Edge of Sanity (1989)

Anthony Perkins as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?

Well…let’s just say it sounds like a better idea than it is.

I suppose the real shame is that we are talking about a lavishly produced period film, which looks and feels like a trip through Victorian London (with an emphasis on some of the nastier parts) and comes complete with a solid British cast.

And yet, it all sort of falls flat.

Now, we’ve seen a lot of attempts at Dr. Jekyll before, so I’m not particularly bothered by Edge of Sanity‘s choice to use some of the elements which have become fairly common in these adaptations: for example, there is a very strong psychosexual element.

Admittedly, it comes with a flashback to a past trauma (complete with sex and nudity) from Jekyll’s childhood, which instead suggests one of the more recent psycho killer movies.

Nor is it a problem that Jekyll’s increased obsession with the drug he uses to become Hyde is presented as an addiction.  This is found in the original story itself.  However, this drug is supposed to be some native plant which has great promise as a local anesthetic, but it proves to have unexpected effects when Jekyll accidentally spills a solvent on it, then ends up breathing in the smoke.  He then goes around as Hyde, smoking the stuff in a small glass pipe made from his laboratory tubing.

Doesn’t that sound uncomfortably like he’s using crack cocaine?

Mind you, I really don’t think crack causes such a notable change in appearance, which then rapidly reverses once the effects wear off.

Edge of Sanity then reveals that Hyde is Jack the Ripper.

I’m not sure this hasn’t been done elsewhere: in fact, I have some vague notion that I’ve run into the idea before.  It’s an interesting twist, I’ll admit, and there is obviously a lot you can do with the notion.

Although Edge of Sanity decides to go the sex and sadism route.  With nudity, of course.

Look, let’s face it, it’s all a bit of a mess.  Maybe it’s just that we don’t see enough of Jekyll before the transformation to establish him as a good man, or perhaps it is just that Anthony Perkins’ somewhat nervous quality shows through in both characters, and Jekyll is never presented as a warm, friendly, personable sort of guy.  Whatever the case, while we see him growing more obsessed with his nighttime trips into the underworld, and his behavior changing, these scenes lack the impact they should have had because we just haven’t been given enough reasons to care about Henry Jekyll.

And that seems to be the major problem: a lot happens, and we have a lot of sex, nudity and sadism thrown at us, but it just doesn’t move us to feel anything.

I suppose it might help if they’d gone another route with the Hyde makeup.  Now I’ll admit that some of the wolfman like versions of Hyde are pretty silly (even when they don’t star Abbott and Costello) but Jack Hyde (as he calls himself for obvious reasons) doesn’t look all that different from Jekyll.  You’d think he’d be recognized by most of those who know him.  The transformation isn’t exactly ineffective, although the basic look, with pale sweaty skin and red rimmed eyes suggests a nearly terminal drug addict rather than a strong, vicious, evil creature full of animal cunning.

Which is more or less what the character is supposed to be.

I think we need to file this one under “missed opportunity.”  There are so many promising things here — the settings, the costumes, the cast — and yet something is missing.  It would have helped to have built up Jekyll more to make his fall seem more terrible, it would have helped to have built a stronger, better-connected narrative rather than a series of shocking events, and it would have helped had Jekyll been played by an actor with a wider range, who could have made him more likable.

And, let’s face it, it would have helped if his transformation was something more than just a bad drug trip…

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