Edge Of Sanity Review
Edge of Sanity presents a version of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde story, superimposed onto the Jack the Ripper killings, playing also off Anthony Perkins’ Psycho persona. Perkin’s plays the Victorian surgeon whose childhood trauma during a sexual situation resurfaces when he is subjected to a compound from a medical experiment, leading his alter-ego, Jack Hyde, to kill a number of prostitutes in the dark backstreets of Whitechapel. The result is a curious, lurid, but visually striking horror film.
Dr Jekyll (Perkins) is a surgeon who is experimenting with cocaine as an anaesthetic technique and also experimenting with the drug in other more traditional ways. One day a laboratory monkey accidentally knocks over one of his experiments creating a compound that when inhaled brings out the doctor's repressed emotions and anger in a personality he calls Mr Hyde. At night, 'Jack' frequents the seedier side of London’s red-light districts and brothels. Edge of Sanity only notionally hints at the themes of Stevenson’s Jekyll & Hyde, the freeing of the darker impulses of human nature that are innate within everyone, but suppressed under Victorian moral attitudes. This is downplayed in favour of the more lurid serial-killings by Jack of the prostitutes of Whitechapel. The overlaying of the two stories is effective to some degree, particularly with the widely-held belief that the Ripper killings were not just random butcherings, but showed some degree of surgical skill and a knowledge of anatomy that Dr Jekyll would undoubtedly have. The idea of a split personality with a particular sexual disfunction also works with this material, but don't let this give you the impression that this is a convincing case-study of a serial killer.
The more ‘human’ nature of the killer is also brought out in the Hyde transformations, which are less monstrous than some depictions of the character. Dr Jekyll here seeming only to don a scarf, his walking stick and some red-eyeliner to become a cool, calm predator who roams the immaculately lit and scrupulously clean backstreets of Victorian Whitechapel (actually filmed in Hungary). There is not much realism either in the depiction of Victorian prostitutes who look more like exotic dancers from the Moulin Rouge – all sequinned tutus, lace, ruffs and frills and adorned with jewellery. The cheap hotels they take their clients to resemble penthouse apartments bathed in blue lights and are managed by hotel owners who look like sensitive English country gentlemen, picturesquely carry white doves around with them. The heavy stylisations, unnatural colours and lighting are fabulous however, giving the film a particular quality that raises it above the otherwise cheap slasher movie it really is. The acting from the supporting cast is diabolical, only Perkins proving effective, mainly due to his cadaverous features and tormented demeanour, helping to gloss over the ludicrous Freudian motivation – traumatised by a voyeuristic incident in his childhood – that is grafted onto the film as a motivation for Jack’s slaughter of prostitutes in various soft-core scenarios.
Edge of Sanity is released as part of the MGM back catalogue, which means it is a fairly standard barebones release, encoded for Region 2 and 4 with various dubs and subtitles for wider European and Australian release.
Some scenes show slight levels of grain and softness that only occasionally result in some macro compression flicker, but for the most part the video quality is stunning. Presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic, there are few marks on the print and levels of colour, brightness, sharpness and detail are exceptionally good, showing off the vivid red and deep blue colour schemes that represent Jack’s states of lust and murderous intent to marvellous effect. The Dolby Digital stereo audio track is similarly effective, clear and strong but unexceptional. There are, of course, no extra features on the DVD.
English hard of hearing subtitles are provided as, I’m pleased to note, the choice of subtitles or dub for Italian, French and German, rather than the customary one-or-the-other choice for MGM releases.
Edge of Sanity is a bit of a mishmash in its blending of stories, themes and motivations from several different sources and attaching it to the porno-stylisations of the director Kikoïne. There’s little here of artistic merit, little in the way of good performances and little excuse for the artsy photography and lighting of the gratuitous nudity and gory slashing that cover over the thinness of the plot. The attempt to overlay the Jack the Ripper killings with a Jekyll & Hyde structure however, combined with Perkins’ studiously over-the-top performance and a strong visual aesthetic make this slightly better than your average slasher film, well transferred to DVD.