Want to watching Anthony Perkins slum it in a tawdry, psycho-sexual mash-up of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Jack the Ripper? Hell yeah, you do.
Edge of Sanity is famed exploitation director Gérard Kikoïne’s mishmash of classic fiction and bleak reality. It’s staged with the primary colors and decadent set dressing of an early 1960s Hammer horror with the off-kilter lens of a Dario Argento giallo film. There’s nothing but oddness and depravity here. Leonard Maltin apparently called it “tasteless, pointless, and unpleasant,” which is true. It also feels strangely uninhibited, by 21st-century standards, depicting a Hyde informed by sexual longing, sadomasochistic violence and creatively depraved evil.
Henry Jekyll (Anthony Perkins) is a middle-aged scientist devoted to a good cause. His wife, Elisabeth (Glynis Barber), runs charities for prostitutes to help them leave their life on the streets. They’re in the upper crust of Victorian society and use their positions to positive ends. Jekyll’s current project is developing a special anesthetic, which is basically just a mixture of ether and cocaine. One night, his test monkey knocks over a beaker, sublimating the cocaine into Jekyll’s waiting nostrils. The medicine sets Jekyll’s repressions loose, and he starts torturing and murdering sex workers and their johns.
There’s little interference in Jekyll’s work from the law despite the dogged pursuit of Underwood (David Lodge), a police officer from Scotland Yard. This isn’t a film about a murderer being brought to justice. In fact, it’s far from it. For the most part, it’s 90 straight minutes of Anthony Perkins orchestrating erotic scenarios and then offing the participants. While not X-rated, there’s a surprising amount of nudity, particularly male nudity. Jack the Ripper’s victims were predominantly women, and remain so here, but there’s an undeniably bisexual undercurrent to Hyde’s crimes, which feels ahead of its time, at least in cinematic depictions.
Frankly, Edge of Sanity was a bit of a surprise. It starts strong enough, but the final act descends into “holy shit” levels of depravity. As critic Jon Towlson writes in his booklet (available with all first-pressings of this release), the film fits neatly into an era of late-1980s horror, when cultural trends were trending back into an era of active repression in the genre.
Special features include a brand-new audio commentary by writer David Flint and author Sean Hogan; an interview with Stephen Thrower, author of Nightmare USA; and a new interview with Dr. Clare Smith, author of Jack the Ripper in Film and Culture. Also included are two interviews with Kikoïne.