Scream Factory pairs up two of Anthony Perkins' less than auspicious latter day genre exploits DESTROYER and the Jekyll & Hyde adaptation EDGE OF SANITY on Blu-ray.
On the night of mass murder Ivan Moser's (former Cleveland Browns Defensive Lineman Lyle Alzado, TAPEHEADS) appointment with "Old Smokey", an overload in the circuits shuts shorts out the prison's power supply resulting in a massive prison riot. In the aftermath, the amount of unrecognizable bodies leaves the state unable to account for which criminals have escaped and which are dead, including Moser whose body was never recovered. Six months after the prison shut down, the city council has allowed a low budget production company access to the prison to shoot the women-in-prison picture "Death House Dolls" starring washed-up former beauty queen Sharon Fox (Lannie Garrett, KISS AND BE KILLED) and directed by sleazy Robert Edwards (Perkins). The creepy location and the horror stories of Moser's bloodbath are getting to Sharon's stunt double Susan (Deborah Foreman, APRIL FOOL'S DAY) but her screenwriter boyfriend David (Clayton Rohner, I, MADMAN) is more interested in writing an expose holding Warden Karsh (Pat Mahoney, STRANGELAND) responsible for the conditions that sparked the riot. Karsh makes his objections known and threatens to shut down the production, but someone lurking within the prison seems to want them to stay, particularly Susan who is the recipient of a series of macabre tributes. Could it be guard turned lowly cackling caretaker Russell (Tobias Anderson, HARPER VALLEY P.T.A.), effect wiz Rewire (Jim Turner, THE LOST BOYS), catty Sharon, boyfriend David, or is Ivan Moser still lurking in the shadows ready to give his victims a jolt?
While a previously undiscovered eighties horror picture is always of interest, DESTROYER's novelty is dulled by the manners in which it fails to take advantage of its setting compared to other eighties prison horror films (this is the one in which the warden does not get a climactic karmic appointment with the electric chair). When the chair overloads the prison's power supply and traps the film crew inside the prison, with the characters having to split up to explore the lower levels of the prison to reset the system, this seems the ideal setup for the rest of the film's stalk-and-slash action; however, the claustrophobic turn is jettisoned in favor of a side trip to a diner where electric chair switchman turned short order chef Fingers (David Kristin, THE TERMINATOR) tells us plenty of what we already know and lets slip a secret that could have been more dynamically revealed during the climax. The make-up effects are fairly effective apart from one innocent character's electrocution which is let down by extremely bad prosthetics. Foreman makes for one of the better final girls, using her special effects knowhow and stunt training to evade Ivan and fight back, while Rohner and his gravity-defying hair provides good support. Perkins seems less embarrassed here, throwing himself into the sleazy director role but never quite coming across sleazy enough to warrant his exit. No classic, but a good timewaster.
Released theatrically by TMS Pictures and then on video by Virgin Vision (and laserdisc by Image), DESTROYER comes to Blu-ray from MGM's single film element bearing the original title SHADOW OF DEATH. Despite the disclaimer at the start, Scream's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.78:1 encode is a fine rendition of one of those eighties foggy, smokey, backlit music video-esque without any distracting damage. The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 of the Ultra Stereo track is suitably directional in terms of scares and suspenseful noises, but the synth score of Patrick O'Hearn (WHITE SANDS) makes little impression. Optional English subtitles are included. The sole extra is the film's video trailer (1:02) with the DESTROYER title.
Fusing the overfamiliar story of Jekyll and Hyde and the overfamiliar story of Jack the Ripper, EDGE OF SANITY plays like Robert Louis Stevenson by way of Ken Russell's CRIMES OF PASSION and Richard Gordon's CORRIDORS OF BLOOD. Sexually repressed since his traumatic Freudian childhood exposure to the primal scene, Henry Jekyll (Perkins) has grown into a respected London physician as devoted to his practice as his wife Elizabeth (EASTENDERS' Glynis Barber) is to her charities in London's East End. Experimenting with concentrations of cocaine as a more effective anesthetic than morphine, Jekyll has also been using the compound as a stimulant which he claims makes him feel exhilarated and euphoric. One night, however, Jekyll inadvertently inhales the fumes of an accidental chemical reaction and unleashes his repressed self in the form of Jack Hyde, who is a much snazzier dresser and lacks the good doctor's limp. Swaggering down to London's East End, he catches the eye of hustler Johnny (Ben Cole, HOWLING V: THE REBIRTH) who exposes him to the high class brothel of Madame Flora (Jill Melford, THE VENGEANCE OF SHE) but the Jekyll side of Hyde is scared off by the religious blasphemy enacted as entertainments by some of the prostitutes. Hyde runs off into the night and finds himself instead drawn to Susannah (Sarah Maur-Thorp, RIVER OF DEATH), a prostitute who resembles the one he saw with his father as a child. After a scuffle with one of her clients, Susannah disappears but Hyde finds a willing substitute for his more violent attentions. As a killer slashes his way through prostitutes with surgical precision terrorizes London, Inspector Newcomen (Ray Jewers, A BRIDGE TOO FAR) suspects that the killer may be a doctor. Elizabeth suspects that her husband is being blackmailed by his mysterious patient Jack Hyde who is well known to the prostitutes for his sadism. Having formed something of a drug-addled unholy trinity with Johnny and Susannah, Jekyll may have willingly given over what was left of himself to Mr. Hyde.
