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 dreary outing from notorious Euro-sleaze 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. Casting ultra-sleazy and ultra-psychotic Klaus Kinski as the titular character seemed like a match made in heaven with Franco but somewhere down the line, Jack the Ripper ended up being a rather dull effort which sounds better on paper than it translates across.
As someone who hasn't seen a ton of Franco films (but what I have, I wasn't overly impressed), it's a bit puzzling to see how unloved Jack the Ripper is. Yes, it's rather dull and talky, more of a detective drama for a large part of it's running time than a proto-slasher. But there's almost a hint of British horror here, with the reasonably faithful Victorian production values looking like something Hammer might have churned out for fun. The Swiss locations double nicely for 19th century London and cinematographer Peter Baumgartner gets good mileage out of the traditional fog-drenched streets so associated with the Ripper era. 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. 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 catch up with the audience and surmise who is doing the killing.
The script doesn't do Jack the Ripper any favours with this choice either. You'd have thought that since we know who the killer is, the film may spend the time wisely by delving a little deeper into his psyche and exploring his past and motivations a bit more. 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. But 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 with.
Jack the Ripper only works whenever Dr Orloff is around, mainly due to the 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, though at times Kinski comes off as uninterested with the material. His notorious off-screen controversies add an extra element of danger and perversion to the sexual scenes; he relishes them a little much, and all of the talking scenes just keep him from indulging in his whims.
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, with the film's most infamous set piece seeing a girl (played by Franco's wife no less) and the Ripper (unbeknownst to her) take a fatal stroll through a moonlit forest. It's graphic, violent and sleazy - and Kinksi loves every minute of it.
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. With Kinski as his sidekick to indulge in the sleaze, you can't go too wrong with this Euro horror if you know what to expect.
Jack the Ripper
Director(s): Jesús Franco
Writer(s): Jesús Franco (screenplay), Jean-Claude Carrière (screenplay)
Actor(s): Klaus Kinski, Josephine Chaplin, Andreas Mannkopff, Herbert Fux, Lina Romay, Nikola Weisse, Hans Gaugler
Duration: 92 mins