Time After Time: the Countless Lives of Jack The Ripper.
‘Ello darlin’, like a bit o’ fun? - you know you’re in for a typical Jack the Ripper adventure when a movie’s first line is this, followed by a blood-curdling scream over a foggy London! If you like that, follow me on this journey through my collection of movies based and inspired by Saucy Jack!
My fascination with Jack the Ripper probably began with the whodunits of Agatha Christie, where excessive bloodletting and melodrama made easy reading for an impressionable young adult. Somewhere along the way the name Jack the Ripper first was thrown upon me when my mom and dad listened to famous Swedish progressive rock/pop ensemble Nationalteatern’s song named after our favorite serial killer, but in their words he was a symbol for greedy and soul sucking capitalism. It wasn’t until much later I actually - in search for more blood and intrigue - found myself reading about Jack in encyclopedias at the library and sooner or later probably one or two longer works on his horrifying deeds. So I was stuck. I even scored a really good grades in my History class by writing a short story including all the known facts of the case - instead of a much more boring essay. The title was “London, 1888” and it’s during that time we will spend some time now.
It came as a surprise that Severin Films would release 1959’s Jack the Ripper, not just because it’s film I haven’t seen mentioned that much among horror fans - but also because it seemed - at a first glance - almost too mainstream to get a new fancy BD from this marvelous company. And then I remembered the nudity and violence, both quote rare for a movie of this kind at the time. I mean, not even Hammer went that far, at least not with the trashiness. So what films do we have with Jack the Ripper? Well, there’s a ton of them - but a lot are only inspired - just the theme of a random ripper cutting his way through the ladies of the night, or maybe copycats or even demons or time travellers. I haven’t seen all of them, and in some cases it was YEARS since I saw them the last time. So bear with me if my memory won’t serve me correct in all cases: this is no way a complete introduction the cinematic adventures of Jack the Ripper.
That Mysterious Stranger Upstairs.
Hitchcock’s third film was also the one the made him a star, and The Lodger still holds up today, 90 years later, as an effective melodrama inspired by The Ripper, but with less focus on the murders and horror and more on the love triangle between the suspected Ripper, a detective named Joe and lady in the middle, Daisy. Ivor Novello, who played the lodger here, starred 1932 in yet another adaptation of Marie Belloc Lowndes’ original novel, but I have yet to see that one. In 1944 came so one of the best adaptations, John Brahm’s The Lodger starring the excellent Laird Cregar as Mr Slade, who may or may not have something to do with the brutal killings in London. Cregar is absolutely perfect in the part, but died the same year directly because of the crash died he put himself under to play Slade. His body couldn’t handle the intensive weight loss. In 1953 Jack Palance unleashed his ripper in the form of Man in the Attic, a film that kinda left me cold - even if Palance is awesome as usual. Last time we saw Lowndes’ The Lodger roam the streets was in 2009, where Simon Baker plays the title role. I know it got pretty bad reviews, but I think it’s a pretty decent mainstream thriller. But in the end, few things can beat Hitchcock’s version and that visual stunt with the glass floor is as effective now as it was at the time.
From Hell He Came.
