Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde is one of the evergreens of the horror genre, a timeless tale of human nature’s dark side that is malleable enough to be reworked for the needs and mood of new generations. That said, it’s hard to imagine that Robert Louis Stevenson foresaw anything like Edge Of Sanity, a wild blend of slasher and softcore smut that feels like a Hammer film collided with a seamy grindhouse epic. If that description isn’t interesting enough, it also boasts a highly entertaining turn from Anthony Perkins as the film’s schizo-psycho.
The plot for Edge Of Sanity starts off with Dr. Jekyll (Perkins) developing a cocaine-style powder to be used as a new breed of anesthetic. He’s also using it as a pick-me-up – and when an accidental fire in the lab causes him to inhale the fumes of the burning formula, he develops a depraved split-personality in the form of Mr. Hyde. All Hyde wants to do is smoke formula, act as voyeur to sexy prostitute Susannah (Susan Maur-Thorp) and slice up other ladies of the night in a style conspicuously resembling Jack The Ripper. This dual life takes a toll on Jekyll, making his wife Elisabeth (Glynis Barber) suspicious as the cops take note of the bodies piling up around town.
If that premise sounds sleazy, rest assured that Edge Of Sanity takes full advantage of its potential. Hyde makes his appearance at the 14 minute mark and the film becomes a profusion of stalk and slash setpieces, dollops of sex-and-drug kink and periodic breaks for Perkins to come unglued as he pontificates about man being set free from societal rules. The resulting film has a real Euro-sleaze tone to it, offsetting the period costumes and lavish production design with kink-laced murder scenes happening in sexual tableaus, hints of bisexuality and plenty of then-cutting edge evocations of freebasing.
Critics tend to come down hard on this film for using the story’s themes as a pretext for a romp through sleaze… but that’s exactly the point of Edge Of Sanity and they do it with a surprising amount of style. Director Gerard Kikoine was formerly a specialist in porn so he has no problem creating a debauched atmosphere: Jekyll is given a deliriously trashy childhood trauma that kicks off the film and all the stuff in brothels and back alleys is directed in a way that suggests an ’80s music video meets Ken Russell circa Crimes Of Passion, complete with prostitutes who dress like Madonna in her “boy toy” phase.
Top-notch production values add to the decadent fun. As usual with a Harry Alan Tower’s production, the period setting is bolstered by excellent set design and costumes. Tony Spratling’s sleek photography makes excellent, Argento-esque use of red and blue lighting and a lavish orchestral score from Frederic Talgorn enhances the Hammer-esque edge to the proceedings. Best of all, Perkins gives his dual-role the right mixture of knowing camp and Method-actor psychosis, making his riff on the Jekyll/Hyde duality a kinky blast of fun to watch. The other actors pale in comparison but Perkins sets the tone nicely, particularly in the brothel scenes.
Simply put, Edge Of Sanity is a highlight of Perkins’ latter-day work and a must-watch for the exploitation film fanbase because it offers the most entertainingly trashy version of the Jekyll/Hyde archetype to date.
Blu-Ray Notes: this title was recently released by Scream Factory as half of a double-bill blu-ray presentation with Destroyer. The MGM-sourced transfer looks really nice, with those vivid red and blue hues popping off the screen. The lossless presentation of the vintage 2.0 stereo mix offers a clear, balanced presentation of the mix. The one extra for this title is a gloriously over-the-top trailer that smartly pitches the film as a campfest.