Ripper: Letter from Hell (2001)

Ripper: Letter from Hell (2001)

He’s back from the past to pick up the pieces.

Five years ago, Molly was the sole survivor of a serial killer’s murder spree on an island. In the present day, Molly is now at a fancy college studying serial killers. But some maniac begins offing her study group one at a time in true Jack the Ripper fashion. Since they are studying serial killers, the survivors decide to profile the killer and realise that it is somebody within the study group.

 

Released the same year as Johnny Depp’s better known exploits with Jack the Ripper in From Hell, Ripper: Letter From Hell seems designed to be a nice straight-to-DVD cash-in on the Ripper fad but with all of the trappings and modern day gloss of a post-Scream slasher. I mean just look at the poster, with the brooding headshots of the cast arranged in classic post-modern slasher fashion. It definitely thinks highly of itself but when Urban Legend was released a few years earlier and dealt with similar material, then you’ll immediately get the same sort of vibe.

Ripper: Letter From Hell attempts to be a bit pretentious. It treats the Ripper ideology quite seriously and knowledgably but the posturing and preening it does with such smug information can get a bit tiresome. You get the sense that the writers researched their topic well but you don’t need it rubbing in your face every couple of minutes. Characters try and sound clever by spouting intellectually stimulating theories or rattling off convoluted statements which might sound posh and student-y but just have the knack of making things seem more complicated than they are. This is just a smoke screen to hide the fact that this is really just another modern day teen slasher which just so happens to borrow heavily on Ripper ideology. But since when did Jack the Ripper kill a girl in a saw mill or run a teenager down with a jeep? The Ripper-isms may just have been slapped onto a generic slasher script once someone saw From Hell go into production.

Thankfully Ripper: Letter From Hell manages to raise it’s game a bit higher than the majority of post-modern slashers despite it’s continual use of well-worn clichés including the same old bunch of characters, the same dormitory and school settings (see Urban Legend; Scream 2), the same old idiot moments where characters split up to investigate noises and so on. There are the usual expectations one would associate with such a genre film nowadays – the flashy lighting, the rapid editing, the pumping music and twists and turns in the finale designed to shock but are blatantly obvious from the offset. Despite the pretentious nature of the story, the fact that there has been some thought into it at least gives the film a solid structure.

One of the good things about the Ripper killer here is that they’re not just content to quickly slice and dice their victim before moving onto the next one. This killer is a bit of a sadist, revelling in the chase and prolonging the misery for as long as possible as his victims scream and cry. Unfortunately a slap-dash ending which attempts to be clever by pulling the rug out from under you manages to make everything you’ve just seen confusing. Even in the director’s commentary on the DVD, director John Eyres fails to shed any light on the matter, telling the listener that it’s up to them to decide. I can accept that when it’s a big budget film like Inception trying to be clever and leave things open ended but not some low budget derivative slasher.

The cast is made up of the usual teen faces, with a few pretty faces in the form of A.J. Cook and Kelly Brook. None of the young characters is interesting enough to care about, nor are they likeable enough to empathise with. There are a few old timers on board to steady the ship although Jurgen Prochnow does little more than scowl and wander around with a large knife and apple – an obvious attempt to give us a red herring. Bruce Payne is the best actor in display here and manages to eat up the screen with a solid performance to give us a sense that not all as it may seem with him (although that may just be down to the fact that he looks like a nasty piece of work!).

 

If you are a slasher fan like myself and are used to watching the same thing rehashed over and over again then you may find something of interest in Ripper: Letter From Hell. It’s hardly the most original out there and can get a bit too pompous for its own good but it’s a cut above the normal standards for straight-to-DVD slash.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

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