Film distributor and self-made PR expert Joseph E. Levine bought the negative to Robert S. Baker’s 1959 Jack the Ripper, changed the score and spent - allegedly - one million dollars on PR for its US release. Some say it earned millions but Levine claimed it was a huge financial fiasco for him. Who knows? But what’s true is that Jack the Ripper is damn fine, violent and… no, not historically accurate at all… at least very entertaining take on the legend. Outside all the films based on Lowndes’ novel this was probably the first serious horror film based on dear old Jack. In 1965 it was time again to start the fog machines and A Study in Terror - though complete fiction with Sherlock Holmes battling the mysterious murdered - charmed the audience. Looking at it today it’s cool to see how bloody it actually was and John Neville is great Holmes. The rest of the cast, among them Judi Dench and Robert Morley is having a gay old time with their performances, and even if the film in the end just becomes light entertainment it’s easy to see how it affected future Ripper-films with it’s heavy use of smoke and 1800th London sets. Not bad at all. Someone once wrote that Jess Franco’s dream was to do a Jack the Ripper film and in 1976 he got a chance, starring the no very infamous Polish-German actor Klaus Kinski in the titular role. Franco throws about all facts through the window and aims to tell his own story, with oddly shot gore scenes (that first knifing for example, it almost seems like the camera missed the special effects by framing it wrong!) and very stiff dialogue. But Kinski is always fun to watch and the rest of the cast, mostly dubbed German actors, are doing quite okay. Not a masterpiece by any means, but not bad for what it is. In 1979 our beloved Bob Clark, a talented working man’s director, came out of the woodwork with Murder by Decree, starring the who’s who of 70’s character actors - from Christopher Plummer, Anthony Quayle and Donald Sutherland to James Mason, David Hemmings and John Gielgud. Quite the sausage party one might think, as usual with many of these RIpper-films where women usually only are there to get stabbed or kissed. But Murder by Decree is a marvellous thriller, once again with Sherlock Holmes hunting the elusive killer, this time focusing at corruption and class surrounding the murders. It’s cool that Frank Finlay for the second time is cast as Lestrate in this twist of the story, the first time was in A Study in Terror fourteen years earlier.
One of the finest Ripper productions came later on, in 1988, when the TV-even of the year first was aired; Jack the Ripper, a miniseries starring Michael Caine as the always haunted Inspector Frederick Abberline. This might have been my first introduction to the fictional Jack and I still today think it’s one of the best TV-productions made. Sure, nostalgia probably plays a role here and the show popularized a lot of incorrect facts, still alive and kicking today. But as entertainment, and a semi-serious look at the phenomena, it’s one of a kind. The cast is massive and impressive, but I especially appreciates Susan George and Michael Gothard, two very underrated actors. Patrick Bergin took over the torch as a haunted, complicated inspector chasing the serial killer in 1997, in the quite anonymous The Ripper. A well-made production with fine actors but kinda uninspired. Not much to remember I’m sorry to say, but maybe it’s time to give it a new spin one day. The last time Jack was on the move in the multiplexes was in the Hughes brothers 2001 Johnny Dee-O-Rama From Hell, very loosely based on the Alan Moore graphic novel. Yeah, I know. Moore is sacred and I understand that, but looking at From Hell from a different angle it’s not a bad film. It was kinda before it’s time, before Sherlock Holmes became an action hero in the shape of Robert Downey Jr or Victorian literature heroes was battling classic monsters together on the big screen. Depp is still good and the production design is beautiful, but it has sense to show some gore the contemporary audience could handle for once. And as one can expect, Heather Graham as Mary Kelly, the stereotypical good hearted prostitute, have perfect white shiny teeth. Comes with the genre I guess ;) By the way, did you know that William Friedkin planned his own Ripper movie at the same time? I would have been titled The Diary of Jack the Ripper and starring Anthony Hopkins. Would have been an interesting film to say the least. Before we leave this little chapter, let’s not forget the UK TV-series Ripper Street, while not mainly focusing on just the Ripper-killings it’s a genuinely great show with lots of interesting stuff about how the police worked at the time. I have no idea if the following seasons also focuses on the Ripper, but please let me know if I should give them a chance also.
Time Travelers, Copycats and Demons.
