Monday, April 25, 2016

Retro Review: EDGE OF SANITY (1989)

(UK/Hungary - 1989)

Directed by Gerard Kikoine. Written by J.P. Felix and Ron Raley. Cast: Anthony Perkins, Glynis Barber, Sarah Maur-Thorp, David Lodge, Ben Cole, Ray Jewers, Jill Medford, Lisa Davis, Briony McRoberts, Claudia Udy. (R, 91 mins)

Taking on the dual roles of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde has always been an opportunity for a distinguished actor to deliver a tour-de-force performance. Legends like John Barrymore, Fredric March (who won on Oscar for 1931's DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE), Spencer Tracy, Christopher Lee, Jack Palance, and John Malkovich among many others have taken a turn (even Jerry Lewis if you count the Jekyll & Hyde-inspired THE NUTTY PROFESSOR), but it was 1989's EDGE OF SANITY that provided the great Anthony Perkins with his contribution to the Jekyll & Hyde canon. After nearly 30 years of PSYCHO-derived typecasting as nervous, twitchy weirdos, Perkins had long since given up trying get out of Norman Bates' shadow by the time EDGE OF SANITY came along, with multiple PSYCHO sequels under his belt, including one he directed himself (1986's PSYCHO III). There's a case to be made that Perkins wasn't being very choosy about the gigs he was accepting by 1989, and EDGE OF SANITY is Exhibit A. Produced by the always-suspect Harry Alan Towers, who shepherded many a Jess Franco project in the late '60s and early '70s, EDGE OF SANITY is probably the most jawdroppingly sordid take on Robert Louis Stevenson's source novel that you'll ever see, the possible exception being Walerian Borowczyk's 1981 masterpiece THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND MISS OSBOURNE, which was least artistic and genuinely disturbing in its shocking transgressions. EDGE OF SANITY, on the other hand, is an unabashed raunchfest that seems poised to break out into a hardcore porno at any given moment. Perhaps that's not surprising given that French director Gerard Kikoine had previously dabbled in European porn prior to joining the Towers stock company, where he was assigned several of the producer's dubious, apartheid-era South Africa-lensed projects like DRAGONARD (1987) and its simultaneously-shot companion piece MASTER OF DRAGONARD HILL (1987) and the Poesploitation dud BURIED ALIVE (1990). So feverishly perverse is EDGE OF SANITY that rumors have persisted for years that Jess Franco secretly co-wrote it. Even though the credited J.P. Felix doesn't really sound like a real person and has no other IMDb credits, it's not Franco, despite the name sounding very much like his occasional pseudonym "J.P. Fenix."

Shot using more tilted Dutch angles than a Hal Hartley wet dream, EDGE OF SANITY presents Perkins' Jekyll as a milquetoast London surgeon whose experimentation with a cocaine-based anesthetic ends up inadvertently creating Victorian-era crack. With himself as the subject, Jekyll transforms into a gaunt, pale, compulsively-masturbating, crackhead Jack Hyde, sucking on a glass pipe and cruising for Whitechapel streetwalkers. They tend to turn up brutally slaughtered as Hyde's drug-fueled spree of sex murders earns him the name "Jack the Ripper." It's an interesting angle to fuse Mr. Hyde with the Ripper mythos, but EDGE OF SANITY is more concerned with letting Perkins fly his freak flag, using all the tics and mannerisms in his arsenal and borrowing a lot of his leftover Rev. Peter Shayne histrionics from Ken Russell's CRIMES OF PASSION (1984). Jekyll already has some sexual hangups in his psyche, stemming from a childhood voyeurism incident involving a servant girl (Sarah Maur-Thorp), a figure who repeatedly turns up in various guises in Hyde's nightly travels. It's another interesting touch to have Maur-Thorp play a series of prostitutes who all look the same to the out-of-control Hyde, the id of the more outwardly proper Jekyll. But again, whatever deeper themes Fenix, co-writer Ron Raley, and director Kikoine are going for are obliterated by the garish lighting, a demeaning role for Maur-Thorp (who only made a couple of other movies before quitting acting) and Perkins' insane performance, which manages to be simultaneously fearless and embarrassing. As a goth-looking Hyde, Perkins grimaces, twists and contorts his body, moans, groans, and grunts while aggressively rubbing bare asses, sucks on a crack pipe, head-butts Cockney pimps, initiates threesomes, masturbates a prostitute with his walking stick, and repeatedly gropes and fondles himself throughout.

In what's certainly his last memorable--for better or for worse--role before his death from AIDS in 1992, Perkins simply doesn't know where to stop, and considering some of the peccadilloes he demonstrated in his direction of PSYCHO III, one can't help but wonder how much of Hyde's antics stemmed from the actor being given some wide latitude by Kikoine. You'll need to shower after watching EDGE OF SANITY, though on Shout! Factory's new double feature Blu-ray, where it's paired with 1988's haunted prison dud DESTROYER simply because Perkins co-stars in it, it ends up looking far better than it has any business being. Filmed in Budapest using some of the same sets and locations as the same year's Robert Englund-headlined PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (also produced by Towers), EDGE OF SANITY is opulent and ornate, looking deceptively high-end for the in-your-face, late '80s T&A grinder that it is. The Blu-ray features the uncensored 91-minute version, five minutes longer than the R-rated 86-minute theatrical cut released in the spring of 1989 by the short-lived Millimeter Films, an offshoot of Miramax and sort-of a precursor to the Weinsteins' later Dimension Films genre brand. It's hard to believe Perkins hit all the major promotional destinations to plug this thing, showing up to talk EDGE OF SANITY on ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT and some morning shows, as well as the late-night circuit with Johnny Carson, David Letterman, and Arsenio Hall.

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