Monday, September 2, 2013

Dr. Jekyll & His Women (1982) dir. Walerian Borowczyk

a.k.a. Docteur Jekyll et les femmes; The Bloodbath of Dr. Jekyll

I once promised you that I'd write at greater length about director Walerian Borowczyk's veritable bloodbath of a film, Dr. Jekyll & His Women. Months passed by with nary a peep, and there you were thinking I had forgotten my sacred oath, betrayed you in the worst way. How wrong you were.

Many moons ago, Richard Schmidt of Cinema Somnambulist, Doomed Moviethon, and Hello! This is the Doomed Show contacted me about submitting an original piece to a new venture of his, a Eurohorror and giallo fanzine entitled Fang of Joy (which, if you're wondering, is the curious translation of the title with which Argento's The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970) was christened for its Japanese release). Such a bold, costly, and reckless experiment in print criticism during the Age of the Tweet appealed to me instantly, and I decided I'd write him a piece on the spot... several months after he originally sent me the messages, when they finally decided to show up in my inbox. So, maybe not on "the spot," but certainly on "a spot." Thankfully, Richard was still at work compiling the first issue, so I spent one frenzied night breathing whiskey and cranking out a very long piece on (what else) Dr. Jekyll & His Women for him to include. This essay is now available to you, my adoring readership, for a nominal fee, alongside many other fine pieces. Because the fanzine is a print exclusive, my essay will remain exclusive to it as well, so you'll have to throw down some bones for a copy if you'd like to read it (as you surely do). To tantalize, I will preview an early paragraph:

"Polish director Walerian Borowczyk’s 1981 French-German co-production Docteur Jekyll et les femmes (a.k.a. Dr. Jekyll & His Women; alternately The Bloodbath of Dr. Jekyll and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osborne) takes an approach to the Hyde conundrum that’s distinct from that of previous adaptations and in line with that of the source material. In Borowczyk’s film, Jekyll’s mad science is unambiguously presented as no more than a means of obfuscating the truth: Hyde’s crimes are those that Jekyll wishes he could commit, if only he could do so while maintaining his respectable reputation, which — in Victorian society — means everything. To lose one’s good name is to lose power and status, but to maintain one’s good name requires one to abstain from any behavior deemed immoral (reasonably or not) by the society that reaffirms that good name. Jekyll’s solution to this bind, in both novella and film, is to create another name entirely, one that is capable of enacting his forbidden desires and absorbing the scathing criticism that follows. When we first meet the film’s Dr. Henry Jekyll (Udo Kier) he’s dictating a new book on his latest transcendental research. He relates a historical tale he’s heard about men who hire other men to perpetrate crimes for them, all in order to preserve their good names while still indulging (however vicariously) in the societal misdeeds they wish they could partake in. Taking this lesson to heart, Jekyll fashions himself a wicked cipher through his science by rolling around (constantly, as if it were the height of orgasmic ecstasy) in a tub of transformative blood-colored chemicals. For Jekyll, metamorphosing into Hyde is no more than the act of pulling down a mask to conceal his identity or—as Jekyll himself puts it—the ability of the schoolboy to toss of the pretense of his uniform whenever he desires to cause mischief. In one particularly revealing moment near the end of the film, Jekyll attempts to claim that Hyde’s words and deeds are separate from his own before contradicting himself by admitting “both of my faces are me.” "

That's all you get. Now throw them bones.


  1. Thanks for the plug, man. And thank you so freakin' much for contributing to the zine.

  2. I need to get a copy of that zine. Dr Jeckyll and His Women is one of my favorite films. The final scene where Hyde and Miss Osbourne seem to be biting each other and drinking each others blood in that stagecoach is a highlight for sure. Praise be to Borowczyk!