Arrow Video: Edge of Sanity (1989) - Reviewed

After being made world famous and typecast by Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho in 1963, Anthony Perkins moved in and out of the public eye with a brief transition to European films before returning to America for character actor bit parts.  Twenty years later, Perkins reprised the role in Psycho II and briefly enjoyed success as a leading man in mainstream cinema again.  In between doing two more Psycho films, the actor crossed paths with British provocateur Ken Russell in the explicit erotic thriller Crimes of Passion before embarking on a film that may as well be spoken of the same breath as Russell’s mixture of camp and kitsch: French hard/softcore porn director Gérard Kikoïne’s sumptuous yet sleazy horror flick Edge of Sanity.

A wild and loose, almost porn-parody hybridization of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and tall tales of Jack the Ripper, Kikoïne’s film follows Doctor Henry Jekyll (Anthony Perkins) in late nineteenth century England years after suffering a humiliating trauma as a young boy involving his father adulterating with a prostitute.  Living with his beautiful wife Elisabeth (Glynis Barber), he begins conducting a series of experiments on the human brain while snorting large amounts of cocaine in between notetaking.  One night, he mixes a concoction of cocaine and ether meant to be an anesthetic but not before inadvertently ingesting it himself and going berserk, mutating into a kind of frothing murderous madman with a pale face and deep cycles under his glowering eyes.   

From here, the newly transformed Doctor, donning the alter-ego Edward Hyde, he stalks the night streets and brothels of prostitutes to drug, debauch and/or murder them, taking on the moniker Jack the Ripper as he begins engaging in serial killing.  From here, the film is on the one hand a costumed horror procedural mixing nineteenth century literature with stories of the infamous Whitechapel murderer while on the other hand serves as a perverse Russellian exercise in bawdy impishness and sadomasochism not that far removed from the actor’s turn in Crimes of Passion.  While being a straightforward work of psychological and slasher period horror, Edge of Sanity is mostly a raunchy skin flick with more than a few scenes that grind the narrative to a halt and wallows in wretched excess.

That’s not to say the film isn’t without its virtues and there are many.  Take for instance Anthony Perkins’ inspired and gifted performance of this peculiar and somewhat queasy fusion of Jekyll/Hyde and Jack the Ripper.  For however many bare breasts and butts are shoved into the actors’ face and camera, Perkins plays the part convincingly, adopting a limp aided by a cane and perfectly illustrating the sharp split in personality traits and physical characteristics.  Making the character into a drug addicted pervert with the camera lingering on his numerous sexual trysts which raised the eyebrows of the ratings board upon initial release (only available uncut now), Perkins gives this spin on the myth of Jekyll/Hyde/Ripper a distinctive personal edge only he alone could’ve achieved as an actor.

Visually the film is top-to-bottom lush and stunning with heavy deep reds of the film’s decadent brothel sets and deep blues of the English nighttime streets littered with junkies, drunks and prostitutes, all lensed gorgeously by Tony Spratling.  For a period piece, the look and feel of Edge of Sanity from the beginning is wacky, using numerous wide-angled lenses and dutch angles including an opening tracking shot that oddly sways back and forth as it follows the film’s soon-to-be troubled antihero.  The soundtrack by Robot Jox composer Frédéric Talgorn is suitably orchestral with hints of Christopher Young’s dread-soaked score for Hellraiser, perfectly augmenting the prurient nature of the world of the film.

Trashy and violent decadent fun that’s beautiful to look at when it isn’t testing your tolerance for perversity and aberrant sexuality, Edge of Sanity came and went theatrically before becoming a minor cult sensation when it hit tape and laserdisc.  In the years since with renewed interest in the life and career of Anthony Perkins have shed a new spotlight on this frankly daring dose of cabaret kitsch that can be read as either a cinematic triumph in period horror or as a sordid if not masturbatory swan dive into depraved filth.  One thing is for sure, the depths of the rancid and evil pit this film plunges head over heels into without looking back, led by a gifted and underrated character actor at the top of his game, are bottomless.

--Andrew Kotwicki