VHS MOVIE REVIEW : EDGE OF SANITY (1989)
1989's Edge of Sanity, directed by Gérard Kikoïne and starring Anthony Perkins, offers a version of Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde where Mr. Hyde is not only a serial killer, but quite possibly Jack the Ripper. This retelling of a classic tale of good versus evil unfortunately doesn't have a very high opinion of its main characters; it goes straight for tawdry erotic and gory thrills. Even Anthony Perkins' memorable performance of Mr. Hyde can't salvage this inarticulate film. It is a fun movie, but not recommended for anyone looking for a serious exploration of the duality of human nature.
A pre-credits prologue shows us Henry Jekyll as a child witnessing a couple having sex in a barn. When the man (possibly Jekyll's father) sees Jekyll watching, he savagely beats him while the woman laughs mercilessly. We then move to a grown Dr, Henry Jekyll who is experimenting with what looks like cocaine as an anesthetic. In a freak laboratory accident, the drug spills and Jekyll transforms into the sadistic Mr. Hyde (called Jack in this version, instead of the traditional Edward). He immediately begins prowling the brothels of London and viciously murdering prostitutes, as well as anyone else who gets in his way. Not even Scotland Yard can stop this new serial killer, who soon becomes known as the Ripper.
One of the better aspects of the film is the performance of Anthony Perkins. I can think of no other actor who better portrays twitchy nervousness. Perkins plays Hyde with a remarkable panache. His Mr. Hyde is a character that can only experience sexual pleasure by watching others have sex (a result of the silly Freudian opening to the film). Perkins's most notable decision is to play Hyde with a quiet voice and crooked smirk. Walking like Count Orlock from Nosferatu, he effectively portrays Hyde as someone who is obviously under the influence of a drug. His acts of violence come suddenly, and Perkins shows us Hyde as somewhat conflicted about his murdering of prostitutes. Before he slashes the throat of his second victim, Hyde says, almost weeping, “Oh, this is going to be so horrible!” As the film progresses, however, Hyde seems to enjoy his murderous work, sadistically leering and smiling when a man recognizes him as the Ripper. Near the end, when he says to his wife “You didn't think I was dead… did you?” he has gone over the top, but it is still fun to see.
However, despite his shining performance of Mr Hyde, Perkin's Dr. Jekyll is lacking. Perkins tries to look like a properly repressed Victorian gentleman, but he never manages to expresses the arrogant confidence or inquiring, free-spirited mind with which Dr. Jekyll is often presented. Affecting an unconvincing English accent, Perkins walks with a cane and a limp, yet we are never told why he is limping. The only reason for this is to show us that Hyde doesn't need a cane. Sadly, Perkins's Dr. Jekyll fails to present an effective counterpart to Mr. Hyde. The other characters often say what a wonderful and maverick doctor he is, but the acting leaves this claim unsupported. In Edge of Sanity, one feels no sympathy for Dr. Jekyll, and it seems that Perkins doesn't care too much about him either.
Apart from Anthony Perkins, the cast is bland and anonymous. Jekyll's wife Elisabeth, played by Glynis Barber, is nothing more than a chaste symbol of purity, there merely to contrast with the world of tempting prostitutes that Hyde inhabits. Sarah Maur Thorp plays Susannah, the prostitute with whom Hyde becomes enamored, but does little more than look tempting and laugh maniacally. Neither of these women are portrayed as real people with real desires. The rest of the cast is equally forgettable, leaving Perkins to shoulder the weight of the film.
Despite the lackluster acting in Edge of Sanity, the camera work and set design are surprisingly adept. Kikoïne makes wonderful use of strong primary colors. The brothel that Hyde often visits is almost exclusively red, while the place where Hyde murders his first victim is blue. These bold colors are usually seen when we are watching Hyde-- they reinforce his simplistic, unambiguous way of looking at the world. When he is in the brothel, he sees smoldering eroticism, and when he is murdering prostitutes, he sees icy cold death. This use of color, and excellent design, is exemplified by Dr. Jekyll's lab. It is covered in white tile and is very large and roomy. Near the end of the film, Dr. Jekyll's wife wanders into the lab, and sees that Hyde has covered it in blue hand prints and written the word “COW!” on the wall. Further, Kikoïne always accompanies Hyde's activities with off-kilter camera angles, representing his demented and violent way of thinking. Finally, the film also uses bold religious images, such as a prostitute masturbating before a crucifix in the brothel. Sadly, this imagery is only used to shock Mr. Hyde and presumably the more conservative members of the audience. It has no other significant function in the film. Edge of Sanity needs more than just superior art direction and set design. It needs a solid foundation for its ideas and a clear voice about what it is trying to say.