An atypical Harry Alan Towers production not adapted by his "Peter Welbeck" alter ego, but rather from a script by J.P. Fenix (apparently not a pseudonym for Jess Franco) and Ron Raley (who would later adapt Oscar Wilde's "The Picture of Dorian Gray" for Towers' dull update PACT WITH THE DEVIL) directed by former Jess Franco editor Gerard Kikoine – who also directed the Poe slasher BURIED ALIVE and the Cinemax softcore pics LADY LIBERTINE and LOVE CIRCLES for Towers – EDGE OF SANITY does not quite succeed as a psychological drama so much as a trashy cult film. Although it foregrounds the repressed desires of Jekyll and reveals that anyone who actually knew him would have recognized him as Hyde, Perkins' accent comes and goes and he is neither as alternately scary or pathetic as the Reverend Peter Shayne as Hyde or Norman Bates as Jekyll. The film's charms are all in the presentation. The photography of Tony Spratling (THE MAN WHO HAUNTED HIMSELF) – possibly a quota credit since the camera operator is director Kikoine's usual DP Gerard Loubeau (FIRE UNDER THE SKIN) – juxtaposes the burnished wood of Jekyll's domestic abode and antiseptic whites of his lab and hospital with the rain-slicked, color gel-lit streets of the East End shot at expressionistic canted angles. While some of the exteriors were shot in London, the studio scenes and the bulk of the film's interior and exterior locations – including Jekyll's visit to a Turkish bath which allows for some full frontal male nudity in the unrated version – were shot in tax break-friendly Hungary with sets designed by Tivadar Bertalan (who would refurbish and augment sets he designed for Menahem Golan's MACK THE KNIFE for the Towers/Golan adaptation of PHANTOM OF THE OPERA lensed in Hungary). The wardrobe of the East End scenes seems more retro than genuine to the period, with Hyde's black trousers, silk shirts, and scarves seeming more haute couture than bespoke Victorian menswear, and the prostitutes sequined and bedazzled skirts and crucifix earrings more suited to a French discotheque than the streets of London. Frederic Talgorn's Paris Philharmonic Orchestra score gives the film some additional class, but Kikoine's direction only comes to life during the more unhinged sequences while the scenes in which Hyde-influenced Jekyll mocks Victorian propriety are just embarrassing. Rather than being a Cannon or 21st Century co-production, EDGE OF SANITY was co-produced by Edward Simons' Allied Vision for whom Towers first "rescued" the South African production HOWLING IV: THE ORIGINAL NIGHTMARE by replacing its original director with John Hough (THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE). Towers' wife Maria Rohm (VENUS IN FURS) is credited as associate producer and Claudia Udy (JOY) appears as one of the prostitutes.
Released theatrically by Millimeter Films (HARDWARE), EDGE OF SANITY was released on tape by Virgin Vision in rated and unrated versions (and an Image disc of the latter). MGM released the film to DVD in its unrated form in an anamorphic widescreen/fullscreen double-sided disc with a good transfer but ugly artwork. Scream's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 encode is gorgeous, with sharp close-ups and more detail in the heavily saturated color gel shots compared to the DVD transfer. While the film was able to wring a lot of production value out of the London locations and Hungarian studio sequences, the Blu-ray transfer has the look of a loftier production. The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 rendering of the Dolby Stereo track also gives Talgorn's score a wonderful sense of breadth, although the live sound scenes stand out from the post-dubbed dialogue. Optional English SDH subtitles are also included. The film's trailer (1:07) – with is trio of taglines "Twins of terror are better than one", "Mother's gone away, brother's here to stay", and "It's a ripping good time" – is the sole extra. (Eric Cotenas)
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