Tag Jack the Ripper

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.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971)

Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971)

The sexual transformation of a man into a woman will actually take place before your very eyes!

Dr Jekyll is a brilliant scientist who has spent his life trying to create an “antivirus” to cure some of the world’s most deadly diseases. But he realises that his quest to preserve life will ultimately be ended by his own death at some point and decides to test out a serum on himself which he hopes will prolong his life. He needs female hormones to be able to create this serum and enlists the aid of grave robbers Burke and Hare to provide him with fresh corpses to harvest. This supply doesn’t last long though as they are caught and he eventually turns to murdering prostitutes himself. The serum also has devastating side effects on him and he temporarily turns into a woman from time to time. Attempting to cover up the secret, he passes his alter ego off as widowed sister, Mrs Hyde. Realising where his work is taking him, Jekyll tries to stop the killing but Hyde is growing stronger inside him and beginning to take over his mind and body.

 

With Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde, Hammer has created a bizarre but workable mix of the Jekyll and Hyde story, the Jack the Ripper murder case and the true tale of Burke and Hare, the notorious grave robbers, to create arguably the most deadly version of Victorian London you’ll ever see on film. There’s even mention of Sweeney Todd and the infamous meat pies. The mix works well though as the idea of Jack the Ripper being Dr Jekyll killing prostitutes for his own research is explained as well as it could be. It also gives purpose to the inclusion of Burke and Hare although these two stories (which have easily stood on their own in the past) are included to the detriment of the main Jekyll and Hyde story.

Robert Louis Stephenson’s classic story has been made into films versions time and time again but this was the first version to attempt a different spin. What a master stroke it was having Jekyll turn into a woman instead of a man. The gender conflict about whether man or woman will come out on top is interesting and it’s a pity that the film doesn’t really do as much with it as it arguably could. Matters are made worse when Jekyll’s neighbour, Howard, falls in love with Mrs Hyde and Howard’s own sister falls in love with Jekyll. What you get is a bizarre love triangle (or should that be square) and watching how it pans out is one of the highlights of the film. This could easily have been turned into a comedy (how many films about men dressing as women end up as comedies – Mrs Doubtfire, Tootsie, Some Like It Hot, etc.) but the film is no laughing matter despite some attempts at black humour. In fact there is a rather disturbing sexual element underlying the entire film with the film crossing into boundaries of homosexuality, transvestitism and gender confusion. In one memorable scene, Miss Hyde has been caressing the face of Howard but is then unaware she has changed back into the male guise of Dr Jekyll. The film is a straight up horror film though and only touches upon these themes. There is no larger scope at work here, trying to grapple with ideas and take chances with the material – its intention is to scare and shock and that’s it.

The original story saw Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde as contrasting opposites, with Hyde being the inner monster unleashed into the world by the repressive Jekyll. However in this adaptation, Jekyll himself is just as bad, if not worse, than Hyde. He kills under the name of science in an attempt to justify his actions. His attitude of sacrificing a few low lives in society so that millions more could be saved is how many man men in history have turned to mass murder and genocide. Unfortunately because he’s such a nasty piece of work before he transforms, there’s no audience sympathy for him when he begins to lose control to Hyde. The supporting characters (Howard and his sister, Susan) are much more sympathetic because we know that their love with both Jekyll and Hyde is tragic and doomed to fail in the end.

Hammer’s inclusion of blood and nudity may not have been as welcome and relevant in some of their other horror films but it works well here because of the ‘sexual’ nature of the story and the violent manner in which Jekyll acquires his hormones. Watching Jekyll come to terms with being a woman for the first time and exploring his newly-female body is rather fascinating. You couldn’t do that with a few boobs! Hammer’s trademark period settings are also at their glorious best with the Gothic and seedy back streets of London being drenched in fog, darkness and eternal despair.

