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Jack The Ripper
Along with the Zodiac, Jack The Ripper is one of those killers whose infamy will always be legendary and, because he wasn't caught, an endless source of speculation and wonder for anyone the slightest bit interested in criminology. Over the years since the Whitechapel murders there have been countless books, non-fiction theorizing who did it and various fictional tales, as well as many movies.
This is Jess Franco's Jack the Ripper (1976). Jess Franco, always prolific but not always watchable, director of hundreds of b-films often with art house leaning (at least as far as the pacing is concerned) but almost always with the exploitation nudity and violence that sells worldwide. Oasis of the Zombies, Emmanuelle Forever, Love Letters From a Portuguese Nun, Ilsa, the Wicked Warden, Barbed Wire Dolls, Demoniac... the list goes on and on. Now, knowing who Franco is, the first thing you have to factor in is that there is no way in Hell the man is going to make any kind of definite Ripper film. So, the movie only uses facts loosely and its psychology is suspect. You cannot go into the film expecting any insightful look into Jack Ripper or crime pathology. You can expect copious amounts of nudity and some gore and that it will look like it took about roughly a month to film.
But, actually, despite the low budget and general constraints, this is actually one of the more respectable Franco films. The look has a very Hammer horror feel (no doubt amplified by the Britishness of the setting and circumstances) with foggy cobblestone streets and forests and claustrophobic interiors. There are some semi-inspired touches, like the Inspector trying new investigative techniques like sketch artists, Dr. Orloff being blackmailed by a patient, and the doctor having a crazy assistant.
And then there is Klaus Kinski, the real reason to watch this film. Now, I'm probably as interested in Klaus Kinski as I am The Ripper. Kinski is one of the great scene chewers, and a man with manic energy that always shone through even when he was clearly just collecting a paycheck- which was very often. Now, while Kinski is just as commanding as ever in this film, he also doesn't get much to play with. The script doesn't have him do much, the role offers little meat for the carnivorous actor to chew.
As a matter of fact that is the whole problem with the film. It isn't a great Ripper film and it is not exactly a great Franco film. It is a good, decent enough Franco film, somewhere wedged between the dreck and his more fun exploitative and wilder stuff. Franco's Ripper just drags. Sure there are some gruesome murders, some nudity, some Orloff tortured soul moments (hearing the mocking laughter of women), but mostly the film just creeps along at a snails pace with some dull scenes of the investigation and the Inspector and his love, Christina. And, since the script is so slight, never making any great attempt to explain The Ripper, the action subdued, and an ending that comes out of nowhere and falls flat, it never breaks out into anything particularly invigorating.
The DVD: VIP. Give credit to VIP, this special edition (part of their Jess Franco Collection) treats the film very kindly, presenting it uncut and probably the best it has ever looked and with fine extras to boot.
Picture: Widescreen, Anamorphic. Nothing short of amazing. Anyone familiar with Franco's films knows that they low rent nature and quick release turn around resulted in pretty low quality prints. But, this restoration is amazing, showing that despite the scant budget, Franco actually made a very nice looking b-film. While it still shows its age due to lighting and such, the color, contrast, and most of all the cleanness of this print will shock Franco fans- it looks just that good.
Sound: Dolby Digital Mono English, French, Italian, and German dubs with various subtitles, no English ones though, so English speakers will have to stick to the dub. Hey, once again pretty darn good. I mean, it is a dub, but it is a decent one, clear, free of any big distortions, and at least the dubbers put on their best Cockney English speak in order to stay true to the films setting.
Extras: Chapter Selections--- Production Stills --- Trailer--- Cast and Crew Bios--- DVD Production Report (17 mins). Great behind the scenes look at every aspect of re-mastering the film and producing the DVD. --- Commentary by producer Erwin C. Dietrichs: English subs provided! Leisurely commentary, with the producer recounting the production and, staying true to his producer skills, selling the future releases.--- Deleted Scene. Actually only lasts six seconds, an extended shot from one of the murders that was only put on Super 8 prints.--- Jess Franco Collection Info--- Jack the Ripper text info--- Documentary (21:42), once again following around Dietrichs as he recounts working with Franco on films, giving general anecdotes (some of which he also uses in the commentary). Covers a lot of ground and is a nice insiders look at the prolific cult film maker and his colleagues. The only shame is that Franco, himself, apparently, could not be found to be involved in the production.
Conclusion: Well, if you are any sort of Franco fan, this DVD is a must. A very nice special edition, with good, informative extras and presenting the low budget film in great shape both visually and in the audio department. But, for the unfamiliar, a Franco film isn't something you want to go into blind, so, as good as the DVD is, those who have not been exposed to his oeuvre should give the disc a rental first.