Edge of Sanity

Edge-of-Sanity-r3ev Edge of Sanity  (1989)    Millimeter Films/Horror-Thriller    RT: 90 minutes    Rated R (strong violence, gore, strong sexual content, nudity, drug use)    Director: Gerard Kikoine    Screenplay: J.P. Felix and Ron Raley    Music: Frederic Talgorn    Cinematography: Tony Spratling    Release date: April 14, 1989 (US)    Cast: Anthony Perkins, Glynis Barber, Sarah Maur Thorp, David Lodge, Ben Cole, Ray Jewers, Jill Melford, Lisa Davis, Noel Coleman, Briony McRoberts, Mark Elliott, Harry Landis.    Box Office: $102,219 (US)

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 Poor Anthony Perkins. His iconic role as Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho is the worst thing that could have happened to him career-wise. From that point on, he was typecast as unstable characters in movies like Pretty Poison, Someone Behind the Door, Mahogany, Crimes of Passion and Edge of Sanity, a retelling of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde that incorporates elements of the infamous (and still unsolved) Jack the Ripper killings.

 edge-of-sanityWhen released, Edge of Sanity played as an “exclusive one-week engagement” at a single theater in Philadelphia. It was around this time that I learned that “exclusive one-week engagement” is code for a movie so bad, the studio doesn’t want to waste any more money on it than they already have because they know there’s no way in hell they’ll recoup it. In a case like this, they make only a few prints which they send out for brief runs at “Specially Selected” theaters. In lieu of an aggressive marketing campaign, they attempt to lure audiences with buzz words like “exclusive” and “specially selected”. This happened with two high-profile projects a few years earlier; Hugh Hudson’s dreadful historical epic Revolution and the misconceived adaptation of The Clan of the Cave Bear. They both stunk! Other movies released in this fashion include The Housekeeper, How to Get Ahead in Advertising and Checking Out.

 I didn’t get to see Edge of Sanity at the movies; I couldn’t fit it in to my schedule that week. I rented it when it hit video later that year. I wasn’t impressed and never bothered with it again. I never forgot it though (I remember most movies, I’m funny that way). It came out on Blu-Ray last year and I managed to acquire a copy (at a discount). As you all know, I like to revisit movies that I didn’t like the first time to see if they’re any better the second time around. I’m happy to say Edge of Sanity is such a title. It’s what I call high-class sleaze. It’s part period piece (Victorian-era London) and part gory slasher flick. It also has the opium dream feeling of a Ken Russell film. It’s a weird one, that’s for bloody sure.

 Perkins plays Dr. Henry Jekyll, a brilliant (and slightly unhinged) doctor with sexual issues. As a young boy, his father humiliated him in front of a prostitute and screwed him up for life. He’s currently experimenting with a new kind of anesthetic (cocaine) that will revolutionize the medical profession. One night while working in his laboratory, his test monkey accidentally spills ether on it. Jekyll ingests it and it turns him into a homicidal maniac who roams the streets of London killing prostitutes. As Jekyll grows more unstable, his wife Elisabeth (Barber, The Wicked Lady) begins to suspect that he’s lying to her about where he goes each night. The killings also attract the attention of Scotland Yard.

 This substance that turns Jekyll into Jack Hyde isn’t snorted or injected. He smokes it from a small glass pipe. Dr. Jekyll invented crack, who knew? LOL! It’s just one of the story elements that make Edge of Sanity so nutty. Of course, a movie with Anthony Perkins is usually nutty by definition. The actor delivers his usual eccentric performance as Jekyll and Hyde. What’s interesting here is that his Hyde doesn’t transform into a monster like in other versions of the story. Instead, he becomes this insane-looking bloke with red-rimmed eyes and unkempt hair who forces prostitutes to act out his depraved sexual fantasies before slashing their throats. I have to admit, I like the idea of combining two of the biggest human monsters in late 19th century England.

 Edge of Sanity, directed by Gerard Kikoine, reminds me of those scuzzy grindhouse flicks of the early 70s- e.g. Bloodthirsty Butchers, Torture Dungeon- that feature all manners of gruesome goings-on in some past era but with better production values. It was mostly shot in Budapest (with a few exteriors in London). The sets and costumes look completely authentic to the time. Instead of lounging around in stately mansions, we’re given a tour of a sleazy underworld of whorehouses and dark alleys. The gore effects are quite good. The storyline is compelling. Kikoine isn’t a well-known filmmaker; he primarily made X-rated fare like The Window of Pleasure, French Finishing School, Sweet Young Girls and Never Enough. Edge of Sanity is one of his few regular features. The way he films sex scenes, you can tell he’s had experience. He does a good job with this flick. It’s one of the last great exploitation movies of the 80s. Let’s call it a lost treasure recently rediscovered.

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