Sadly, Edge of Sanity is a movie that does not seem to know what it is saying. Rather than explore its darker themes of drug abuse and serial killers, the director decides to thrill and shock the audience. London as depicted in the film seems to be inhabited by nothing but hookers and criminals. We occasionally see a policeman, a clergyman, one of Jekyll's colleagues or Jekyll's wife, but mostly we get a steady dose of pimps, con-men, and ravishing courtesans. There is not a single prostitute in this film that is not visually appealing. However, having a Victorian brothel look like the Playboy mansion doesn't make the film very believable. Rather than show us truly terrorized women, Kikoïne offers us R-rated titillation finished off with appropriately gory murders. Given that director Kikoïne was an adult film director in the '70s and '80s, perhaps this is to be expected. Nevertheless, soft core pornography interrupted by grisly slashing does not make a good horror film.
The biggest problem with Edge of Sanity is that it wants to be everything at once. On one hand it wants to be a splatter-gore-fest with an over the top killer sadistically dispatching beautiful women. On the other hand it tries to be taken seriously as a study of good and evil. There is an all-too-brief discussion at a dinner party on the nature of true freedom that, while very simplistic, tries to make us think about Jekyll's inner struggle. However, this scene's questions are never touched upon again. Additionally, the child abuse scene in the beginning of the film tries to engender pity and understanding, but since we know nothing of who these people are or their previous relationships with Jekyll, it feels more like a tacked-on after-thought. Wanting to combine the wild, over the top violence of a film like The Evil Dead with the serious introspection of a film like The Silence of the Lambs, Edge of Sanity ends up doing neither very well.
Historically, the implication that Hyde is Jack the Ripper is interesting, because of modern speculation that the Ripper may indeed have had medical training. The film attempts to equate the fear caused by Hyde with the fear caused by the real Ripper. Murdered prostitutes, Victorian London in terror – it's obvious that we’re supposed to feel that Jekyll has become not only Mr. Hyde, but also the infamous killer of Whitechapel. We see people shrieking as they recognizing who he is, and a dogged but ineffectual Scotland Yard inspector who is unable to apprehend the fiend. But Kikoïne and the screenwriters never do anything with the idea. This idea isn’t used to present a Ripper-identity theory (a la From Hell) or examine the idea of a serial killing doctor. It’s used instead to present one more “shocking” aspect to a film already awash in loose threads and half-baked ideas. However, the Hyde-Ripper angle does lead to the film's one and only bit of originality-- the fact that Hyde actually survives in the end. It is too bad that the film couldn't have continued this trend of creativity. It would have made Edge of Sanity a much more engaging experience.
In the end, Edge of Sanity is a sub-par slasher film trying to be both shocking and important. Based on a classic novella and starting one of the genre's all time-greats, Anthony Perkins, the film should have the makings of a quality horror film. . However, rather than developing its potential, Edge of Sanity constantly takes the cheap and easy path to accomplish its goals. Perkins gives a noteworthy performance, and the film's compositions are often interesting, but its not enough. Edge of Sanity is not much more than a cheap exploitation film that unsuccessfully tries to be taken seriously.
VHS MOVIE REVIEW : STUFF STEPHANIE IN THE INCINERATOR
Dearest friends, it is I, the Duke of DVD, back again to shove your face into the steaming excrement pile that is MMMMad cinema. Once more I cannot stop myself from watching another cinematic abortion from the fine folks at Troma. Today I will be discussing the finer points of a rabid debacle of a film called Stuff Stephanie in the Incinerator, a movie so vile and awesome that I can safely say I vomited a little in my mouth by the end of it, and felt the need to immediately schedule an exorcism followed by a high colonic.
To understand Stuff Stephanie in the Incinerator, one must first throw out any preconceived notions as to WHY we would want to stuff Stephanie into an incinerator. Friends, the "why" doesn't matter. There could be many reasons. Perhaps Stephanie sat upon and crushed your favorite cat whilst in the throes of a particularly angry match of charades. Could be that Stephanie paid a gypsy in sexual favors to curse you, thus rendering your wang useless, or your vagina dusty, as the case may be.
No, friends, we don't care WHY Stephanie needs to be burned to ash, we only know that it must happen! Let us explore, shall we?
Our movie opens with a simple credit sequence informing us that the movie was written and directed by a gentleman named Don Nardo. For those not in the know, Don Nardo took over the Nardo family after the original Don, named Giuseppe by his family but usually referred to as Don Fabulous by his friends, committed suicide by self-inflicting over 34 stab wounds to his own back. Seizing the reins, Don Nardo commenced to carving out a small film empire, including such delights as Poke Ernie in the Anus and Expose Ebert to the Elements, before finally writing and directing his magnum opus, Stuff Stephanie in the Incinerator.
