recalling a fan’s first memory of seeing the film. The commentary is stitched together by taking separate interviews and running them together. The mash-up works out okay, if a bit disjointed.

  • Audio commentary featuring a 1981 archival interview with Walerian Borowczyk, and new interviews with cinematographer Noël Véry, editor Khadicha Bariha, assistant Michael Levy and filmmaker Noël Simsolo. This “discussion” is moderated by Daniel Bird.
  • Phantasmagoria of the Interior (14:39 in HD) – A Vermeer painting plays a key role in the themes of the film. This video essay explores its visual and thematic impact.
  • Interview with Udo Kier (11:19 in HD)
  • Interview with Marina Pierro (20:17 in HD) – The Italian actress recalls her experiences working with Walerian Borowczyk. In Italian with English subtitles.
  • Himorogi (2012) (16:58 in HD) – A short film by Marina and Alessio Pierro, made in homage to Borowczyk.
  • Interview with artist and filmmaker Alessio Pierro on Himorogi (10:01 in HD)
  • Eyes That Listen (10:02 in HD) – A featurette on Borowczyk’s collaborations with electro-acoustic composer Bernard Parmegiani
  • Happy Toy (1979) (02:17 in HD) – A rare short film by Borowczyk based on Charles-Émile Reynaud’s praxinoscope.
  • Interview with Sarah Mallinson (10:01 in HD)
  • Returning to Méliès: Borowczyk and Early Cinema (06:50 in HD) – A featurette by Daniel Bird
  • Theatrical Trailer (01:14 in HD)
  • Appreciation by Michael Brooke (32:57 in HD) – The editor of Sight & Sound recalls his first experiences seeing the strange film and the huge impact it had on his tastes. The video essay explores much of Walerian Borowczyk’s career and what critics thought of his work.
  • Reversible sleeve with artwork based on Borowczyk’s own poster design
  • Booklet with new writing on the film by Daniel Bird and archive materials, illustrated with rare stills

Extras ★★★★★

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review as a screener that may not represent the retail disc. This has not affected the editorial process. For more information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

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Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.