A brief look at both cuts of the undervalued 1959 shocker
The mystery of the Victorian-era serial killer dubbed “Jack the Ripper” has endured the ages, with countless fictionalized novels and films riffing onthe sordid story of the fiend who once slashed his way through the flesh of London’s ladies of the night. The fact that “Saucy Jack” himself was never caught has only fueled the fantastical, with conspiracies ladled upon conspiracies as to who or what the murderer might have been, most potently in Alan Moore’s FROM HELL graphic novel and the freely adapted (and absolutely undervalued) Hughes Brothers feature film. But one of the more obscure remounts of the Jack the Ripper crimes can be found in Robert S. Baker and Monty Berman’s crackerjack 1959 chiller, simply called JACK THE RIPPER. Working from a script by Hammer Horror vet Jimmy Sangster, the film is a low budget but deft little murder mystery that sends ample chills up the spine, especially in its original UK theatrical cut, the likes of which is represented here – alongside the more sensational American re-edit – on Severin‘s snazzy new Blu-ray release.
Beginning much like the Jess Franco/Erwin C. Dietrich JACK THE RIPPER does, with an inebriated London prostitute stumbling out of a tavern into a gas-lit alley, this JACK THE RIPPER gets right down to business, with a shadowy cloaked figure emerging from the dark, chillingly growling “Are you Mary Clark” before pulling out a scalpel from his doctor’s bag and jamming it deep into the woman. The coupling of the killer’s voice and the sudden act of brutal (for then) violence is a shocker and, like PSYCHO, announces that more alarming murder is to come. JACK THE RIPPER in fact pre-dates PSYCHO by a year, though the late-1960 American release actually followed PSYCHO, with producer Joseph Levine scrapping Stanley Black’s delirious score and subbing in a brass-heavy, over-the-top Jimmy McHugh score that oversells the shocks. Levine also adds a Hitchcock-esque disclaimer at the header, warning audiences to not give away the secrets of the film.
In either cut, the plot remains the same: Scotland Yard Inspector O’Neill (Eddie Byrne) and his American pal Sam (Lee Patterson) trying to make sense of the murders, while holding off an ever-swelling mob that sifts through the streets looking for rough justice. Red herrings pile up and when the identity of Jack is finally revealed at the end, it’s not really a surprise. Good thing the movie doesn’t climax with the reveal, instead going with a nail-biting, sadistic finale featuring a dude crushed in an elevator shaft. In the original version, the grisly death happens off-camera. In the US cut, frothy gore bubbles up from the bottom of the elevator, a sequence rendered in lurid color. Naturally, it’s a MUCH more effective scene when the grue is left unseen, however the color trick is certainly a neat little stinger.
Severin pack this release with goodies, offering the aforementioned dual edits of the pictures, a commentary with Baker, Sangster and more, an interview with Hemlock Books honcho and JACK THE RIPPER scholar Denis Miekle, rare scenes from the European cut featuring topless women and more plus a trailer and a Jack the Ripper featurette. The US cut is presented in a 2K scan, while the British version is a bit rougher. Both versions’ wear and tear only add to the otherworldly feel of the film. This is an essential piece of Ripperphilia on film and just an all-around killer bit of sordid period-piece horror and it needs to be seen.