The first scene is set in a darkened airplane hangar. A lone mechanic works on an engine from a twin prop plane. Bidding his coworkers a good night, he is left alone. But not for long! Out of the shadows step two men in long trench coats. Saying nothing, they proceed to rough up the mechanic before finally stealing a gold ring off his hand. They then bind his hands and force a plastic sack over his head, heedless of the suffocation warnings. The scene fades.
We switch to the mechanic, waking up on the floor of an opulent study, inexplicably wearing a tuxedo. Looking groggily around, we see occultish paintings and what appears to be a birdcage with a black curtain over it. He walks down a hallway and discovers a bedroom with a sleeping girl in it. He reaches out and touches her hand, causing her eyes to spring open. She tells him it's good that he's dressed, because supper is ready. Somehow she knows his name (Paul) and tells him hers is Stephanie. Finally, the titular Stephanie! So far we see no reason as to why one would stuff her into an incinerator, but the night is young.
She bids him to follow her, ignoring his questions as to what (the fuck) is going on. The tour of the house is cut short by a dinner bell. They head to the dining room, where they (and we) are greeted by the ugly visage of Roberta, who is quite obviously a man in drag, but we'll get to that later. Roberta bids them to sit and eat. Paul begins to relax a little, but still wants to know what's going on. Roberta tells him that he's there to basically sex Stephanie while Roberta watches, a prospect that turns Paul's (and our) stomach. He jumps up and tries to flee, finding all the doors and windows locked.
Paul comes back to the dining room to find Roberta gone and Stephanie still sitting there. We then cut to a scene of Paul sitting on the floor, looking distraught, and Stephanie trying to comfort him. Then we flash to another scene with Paul waking up from a daze on a couch, with Roberta sitting uncomfortably close to him in a chair. Before we can process this series of scenes, Paul threatens Roberta with bodily harm unless she lets him go. Suddenly, two suit-wearing thugs are in the room, one of them armed with a hunting rifle. We see that these are the same trench coat dudes who kidnapped Paul in the beginning.
Paul then utters the immortal line: "Geez, I'm no lawyer, but it seems to me there must be some law against sexual deviance!" while facing a window. He turns to find the room empty. Paul then hatches a plan that involves using a letter opener to short out the lights of the parlor he's always in, which gives him and Stephanie time enough to climb up into the room's chimney, making their escape. Hounded by the sounds of dogs in pursuit, they run all over the place, through the woods, finally ending up in what appears to be a work shed on the property. Not content to just hide, they begin making out and finally "do it," off camera thankfully. It must be mentioned here that none of the principal actors, Stephanie included, is much of a looker.
They wake from a post-coital nap to find that they are somehow inexplicably still in Roberta's house, in the basement to be exact, and that Roberta has been watching them this whole time from the top of some stairs, employing the use of some opera binoculars no less! Going back upstairs, Roberta confronts Paul in the parlor with one more task to fulfill: sex up Roberta! In response to this, Paul utters another fantastic line: "I'll see you in Hell, first, you ol' WARTHOG!" To this, Roberta walks over and pushes a switch on the wall, causing a hidden elevator to descend from the ceiling!
Inside is a goon with Stephanie in handcuffs. He pulls her over to what I thought was a draped birdcage, but instead it is revealed to be an iron maiden! Before she can run to the hills, Stephanie is stuffed in the iron maiden! Up the Irons! Before it can shut on her, however, Paul relents and agrees to bone Roberta. They start to kiss when suddenly Roberta breaks character, talking in the voice of a dude, asking Stephanie if he has to go through with this. At this point, I arched my eyebrow and sat back to hopefully answer the burning question of just what (the fuck) is going on in this movie?
To sum up the next few scenes in the best way I can, I can tell you that "Paul" is really a man named Jared, a wealthy dude who is addicted to elaborate role-play shenanigans. "Stephanie" is actually named Casey, and is Paul's girlfriend. "Roberta" is actually Robert, a hired actor and friend of the couple. After paying Robert $5000 for his work, they drive him to the airport, but stop at a gas station along the way. While there, it is revealed that Casey is sleeping with a mechanic named Nicky, an ugly, beastly, bulging man who she's seeing on the side. After dropping Robert at the airport, the couple head back home.
