Anthony Perkins is a name known to fans of the horror genre thanks to his lead role in the seminal slasher movie Psycho in 1960. Desperate not to be type-cast as a killer, Perkins would go on to star in films that took a step away from horror. However, in his later years Perkins embraced his horror heritage, and began starring in more and more genre movies. And whilst the Psycho sequels are definitely his most remembered, Edge of Sanity is one that had him once again playing a dual personality killer as he took on the stories of both Jack the Ripper, and The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde.
Edge of Sanity sees Perkins playing the role of Doctor Henry Jekyll, a well respected medical practitioner and researcher living in 1880s London. Jekyll has a decent home life with his wife, Elisabeth (Glynis Barber), and is turning heads in the hospital thanks to his research into new drug practices. Hoping to present his findings at a medical conference in Vienna in a few weeks time, Jekyll is working hard to perfect his new drug mixture. However, when the monkey he’s experimenting with knocks over several vials it causes a leak of chemicals that cause a strange change to come over the doctor.
Under the influence of the drugs, Jekyll seems to have become a freer person. He acts on instinct, doing what he wants, taking what he wants. He moves through the streets of London, confident in his skin. He even takes on a new name, calling himself Jack Hyde. However, his new compulsions lead to him murdering a sex worker as past trauma pushes him over the edge. Maintaining his life as Jekyll by day, Hyde keeps taking control at night, killing more women, and engaging in depraved activities. As news of the killings spread, the murderer is named Jack the Ripper by the press. Knowing that his personality seems to have split, and that the police are on his tail, Jekyll must figure out which life he wants to live.
The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde is a novella that has been adapted many, many times over the years, with literally hundreds of versions of the stories having been told. With so many different versions of the story existing, Edge of Sanity needed something different to set it apart from the other films on the market. When it was decided to combine the story with the real crimes of Jack the Ripper Edge of Sanity began to take form. The original story was released only a year before the murders of the Ripper took place, and the actions of Hyde do mirror the real crimes in a number of ways. The marriage of the two seemed to be a perfect combination, but it’s the casting of Perkins in the role, and the vision of director Gérard Kikoïne that really set this film apart.
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When the film starts, things are fairly normal. Jekyll is a normal man, living in pretty accurate representation of Victorian London. The film feels safe and normal, and I found myself comparing a lot of the look to The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, which was set in a similar time and made just a few years before. However, where Hyde is concerned things get a bit weirder. Jekyll’s lab is big, bright, and white. Filled with sharp angles and decorated with tall pillars with stark white busts atop them, it looks like something from a 1980’s music video. Once Hyde takes to the streets of London the fashion changes, the women wear bright neon pink skirts, there are chunky chrome belt buckles and big boots, and Hyde looks like he wouldn’t be out of place in a night-club. Despite being right there in your face, these changes are strangely subtle, and you don’t even realise that things don’t look the way they’re supposed to.
When the film came out a lot of folks didn’t even realise it was happening, and some critics even complained that the film was filled with mistakes, that it was including things like a new pound coin in them by accident because the production team were inept. But these were deliberate choices by Kikoïne, and it makes the film feel so odd and so different from other interpretations of both stories because of this. It enters this strange space where it kind of exists outside of any real time or setting without the audience realising its happening, affecting the viewer whenever Jekyll is affected by his drugs.
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Speaking of Jekyll, I can’t talk about this film without talking about Anthony Perkins’ performance. The most obvious comparison here is his role in Psycho, where he played a dual character, but I think that’s perhaps the most surface-level reading of this film. Perkins isn’t transformed with make-up to become Hyde, he’s not a monster in that persona. He’s pale and sweaty yes, and his hairstyle is different, but he’s still just a man.
The story, and his performance, seems more a metaphor for drug addiction as much as it is about living a double life. It’s not clear if Jekyll is becoming another person, or if the drugs are just freeing him to act in ways society tells him he can’t. And because of that, it also feels as if it draws upon Perkins’ life as a gay man in a time where he could not live openly for much of his life. Hyde engages in ‘strange’ sexual practices, going to a fetish club and forming a bisexual throuple; things that are still looked down upon to this day. It’s not a big stretch to see this as a performance where Perkins pours some of his own life experiences and feelings of breaking away from the fake persona you wear to be who you really are.
The new Blu-ray release from Arrow Video includes a new 2K restoration of the film that looks really nice, and is a lot better than the previous grainy VHS versions of the film that were on offer. There’s also an interview with director Gérard Kikoïne where he talks about his career, as well as some video essays about the film, Jack the Ripper in cinema, and Jekyll and Hyde. There’s also a really interesting audio commentary from writer David Flint and filmmaker and author Sean Hogan.
I’d never seen Edge of Sanity before this new release, and had no idea that Perkins had played these three iconic individuals in the same film. For someone who enjoyed the entire Psycho series, and loves a bit of Victorian era entertainment, this is a wonderful movie, packed full of interesting and intriguing extras. A film I’m definitely going to be recommending people check out.
Edge of Sanity is out on Blu-ray on 20th June from Arrow Video.