Ralph Bates was seemingly groomed as Hammer’s eventual successor to the leading man roles of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. However, Bates never really convinced anyone despite getting a few top billed outings. This is arguably his best work and although he’s still somewhat restrained in the role, he tries to conjure up his best mannerisms, tone of voices and attitude to bring this admittedly challenging role to life. Martine Beswick is Mrs Hyde and apparently only got the job because Caroline Munro wouldn’t go nude (damn it, I’d have paid to see that!). She oozes sexual aggression though, gets naked a few times and looks pretty unpleasant when she’s in murder mode. She does look a bit like Bates too so taking them as the same person is easy enough to believe. It’s a bit hard on her though to find her attractive in this film knowing who she is really portraying in the film.

 

Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde is one of the better Hammer films to come out of the 70s when their output was dwindling in quality. Everyone involved seems to have pulled together to craft a suspenseful, atmospheric and at times graphic re-imagining of the classic novel. It’s highly underrated in the Hammer cannon but a definite must watch for fans of old school horror.

 

Jack the Ripper (1976)

Jack the Ripper (1976)

Close your eyes and whisper his name…

By day, Dr Orloff is a respected physician helping the less-than-fortunate patients who flock to him in 19th century London. But by night, he is Jack the Ripper, a deranged killer who murders prostitutes. Scotland Yard are baffled and the Chief Inspector allows his girlfriend to step in as bait to trap the killer once and for all.

 

Apart from using the name of Jack the Ripper, you’d be hard-pressed to find anything to do with the real murders in this rather sleazy outing from notorious exploitation director Jess Franco. Re-writing the Ripper’s history? Making a sequel to the original Ripper murders? Cashing in on the name of Jack the Ripper? Whatever the director had in mine for this flick, he certainly never intended it to be historically accurate so any Ripper purists will be best advised to skip this. However Franco revels in his usual perverted, sordid and violent approach to the subject matter by creating arguably one of his most well-made films.

The plot is actually coherent enough to keep the film going even though there’s no mystery in the film to uncover. Right from the opening scene we’re shown who the Ripper is – this is a bit of a shame because the film can’t go down the ‘whodunit’ route. Once the audience know who the killer is, it’s up to the rest of the characters in the film to play catch up. This cuts out any potential interest we have in the murder mystery side of the story as we wait impatiently for the characters to finally surmise who is doing the killing. The script doesn’t do the film any favours with this surprising choice either. You’d have thought that since we know who the killer is, the film may spend the time it’s saved on keeping his identity secret by delving a little deeper into his psyche. But the Ripper doesn’t get too fleshed out as a character. We know his mother was a prostitute and this is why he targets them for death. We never really get into his head. The script assumes that the scraps we’re given about his past will be enough to tide us over. All he pretty much does in the film is kill, rape and run away. Without the ‘whodunit’ and without any real character development, a lot of the film is sluggish because there’s little to fill up the screen time. At least the film looks good. The Swiss locations double nicely for 19th century London and he gets good mileage out of the traditional fog-drenched streets so associated with the Ripper era.

The film only works whenever Dr Orloff is around, mainly due to the excellent performance from the often-unhinged Klaus Kinski. He adds a touch of class to proceedings as the Ripper and his odd, piercing facial expressions certainly give the character a more unusual edge than your regular murderer. The anger, the menace and the evil that Kinski can convey with his eyes is fantastic. It’s like the guy is always thinking about killing someone, even when he’s supposed to be playing it straight during the day as a good-natured doctor. He plays both sides of his mental state well.

I can’t discuss a Franco film without covering his usual obsession with sadism and sexuality. Sex and violence usually go hand-in-hand in Franco’s films and there’s no better example of it than here. The Ripper has a tendency to rip off his victim’s clothes before killing them and then he usually has sex with them after they are dead or dying. The murders are bloody and brutal as Franco loves letting the camera linger over the carnage. This Ripper is intent on not only killing his victims but literally ripping them apart with his knife. His frenzied attacks are chilling and all played out in graphic detail.

 

Jack the Ripper isn’t the best film based on the notorious murderer but it may be the most violent. It’s not classy and it’s not factual but what you’d come to expect from a man like Franco at the helm – nudity, gore and violence.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