There’s no surprise that historical figures often gets their life changed or extended or whatever, and Jack is of course no exception. My favorite is without a doubt Peter Sasdy’s Hands of the Ripper from 1971, starring the great late Angharad Rees as Anna, the niece (?) of the original Ripper, who somehow gets possessed - not sure if it’s something supernatural or just a mental illness - by his spirit. Produced by Hammer it’s a beautiful and bloody, kinda shocking at times actually, and gives us a pretty fresh and classy twist on the legend. For some people it's one of Hammer’s weaker films, but I gladly put it among the five best from the company. A couple of years later comes another classic, the very different Time After Time, where a time travelling HG Wells is chasing a likewise time traveling Jack the Ripper! Here’s an incredible matinee adventure where Malcolm McDowell and David Warner battles through time and space! The concept might seem contrived at first, but this is an all time classic. A perfect piece of 70’s Hollywood. In 1985 came a movie no one really wants to admit they like, Christopher Lewis’ very cheap The Ripper, a very gory shot on video horror flick starring Tom Savini as the RIpper but it’s more or less a glorified cameo because someone else is obviously playing the killer for the rest of the movie except the final shots. It’s trashy like hell, but it’s kinda competent and the gore is beautiful and tasteless and graphic and hell, I don’t know. It’s a “better” movie than people say it is, it’s just very very cheap and stupid. Another pearl came in 1988, Jack’s Back starring James Spader - where a serial killer is celebrating Jack’s 100th jubileum by slashing up young women in LA. A top notch thriller with some twists and of course the always excellent Spader in the lead, this is something you should check out if you haven’t seen it yet. I think I need to upgrade my DVD to BD soon! In 2001 when the new tidal wave of slasher still haven’t slowed down, John Eyres’ Ripper came and became a huge success on the home video market (I have no idea if it ever was released in cinemas). It’s a well-made, slick neo-slasher with young hot actors and actresses (and Bruce Payne and Jürgen Prochnow), some decent gore also if I remember it correctly and was followed by an inferior sequel. But the reason to see it is of course that the kills in it, and the motive maybe, is based on the Ripper killings. Not bad at all and I hope it will get a re-release on BD one day. Oh, and also check out the first season of Whitechapel, from 2009, where a serial killer is imitating Jack with a new set of murders around London at the exact same spots as the original murder locations. Damn fine British TV, nothing super spectacular, but great, cozy entertainment for a cold winter evening.
Jack’s back, or not?!
There’s many movies inspired by the 1888 killings in London, so I will only mention a few of them - film’s which have a certain Ripper-esque style and maybe referencing the historical events, without being real Ripper films. 1964’s Monster of London City, based on a story by Bryan Edgar Wallace, is a fun German detective thriller set in London - where a serial killer is roaming the streets just like Jack in 1888. Cozy and fun, but nothing really special. Worth watching for us who can’t get enough of Krimi or Giallo films. 1972’s Seven Murders for Scotland Yard is more or less a Spanish Giallo starring Paul Naschy, but it’s obviously inspired by Jack with it’s multiple string of gory killings of prostitutes, seedy streets in London, porno cinemas and a general sense of hopelessness. Jack the Ripper Goes West is another title for 1974’s A Knife for the Ladies, set in an old western town terrorized by a knife-wielding maniac cutting up prostitutes for fun. First time I saw this was on a cut Swedish x-rental, but when I later saw it uncut on Code Red’s BD I found it to be quite good. Not great by any means, but with a certain atmosphere and some bloody kills. Worth a reevaluation I think. Last out is Edge of Sanity, Gérard Kikoïne’s 1989 INSANE Jekyll/Hyde adaption, but where Anthony Perkins, more intensive than ever, does Hyde as Jack the Ripper. Not a new concept, but the production is gorgeous, sleazy, violent and dirty - and that alone makes it worth a watch or two.
Hope you found some inspiration here and let me know what your Jack the Ripper favorite films are! If you like this text, please share this to your followers! My would love that ;)
Productions mentioned in this article:
The Lodger (1927)
The Lodger (1932)
The Lodger (1944)
The Lodger (1953)
Jack the Ripper (1959)
Monster of London City (1964)
A Study in Terror (1964)
Night, After Night, After Night (1969)
Hands of the Ripper (1971)
Seven Murders for Scotland Yard (1972)
A Knife for the Ladies (1974)
Jack the Ripper (1976)
Murder by Decree (1979)
Time After Time (1979)
The Ripper (1985)
Jack's Back (1988)
Edge of Sanity (1989)
The Ripper (1997)
From Hell (2008)
The Lodger (2009)
Ripper Street (2012)
#JackTheRipper #TrueCrime #TheRipper #SeverinFilms #Writing #FilmHistory #Cinema #Film #HorrorFilm #SaucyJack #1888 #London #TheLodger #SherlockHolmes #Whitechapel