Sometimes when actors give a brilliant and memorable performance it becomes their identity, the only role people can see them in. It becomes difficult for them to perform other roles because they are perpetually trapped in this iconic performance. In that regard, everyone knows Anthony Perkins as the legendary Norman Bates from Psycho. But both before and after Perkins played the lanky mama’s boy, he was appearing in other fascinating roles. One of my fave non-Norman roles is Perkins’ performance in 1989’s psycho-sexual fetish-laden flick Edge of Sanity. Though graphic and sleazy, this little film is also visually captivating and has Perkins giving a brilliant performance as he pushes decency. After both meager VHS and DVD releases, this title seems to have been forgotten by genre fans (or never was remembered to begin with) making it an excellent inclusion to The Unseen.
Henry Jekyll (Perkins) plays a scientist working on inventing a new form of pain killer. His experiments go awry when his new drug transforms him into a visceral beast by the name of Jack Hyde. After becoming Jack Hyde, the good doctor is able to live out all those dark forbidden sexual and murderous fantasies. These include but are not limited to a strange ass fetish, the desire to watch a nun do a few pelvic thrusts, and he does live up to his “Ripper-esque” namesake by killing unsuspecting “ladies of the evening”.
I remember seeing this as a teenager. It must have been playing on television or been one of the many I picked up at the local rental store. I recall at the time being confused by the weird stylistic choices (which I’ll get into in a moment) and also put off by Perkins playing a role that is so far from his Bates days. Now, I have grown to view the “semi-period” stylistic choices as daring and effective and can see past Perkins’ Psycho past to realize that even in this small sleazy film, he is giving a hell of a good performance.
Now back to that aforementioned style. Edge of Sanity is, at first glance, set in Victorian times. But yet, something is slightly amiss. Neon colors abound. Prostitutes roam the street in mesh tutus and wear belt buckles that say “BOY”. It is a weird melding of Sense and Sensibility merged with a WHAM! video. It is bizarre. And yet…it works. Somehow this Victorian culture with 80s bleeding through the seams looks amazing on screen. Think of it as Steampunk if instead of the “steam” elements they had a 1980’s “valley girl’s” closet.
Which bring me to the director. At first I was confused by the heavy amounts of sex in this film. And I do mean confused. Though body parts and dry-humping abounds, the film is in no way arousing. It is kind of icky, but beautifully filmed. I was curious by the director’s presentation of sexuality in this manner so I sought out some of Gérard Kikoïne earlier works. French director Gérard Kikoïne built a career out of shooting soft core. But these were not just the standard bawdy films. These were artistic, stylish, and well-composed T & A films. This guy knew how to shoot sex to make it alluring and visually stimulating! So the icky nature of sex in Edge of Sanity was clearly an intentional maneuver on his part. And it works. As Jekyll/Hyde sinks further into the seedy underworld of drugs and prostitutes, the standard home life of his Victorian wife becomes all the more attractive.
When you consider the time in which this film was created, the drug-use also takes on a whole new meaning. In 1989 the country was in full and official crack-ademic panic. Late night news magazine shows were spoon-feeding the public with tales of grade school drug dealers and chainsaw-wielding crack-heads. This social event bleeds through onto screen as Perkins smokes his drug (which is a rock-like substance). Even the Victorian pipe looks just a little too familiar.
Edge of Sanity may seem like a twisted sexploitation flick overflowing with debauchery and strange fetishes, but there is something really special about it as well. Anthony Perkins plays both Doctor Henry Jekyll and Jack Hyde, the former akin to the Robert Lewis Stephenson character, while Hyde is more of a sex-crazed Jack the Ripper. Anthony Perkins performs “crazy” with both subtlety and ferocious vigor, taking Hyde’s dementia to a whole new level. Sure Perkins gave us some chills in Psycho, but in Edge of Sanity he makes us want to scream, “Oh please, make the bad man stop.”
Edge of Sanity had a small initial release but scathingly bad critical reviews left it struggling to find a foothold. Now over 20 years later, it is worth another look. The DVD is relatively cheap on Amazon. So grab your Victorian monocle and day-glow tutu. It’s time to smoke some rock!