The Jack the Ripper flick that almost got away…

April 21, 2019 | By


Although the grisly exploits of iconic serial killer Jack the Ripper have been a staple / inspiration for writers and filmmakers in written, film, and TV forms, as a child, my first exposure to the legendary saga was the Yorkshire Ripper, aka Peter Sutcliffe, who murdered 13 women and was treated by the media as a contemporary incarnation of JTR – perhaps the first serial killer to be exploited by 1880s media in a manner that hasn’t changed much in the passing decades.



As sensational criminal figures, serial killers came into their own courtesy of increasingly sophisticated media outlets whose timing and reportage met the needs of a curious general public that may have wanted to look away from graphic images, but absorbed the unfolding details as they became more frequent, more grotesque, and gained more attention, especially on TV.

The biggest star among the pantheon of ill ghouls is Jeffrey Dahmer (arrested in 1991) – once caught, his near-victims, associates, and supposedly certified criminologists popped up on talk shows like Geraldo (1987-1998), and perhaps it’s no surprise the frequency of reported cases not only inspired the serial killer genre in film, but spawned shows where the worst in human cruelty was reduced to weekly incidents akin to hit & run mysteries.

The Oscars awarded to Silence of the Lambs (1991) legitimized the serial killer film from exploitive to an intelligent, provocative, grisly sub-genre of the thriller & suspense genres, and made ephemeral stars of behavioral scientists who penned books of their intense work (Robert Ressler’s Whoever Fights Monsters: My Twenty Years Tracking Serial Killers for the FBI) and brought classics like Elliott Leyton’s Hunting Humans back into print.

This was a really clever and fun night – pity DARK SKIES was axed after a season.

Documentaries and recurring talk shows kept the genre active, and TV’s Millennium (1996-1999) gave viewers weird and disturbing tales of torment, while NBC’s Saturday night “Thrillogy,” which included Dark Skies (1996-1997) and The Pretender (1996-2000), ended with Profiler (1996-2000) and a weekly murder / investigation / resolution template, somewhat normalizing the existence of the serial killer to another bogeyman who existed in large urban, suburban or even small towns (or farms, like quiet, weird, and depraved Ed Gein, the inspiration for the novel & films in the Psycho franchise).

Even the first season of Black Book in 2012 padded its main storyline of a mysterious know-it-all bartering his freedom for a list of wanted international goons by taking sudden right & left turns, and subjecting the heroine to the odd serial killer.

You could argue JTR has gotten lost among the more prolific killers in real reportage and vivid films, notably Se7en (1995), in which the seven deadly sins are dramatized as horrific murders; or the idiotic Saw franchise, which made torture porn another new sub-genre.

JTF has appeared in B&W and colour films, but perhaps among the best was the 1988 Michael Caine true crime drama, a 2-parter that purported to have been drawn from the latest assessment of facts, and promised the most up-to-date guestimate of the killer’s identity. If the mini-series’ resolution didn’t match later findings, the filmmakers evoked the carnage of the case, as in one fast zoom-in on a cadaver that was patterned after an especially gruesome crime scene still. Anchor Bay U.K. released the mini-series on disc with a commentary, but recent Blu-ray editions seem to have ignored that tasty extra (perhaps due to licensing fees).

In spite of the striking graphics, this moment never happens. Utter bullshit.

The 1959 rendition has perhaps faded from discussion because it’s in B&W, and without major stars, it became a footnote among other film adaptations, with its score co-composed by The Fugitive’s Pete Rugolo retaining modest longevity among jazz, soundtrack collectors, and fans of RCA’s magical Living Stereo recordings on LP and subsequent CDs.

Directors Monty Berman and Robert S. Baker may be unfamiliar to crime and horror fans, but screenwriter Jimmy Sangster is very much known for a string of classic Hammer shockers, spanning the revival of Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Mummy, and tales of pirates, paranoia, terrible Tongs, maniacs, and near the end of his career, contributing to the CanCon ordure that is Phobia (1980), John Huston’s worst mortgage movie of the 1980s.

No one could’ve saved Phobia, but its tale of a psychiatrist losing patients to extreme confrontations of their respective phobias is a concept Sangster could’ve expanded into a taut little thriller, and amid the obvious exploitive kills and ‘alternate’ boobery in Jack the Ripper (1959), there is tight plotting, which the directors realized in a style resembling a canted nightmare that never leaves the dankness of midnight. (The lone major daylight scene is shot quite dull, evoking a grim day either overcast by immutable clouds, or the rising muck from industrialized Victorian London.)

With the exception of the final design for a Dutch campaign, the posters below feature a very contemporized victim that makes it appear this saga of Jack the Ripper happened some time in the 1950s – hence the emphasis on the blonde babe and very small screen captures that barely reveal the 1880s setting:



Severin’s fine Blu-ray sports both the longer U.S. and shorter U.K. version, plus a commentary track recorded round 2005 from what seems to have been an aborted Region 2 special edition DVD. I sort out the chief differences between the cuts in my review, and coming shortly is my take on Bedazzled (1967), released on Blu by Twilight Time.

Thanks for reading,



Mark R. Hasan, Editor

Tags: , , , , , , , ,


Comments are closed.