Edge of Sanity, 1989.
Directed by Gérard Kikoïne.
Starring Anthony Perkins, Glynis Barber, David Lodge, Sarah Maur Thorp, Ben Cole, and Harry Landis.
When Dr. Henry Jekyll’s experiments with using cocaine as an anaesthetic get out of control, he changes into the grotesque Mr. Hyde, who has taken a liking to killing sex workers in Victorian London.
An unsung gem in late ‘80s horror, Edge of Sanity is a bizarre retelling of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic novella Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde but smashed together with the real-life case of Jack the Ripper and delivered with one foot in a Victorian period drama and the other in a neon-drenched 1980s slasher movie with a few arty flourishes thrown in.
Psycho legend Anthony Perkins plays Dr. Henry Jekyll, a brilliant scientist who is experimenting with cocaine as an anaesthetic so he can perform localised surgery without causing any pain to his patients. Jekyll is also still suffering from the childhood trauma of watching his father having sex with a prostitute and then receiving a beating when he got caught, and when his experiments result in inhaling chemical fumes this inner trauma manifests itself as Mr. Hyde, transforming the usually calm and gentle doctor into a grotesque madman who takes to the streets to kill prostitutes. Naturally, the police come calling and Jekyll’s wife starts to ask questions but can the good doctor keep his inner demons under control?
Well, no he can’t, otherwise there wouldn’t be much to see, and Edge of Sanity is a movie that wants you to look at it because visually this is a fantastic looking period horror movie. Perhaps it is because a lot of it was filmed in Budapest rather than London – although there are some pick-up shots filmed in London for a bit of authenticity – but this setting is at once very familiar and a little bit alien thanks to the odd camera angles and neon lighting that punctuate nearly every scene that Mr. Hyde invades. Add to that some deliberately anachronistic choices – for example, one character uses a pound coin, which wouldn’t be in circulation for another century, as would the studded leather belts and various other costume choices that are peppered within – and you have a world that may be Victorian on the surface but there is definitely a 1980s aesthetic that bleeds into Hyde’s world and throws your expectations, letting you know that the filmmakers – as well as the characters – aren’t playing by the rules.
By this point in his career Anthony Perkins seemed to have accepted that he was forever going to be associated with the role of Norman Bates and would always be typecast as playing characters with something of a split personality about them, and unlike many actors who have been boxed into playing a certain type Perkins delivers a huge performance, chewing the scenery – and there is a lot of it for him to gorge on – and taking on the role(s) with admirable abandon. The nervous stutter that made Norman Bates so endearing is here when Perkins is Jekyll, but when he is Mr. Hyde Perkins goes into full psycho (with a small ‘p’) mode, being confident and terrifying with the help of some subtle but creepy make-up and the actor’s own ability to change facial expressions to create completely different personalities. Perkins also cuts a magnificent figure when he is in silhouette, with his shoulder-padded shirts and jackets making him look bulkier and more threatening.
With solid support from Glynis Barber as Jekyll’s wife Elisabeth and Ben Cole as Johnny, a male sex worker who befriends Mr. Hyde, Edge of Sanity plays into slasher movie territory more than any Victorian murder mystery – after all, there is no mystery as we know who is doing the killings – and watching Perkins stab and slash his victims in a much more graphic way than he did in his previous movies is extremely gratifying, especially as Mr. Hyde is closer to being Freddy Krueger than he is Jack the Ripper thanks to his warped sense of humour.
Naturally, with all this neon lighting on display the picture quality of this Blu-ray is excellent, although Edge of Sanity does look a bit like a TV drama in places thanks to the costumes and set dressings, but the sharp image and bright colours against the black backgrounds is definitely worth the upgrade if you’ve only seen the previous DVD release. Extras come in the form of an informative audio commentary by writer David Flint and author/filmmaker Sean Hogan, a fascinating interview with author Stephen Thrower about the movie, an interview with director Gérard Kikoïne and an interesting interview with Jack the Ripper expert Dr. Clare Smith, author of Jack the Ripper in Film and Culture, who adds some context to the Ripper content of the movie.
Overall, Edge of Sanity is terrific fun and offers up a thrilling 90 minutes of sleazy sex and violence filtered through a lens of Victorian darkness and 1980s fluorescence. Anthony Perkins is obviously the main focus, and he doesn’t disappoint as he gets to gurn, cry and murder his way through the movie, managing to be both sympathetic and repulsive but not by merely being meek and mild Norman Bates in Victorian London and instead really going for it with both the Jekyll and Hyde characters. It is a shame that this movie is often overlooked in lists of 1980s slashers, general horror films or as one of those one-off horror movies that never got a sequel (as it could have done thanks to a wonderful final shot) but hopefully now it is out on Blu-ray by Arrow Video it will finally get its due.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★