Edge Of Sanity (1989)

JULY 19, 2010


I wish more films were like Inglourious Basterds. Not just because it is a fucking great movie, and not just because it had Melanie Laurent and Diane Kruger (or Michael Fassbender - what, did you think I was just being a pig?). No, because it took historical situations and didn’t stick to what we “know” happened. In real life, a man known as the Bear Jew did not shoot Hitler multiple times at close range. But QT didn’t care, or at least, knew it would make for an amazing cinematic moment, despite its disregard for historical accuracy. Such an approach would have made Edge Of Sanity a much better film, I think, because it doesn’t end so much as it just stops, due to the filmmakers’ insistence of sticking to the most important facts about the Jack the Ripper case.

As any serial killer buff can tell you, Jack the Ripper was never caught, or even identified. This has resulted in a variety of films over the past hundred years, each with its own theory. But the end result is almost always the same - at the end of the film, Jack is still free, because that's what happened in real life (assuming, of course, Jack wasn't caught/executed for another crime, which is a popular theory explaining why he just stopped killing). For a while I thought this might be an exception, because they were tying the Ripper by tying it into the classic Jekyll and Hyde story, but sadly it ultimately ends up in the same place nearly all Jack films end - with him not being “identified” to anyone but the audience, and still free. I suppose Jess Franco and the other writers assumed that simply being clever enough to pin it on Mr. Hyde gave them permission to be lazy with pretty much every other aspect of the script.

Worse, the film lacks any sort of real climax. Since the only characters of note in the film are Anthony Perkins (as Jekyll/Hyde/“Jack”) and his various victims, there’s no one to identify with or root for. Jekyll’s wife is sort of made into a protagonist, but she was such a non-presence throughout the film, she didn’t really come across as any more important than any of the various hookers that he killed in the other scenes. So he kills her too, and then (again, since the movie can’t be bothered to make things interesting or even suspenseful), the cops readily buy that she was killed by The Ripper, despite the fact that she’s NOT a hooker and in a different part of town than the one where he usually preyed. Even if Jekyll/Hyde got away with it, there could at least be an attempt at putting him under suspicion. But no, other than his wife, I don’t think a single character ever suspects Jekyll of ANYTHING, even being Hyde, who looks just like him except with emo hair and guyliner.

What the movie does have going for it is a slight sense of sleaze (as I said, Jess Franco was one of the writers). Hyde paws at a hooker’s ass before killing her, a woman plays with herself and then nails a dude in front of young Jekyll, seemingly turned on by the fact that a little kid is watching her, etc. It’s not much, but it keeps the film from being a total bore, and it’s odd to see the usually hoity toity Brits engaging in such decadent behavior, particularly in a period piece. I particularly liked how the Jekyll serum was taken from what looked an awful lot like a crack pipe.

The other draw, obviously, is Perkins. I was somewhat surprised to discover that this is actually the first non-Psycho film I have ever seen him in, though he’s hardly straying far from the Norman Bates persona here as a man with a split personality and an uncontrollable nervousness around women. But I’m sure as his star faded that psycho roles were pretty much all he ever got offered to play, so I don’t blame him for treading familiar territory. And he gives it all - the look may not be different enough to fool anyone, but his performance as the two characters is quite dissimilar and very effective. As I mentioned this on twitter, some friends recommended other non-Bates movies to check out, and I plan to - it seems he was much better than the material he often had to work with (as I looked over his IMDb I saw very few titles I recognized at all, let alone recognized as being well-regarded films).

I really wish Zodiac had been a bigger hit, because I think it was the definitive approach to take for an unsolved killer movie. Since they can’t focus on the actual killer without resorting to conspiracy theory and simple fiction, David Fincher stuck with the three main people involved with investigating the case, and as a result, “identifying” the killer was never something that the film required - the story was about these cops and how they dealt with it. And if it WAS a hit, then maybe someone could take a similar approach to the Ripper story - sticking entirely with the facts, giving the investigators fully developed characters to play, etc. That is something I’d like to see.

It's better than Terror At London Bridge, though. I'll give it that much.

What say you?

HorrorBlips: vote it up!


  1. What say I? My sister and I rented this movie when it first came out and LOVED it!! Mind you, this was the 80s, we were young and indiscriminate. Watching it about 17 years later, I saw it did not hold the same "charm" as I originally remembered. Perkins was excellent, but I'm in agreement with Derrick, here. The movie itself, sucked. Perkins was the only reason to watch. That and I've been obssessed with Jack the Ripper since my teens. The drug in the movie appears to be cocaine or something of a sort, with plays with the idea and seriousness of addiction. I loved it back in the 80s, but am lukewarm about it now.

  2. I saw this movie at the insanely awesome Scala cinema in London. It was a ho-hum movie, as you say, but you really owe it to yourself to check out some other non-Psycho Perkins parts. He's always a little bit psycho of course, whether he's nervous ballplayer Jimmy Piersall in Fear Strikes Out, or the would-be CIA man in Pretty Poison. He's also very twitchy in Winter Kills. All of these are worth seeing.

  3. Brian--

    No mention of how weird and 80's music videoy it gets when Perkins is high/Mr. Hyde? The costumes, hairstyles, locations, camera work, all get very "Madonna music video" and anachronistic when Perkins is out on the prowl.

    I never looked at this as a movie that was actually trying to tell an honest-to-god version of the Jack the Ripper story (or the Jeckyll & Hyde story for that matter). But rather that it was a sleazy, arty indulgence, meant to imitate and evoke the kinds of movies Ken Russell was making at the time.

    I definitely see the obvious PSYCHO connections -- especially 80's Perkins, in full PSYCHO III mode, but I've always seen EDGE OF SANITY as a stylistic-companion piece-wannabe of Russell's sleazy, 80's-centric CRIMES OF PASSION (trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3foJZxFaJWM) in which Perkins plays a deranged, homicidal street preacher trying to "save the soul" of Kathleen Turner's prostitute character. (Saving her soul involves preaching vulgar, insane rantings at her and wanting to fuck her to death with a sharp, metal vibrator.)

    I guess I just never saw EDGE OF SANITY taking place in any sort of "reality." I don't think it's A GOOD MOVIE -- don't get me wrong -- it's FAR from good, "cuckoo bananas" might be the best phrase to describe it, but I never thought it should be approached literally.



Movie & TV Show Preview Widget