In a few of my reviews I've made mention of the direct to video titles that were prevalent in the eighties and early nineties. Some of them turned out ok, JR Bookwalter's The Dead Next Door and Carlton Albright's Luther the Geek come to mind. Most of them turned out to be horrible, the only redeeming quality being the video box art. One such example of this is The Ripper, a straight to video title that I remember seeing first in a drug store – remember when you could rent titles at drugstores? They had the frames holding the flattened cases inside so you could flip through and see what you wanted? Anyone? Wow I'm old. So to move on, I first saw this title there and later on found it at a K-Mart for five bucks. I was elated; the cover was fairly cool, the back showed stills of gorily graphic kills, and it "starred" Tom Savini!!! I need see no more and I parted ways with my paper Lincoln and headed home to watch some nastiness......Not only was I appalled that it was shot on videotape and not film, but the acting was subpar and laughable at times, and Tom Savini only shows up in the last ten to fifteen minutes! He's not a star he's a cameo. So it was with trepidation that I reviewed The Ripper Blood Pack, which consists of The Ripper, Blood Cult, and Revenge; all made by the same team, all pretty bad. Let's begin.
University professor Richard Harwell is an avid fan of horror and the genre film. One day while antiquing with his girlfriend he comes across an old and very decadent ring. Thinking it may be a good conversation piece the ring is purchased and as Harwell begins wearing it, starts to have strange visions. People begin dying in ways similar to the murders of Jack the Ripper and Harwell starts to fall under the spell of the Ripper himself. Is it a connection with the ring and will one of his students be able to figure out the mystery in time to save Harwell and the general populace? Do we care?
As I mentioned before the acting is subpar so there's really no one in the cast to single out. Tom Savini is fine in his cameo appearance, but he too gets a little hammy and made me long to see him again as Sex Machine in From Dusk Til Dawn. The effects are pretty well done and since this was shot on video all of them are done in camera right there, no room for trickery or cutaways. The gaffes are numerous, from the double for Savini throughout most of the film (noted in the commentary that Savini flat out said the guy doesn't look anything like him, and it's obvious), to the opening scene that's supposed to be a flashback to Victorian London and a real Ripper murder, except the cobblestone streets aren't cobblestone and the gas lights that line the walkways by the street are obvious modern day streetlights. If you can't disguise the obvious, then don't try at all as far as I'm concerned.
Someone is murdering co-eds at a college campus and the police have no leads. Enter police chief Ron who is planning on running for office and must get this case solved if he plans on having any political future. With the help of his daughter Tina, who works in the college library, they discover that the murders may be a series of sacrifices in an ancient cult that seeks to resurrect an ancient spirit with the pieces of dead girls. Is there a town conspiracy or is it the work of a single serial killer? Will you guess who the killer(s) is? Does the answer actually make any sense? I'll let you do the math on that one.
This movie has the notoriety of being the first shot on videotape movie distributed direct to video. It's championed by the filmmakers as a crowning achievement, but considering what it spawned in its wake, and the fact that the movie's not that good anyway, leaves that assertion questionable. The acting on this one, as expected, is on par with The Ripper, except a bit worse. The main female lead screws up a line blatantly, and the girl who is murdered at the opening, well, I've seen animatronic haunted house attractions emote more fear than her. I will give the movie one genuine compliment, although I'm not sure if it was intentional. During one of the kills, the murderer is sitting inside a dorm room having just killed one of the students, and is watching the other sleep. When coed 2 wakes up and starts pleading to live, the killer smacks her around with coed 1's decapitated head. First time I've seen someone get the beat down with a severed head and believe me it's funny. Intentional or not, I give credit for even wanting to have that bit of action in there.
Unfortunately the disc I received for Revenge was damaged. It wouldn't play in any dvd players I tried and cleaning the disc didn't work either. Somehow though , I doubt I really missed anything.
Since all the films were shot on video, there's substantial grain in scenes, washing out of colors from time to time, and sometimes hard, harsh lighting in the background. They're framed at 1.33:1 fullscreen.
Sound is 2.0 Dolby Digital. Actually considering the source they sound really good. Audio comes through in the center speaker with occasional bits thrown in the left and right front channels.
There's actually a decent amount of extras for these discs for something so low budget, although that seems to be the trend nowadays anyway. The Ripper contains a music video (?), a short film entitled "The Appointment", an essay tribute to Bill Blair – the executive producer and distributor of all the films, a Ripper promo reel, trailers for the company's other films: Blood Cult, Revenge, Kiss of the Tarantula, Terror at Tenkiller, and Forever Evil. There's also short bios on director Christopher Lewis and Tom Savini. The most significant extra on the disc is an audio commentary by director Christopher Lewis and music director Rod Slane. This is truly a one man show with Lewis doing 95% of the talking and Slane having to be prompted to speak and sounding like he really wants to be someplace else. There's a decent amount of information on here, from who the actors are and where the film was shot, to comments Savini made about the film and why certain things were done; either based on budget or simply where they were shooting. It's worth a listen if only to make the film a tad more interesting than watching it on its own.
For Blood Cult there are interviews with Christopher Lewis and exec producer/distributor Bill Blair, both done a little while after the release of the films, but definitely before the home video implosion. Blair's interview is ok, he doesn't say a whole lot and either looks tired or disinterested really. He discusses briefly the genesis of his company, why they decided to make the films this way, and where he feels the direct to video market is headed (interestingly he feels like it'll saturate itself – good call). Then there's Lewis' interview, and here is where my entire view of all the films were changed immediately. Most of the conversation is like Blair's; how he got started, what they wanted to accomplish with the company, etc. Then he lets the truth out. He flat out says that a) as a director he isn't interested in the horror genre anyway and b) the sole purpose of making these direct to video was to save money and recoup costs for a profit. Period. Now, I'm not saying you shouldn't make a movie with aspirations of garnering profit, but at least respect whatever genre it is you're tooling around in. I'm sick of hearing filmmakers who work on horror pictures say they aren't interested in the genre per se, or that they chose horror because it's an easy way to make money back; as if horror enthusiasts are stupid and will see anything with blood spattering around. Actually, what we don't like are filmmakers who assume we're ignorant and will pay to see anything as opposed to trying to put out some semblance of quality product. This goes for any genre as far as I'm concerned, not just horror; it's just that it touches a nerve whenever horror's involved. For what it's worth, the disc also includes cast and crew bios, a trailer, promo videos, and a photo gallery.
I would imagine the previous paragraph sums up any other thoughts I had about this. Again, I have no problem with low budget filmmaking as long as there's respect, a little thought and creativity, and interesting scenarios. These films have none of that. After realizing that the essential sole purpose was to make money irregardless of how the film turned out or how amateur it looks, there's no reason to care anymore. Definitely skip it and these are simply footnotes to the video era.