Late that night, Casey is awakened by noise downstairs. Turns out, it's Robert, who didn't get on his plane and instead stayed in town in an attempt to rob Jared. Casey is unhappy with Jared, explaining to Robert that she is forced to constantly partake in Jared's elaborate performances and is given a pittance monthly allowance. The two keep talking and eventually hatch a plan that is pretty fucking retarded. Basically, they will kill Jared, dispose of his body, and sit back for 7 YEARS until he's declared missing, and then somehow they will inherit and then split his fortune.
At this point, I was ready to call Don Nardo and tell him to go fuck himself, but I stuck with it, because Casey and Robert armed themselves with fireplace pokers. No good can come from people arming themselves with fireplace pokers. They creep upstairs, finding Jared asleep under the covers. They bash him repeatedly, then wrap him up, covers and all, inside some plastic. They then drag his body downstairs... TO THE INCINERATOR! Wasn't Stephanie/Casey supposed to get stuffed in there? Just wanting to see someone, anyone, stuffed into the incinerator, I let it play out. Robert starts to double-cross Casey, picking up a stick of wood to hit her with, when suddenly she makes a gruesome discovery: who they thought to be Jared is instead Casey's lover, the mongoloid mechanic Nicky!
Hearing voices upstairs, they head back up (not even bothering to stuff Nicky in the incinerator!) to find a television in the kitchen, playing them a video of Jared and Nicky in the parlor, talking it up. Jared apparently filmed this, somehow knowing the plot on his life and arranging to have Nicky take his place. Jared then strides into the kitchen like Teddy "Fucking" Roosevelt, wearing a full-blown old-time African safari get-up, complete with hunting rifle! He pulls out a hourglass and informs both of them that they have 1 minute head start before he starts firing.
Casey and Robert take off. Of course, the house is locked down tight. Stephanie finds a pair of scissors to arm herself with, but quickly runs around a corner, impaling Robert with them on accident! Casey then runs headlong into the parlor, finding Jared with his gun. He forces her at gunpoint to enter the iron maiden, when at the last second Robert comes screaming up and knocks Jared into the maiden instead! Casey takes off running, but Jared "shoots" her in the leg. (We hear the gun, but there's no smoke or bullet wound.) She falls, managing to hit the elevator switch before collapsing, right underneath where the elevator is coming down! Robert, in the meantime, collapses. Very soon Jared is dead in the maiden, Robert dead from scissor impaling, and Casey crushed underneath the elevator.
Suddenly, we cut to Casey, Jared, and Robert sitting at the kitchen table, watching a video of their "deaths." That's right folks, Don Nardo has once again pulled the rug out from under us with yet another switcheroo! A crew (who includes the two thugs we kept seeing) comes in and begins dismantling the sets used to fool us. Everyone goes outside and leaves in their respective cars. As a final slap to the audience's face, it is revealed that Jared and Nicky are in fact a couple. The movie ends with them in the back of a limo, arguing that they each enjoyed their respective make-out scenes with Casey a bit too much.
So, in conclusion: What The Fuck?!?! I can't decide if this movie was clever or extremely shitty. I'm going to go with option B. The fact that Stephanie, and in fact NO ONE, was stuffed into an incinerator just seals the deal. 0 Thumbs, people. My first ever (I believe) 0 Thumbs review. There really isn't ANY redeeming factor of this movie. No one gets naked, no one gets stuffed into anything really, other than a fake iron maiden. The movie title held so much promise. If I were to make a movie called Stuff Stephanie in the Incinerator, you can be damned well sure someone named Stephanie, at some point in the film, would be getting her fine ass stuffed and then stuffed into an incinerator!
Incidentally, the Vicar and I sat over expensive cognac and some imported mustard last night and discussed why one would use an incinerator as a means for corpse disposal. Behold the places we came up with, and the reasons not to use said places:
- Laundry chute: Too noisy, too cumbersome
- Dumpster out back: leaves more than ashes as evidence
- Closet: too much noise, likelihood of escape/discovery
- Toilet: messy, impractical, possibly impossible due to Stephanie's girth
- Volvo: doors don't lock from the outside
- Multiple garbage bags: messy, possibly no Hefty on hand, causing spillage
- Crawlspace: risks Gacey-esque discovery. Lime smell ruins home value.
- Air conditioning duct: noisy. smell permeates building eventually.
- Night deposit slot at local bank: bonus points for humorous next-day discovery, but time involvement too much
- Fireplace: insufficient temperature, smoke backs up into house.
- Old Style bank safe: might forget the combination.
So you can see, the incinerator is clearly the only place Stephanie could safely be stuffed! And yet Don Nardo dropped the ball that was seemingly attached to his hands via Gorilla Glue thanks to that awesome title. Inexcusable.
Don't try to pass it off on anyone else! I know it was you, Nardo! You broke my heart! You broke my heart!