Few films concerning the Whitechapel murders concern themselves with the historic events of 1888. Jack is more often than not used as a “bogey man” figure or appears in a supporting role. Those films which attempt to stick to the facts invariably reach conclusions as outrageous as some of those in print.
Jack the Ripper’s earliest celluloid appearance was probably in the 1915 British film, “Farmer Spudd and his missus take a trip to town”, in which the Spudds visit Madame Tussauds where the waxwork of the Ripper comes to life. Waxwork Jack was next seen in the 1924 German expressionist film “Waxworks” directed by Paul Leni. A young poet tells the tales of Haroun al Raschid, Ivan the Terrible and Jack the Ripper. The Ripper (Werner Kraus) comes to life but fortunately for the poet the events he described were all a dream.
The “Avenger”, a Ripper style killer from the hugely popular 1913 novel “The Lodger” by Marie Belloc Lowndes, first stalked the silver screen in 1926 under the directorial eye of a young Alfred Hitchcock. “The lodger: a story of the London fog” (Aka: The case of Jonathan Drew) saw British movie idol Ivor Novello refuse to play a guilty lodger for fear that it might damage his image. A disgruntled Hitch allow wrongly Novello’s suspected agreed to lodger to be of the crime.
Jack returned to Germany in the 1928 film “Pandora’s Box”, based on the play by Franz Wedekind and pessimistically directed by George Wil-helm Pabst. Femme fatale Lulu (Louise Brooks) murders her German lover, escapes to London and becomes a prostitute. No prizes for guessing who her first and last client is. Many years later the film (and more so Brooks) became the subject of a song by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. Over the years there has been a glut of remakes and varients of the Lulu theme.
Novello resurrected his lodger role in 1932 in a 1932 sound remake of his 1926 film. Though it was virtually a shot for shot remake it proved to be considerably more successful.
A Ripper type character appeared in the complex and classy French comedy thriller “Drole de Drole” (Bizarre, Bizarre), followed by an American version of the “Lodger” in 1944, directed by John Brahm (who would later direct “Hanover Square”) and starring the menacing Laird Cregar as a lodger who turns out to be Jack the Ripper.
Hammer films first attempted a Jack the Ripper film in 1950 with “Room to Let”. Set in the London of 1904 the film tells (in flashback form) the story of a family who believe their lodger Dr. Fell (Valentine Dyall) is Jack the Ripper. Yet another variant on the theme was released in 1953. “Man in the Attic” was based on the 1944 “Lodger” and had Jack Palance strikingly portraying a madman/surgeon.
Hammer’s scriptwriter Jimmy Sangster penned the 1958 film “Jack the Ripper”. It was mediocre and mostly fictional. However, it was heavily hyped and the story of “Dr. Stanley” Ripper who is eventually cornered by an American detective and crushed to death in a liftshaft was a financial success.
Sherlock Holmes hunted the Ripper in the glossy 1965 “Study in Terror”. Once again the Ripper is a “Dr. Stanley” avenging his family’s name after his brother is ruined by marrying a prostitute.
Hammer returned to the theme in the early 1970s producing two films with imaginative gusto. In the 1971 film “Hands of the Ripper” a Freudian psychologist attempts to discover why a young girl violently murders anyone who kisses her. It emerges that she is Jack the Ripper’s daughter who witnessed him murder her mother before kissing her. The studio followed up with “Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde” in which Dr. Jekyll searches for the elixir of life. He finds it in female hormones but these transform him into Sister Hyde. When the mortuary and Burke and Hare fail to deliver the requisite body parts that secrete the hormone, Sister Hyde commits the Whitechapel murders to acquire fresh material.
The next few Ripper films were dreadful. Prolific European horror star Paul Naschy starred in the 1972 debacle “Jack El Destripador de Londres.” Apparently it shows Sir Charles Warren employing Sherlock Holmes to catch the Ripper. After 39 murders Holmes, dressed in drag, collars his man.
Next came the 1973 soft core Swedish porn flic “The Groove Room” in which a Jack the Ripper figure lurks in the background. “Black the Ripper” joined “Blacula” and “Blacken-stein” in the blaxploitation market and Klaus Kinski portrayed Jack the Ripper in Jess Franco’s 1976 film “Der Dirnen-morder von London.” After indulging in mutilation and necrophilia this Ripper dumps the corpses in the Thames in an attempt to forget his prostitute mother .
A much better film was “Time After Time” in 1979. The cessation of the murders is explained. Jack the Ripper escaped in H.G. Wells’s time machine to 1979 San Francisco where he finds that he is just “an amateur”. Wells pursues and eventually sends the Ripper into 4th dimensional limbo.
The masonic conspiracy theory receives attention in the 1979 film “Murder by Decree.” Sherlock Holmes exposes the government’s cover-up advocated by Stephen Knight, although a few of the names have been changed. Provisionally titled “Sherlock Holmes meets saucy Jack”, the film is enhanced by its superb cast and strong atmosphere.
Jack’s consequent American films took a turn for the worse. “The Ripper” (1985) had a professor of criminology finding Mary Kelly’s ring and beginning to suffer from gory nightmares. Famous make-up artist Tom Savini played Jack the Ripper in this cheap offering. David Hasselhoff chases a reincarnated Ripper in “Bridge Across Time” (1985) and another modern murderer emulates Jack the Ripper in “Jack’s Back”. Jack is a waxwork again in “Waxworks” (1988) and its sequel “Waxworks 2” (1992).
Thames TV promised to identify Jack the Ripper in its centenary production “Jack the Ripper” (1988) but copped out by having Michael Caine unmask William Gull.
Dr. Jekyll once again transformed into Jack the Ripper in “Edge of Sanity”(1989).
At present three films are in pre-production. Their Rippers are Gull, May-brick and Tumblety.
By Nick Connell
“Jack the Ripper A to Z”
“House of Horror” (ed Eyles, Robert Adlinson Nicholas Fry).
“Horrors of Hammer” Marrero.
“Revenge of Movie Guide” Allen and Robert
Creature Feature 3rd edition John
Life of Sherlock Stanley.
The Public: Holmes” Michael Pointer.
“Halliwells’ film guide”.
“Halliwells1 filmgoers companion” .
“Hammer Horror” pilot issue.
“Movie Psychos and Madmen” John McCarthy.
“Sunday Express” October 1995.