Thursday, July 13, 2006
Jess Franco's JACK THE RIPPER
There are only a few films that I don't like that I'll willingly watch again and again. John Carpenter's BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA is one that I just don't "get" despite somewhere around a dozen viewings. Some friends have dropped me from their address book because of my admission while others shake their head in disappointment.
Jess Franco's JACK THE RIPPER is another, though I don't watch it on the same annual basis as BIG TROUBLE. My first viewing was back in the early 80s when I got my first VCR and would rent anything on the horror shelves at the local video store. While this habit often worked in my favor (leading to viewings of classics like BLOODSUCKING FREAKS, the original TOOLBOX MURDERS, and the where's-a-proper-DVD-for-this-one known as PIECES), it could also lead to plenty of dreck (too long a list to go into at this time).
RIPPER failed to impress me at the time, but I felt compelled to view it again when it was time to compile the Klaus Kinski Tribute Issue of ER several years later. Still no epiphany.
Now, thanks to DVD, Jess Franco's "director's cut" of JACK is finally available, complete with lost scenes and a widescreen presentation that some suggested to me was like seeing a whole new movie. Unfortunately, after recently checking out the disc, I can report that it's still the same movie and still leaves me scratching my head as to what all the fuss is about.
The story of the real Jack is one most everyone is familiar with and it's been the subject of plety of films over the years, including the time travel fantasy TIME AFTER TIME, the Holmesian (Sherlock, not John) mystery MURDER BY DECREE, the revisionist tale JACK'S BACK (starring everyone's fav suave scum James Spader), and more recent re-workings like the laughably overrated FROM HELL. Even the Anthony Perkins Jeckyll/Hyde flick EDGE OF SANITY touches on the Ripper legend. But in this grim Jack tale, the facts and speculations are played with loosely in order to create a horrific, if not all that captivating tale.
Kinski's Ripper is Dennis Orloff, a London doctor using his talents to treat those who can't afford to pay for health care. Little do his patients, or his ultra-horny lady landlord, know that in the dark hours the kindhearted Dr. Klaus is out picking up hookers – and then picking hookers.
Over the years the theory has been advanced that the real Ripper was in fact a doctor, suggested by the killer's apparent skill with a surgical blade. However, the way that this reel Ripper butchers his victims it seems odd anyone would actually suspect he was even a butcher, let alone a surgeon.
Admittedly, "screenwriter Franco" capably creates a number of interesting characters who populate the flick, including several London whores who knew the victims well, a blind man (Hans Gaugler) with the deductive powers of Sherlock Holmes, and an old bitty who thinks she may have seen the killer running from one of his attacks. In particular, a scene in the office of Inspector Selby (Andreas Mannkopff), the Scotland Yard inspector in charge of the case, comes across rather well – snappy dialogue, above average acting – and it's too bad "director Franco" can't carry this level of quality throughout the flick.
JACK THE RIPPER has little going for it. Aside from the few (and I mean very few) scenes which actually click, the film exists for little more reason than to allow K2 to run around at his crazed peak, scowling, frowning, oooggling and running his hands through the poorly created Spanish substitute for viscera. A few good scenes, but not enough to recommend it to anyone who isn't either a Kinski or Franco completist.
Quite frankly, the highlight of the new disc is an extensive interview with RIPPER producer Erwin Dietrich who talks about his business relationship with Franco and even working with the notorious Kinski. Dietrich dispells the volatile star's reputation by remarking that Kinski never gave him any problems on the three films they worked on together (RIPPER, COMMANDO LEOPARDS, CODENAME: WILDGEESE) and actually helped direct each of the scenes he was in. (This topic came up in a recent interview I conducted for an upcoming Kinski-related project which I'll share more details of later.)
While RIPPER may not be worth yet another repeat viewing, I'll surely be watching this informative and interesting bonus feature again.
You can read this and many more Kinski reviews at Exploitation Retrospect: The Journal of Junk Culture and Fringe Media.
Posted by Dan at 7:56 AM