The Ripper (1985)
WRITER: Bill Groves
DIRECTOR: Christopher Lewis
STARRING: Tom Schreier as Richard Harwell
Mona Van Pernis as Carol
Wade Tower as Steve
Tom Savini as The Ripper
Andrea Adams as Cindy
QUICK CUT: A college professor specialising in famous crimes in cinema coincidentally stumbles upon the lost ring of Jack the Ripper. A ring which just so happens to contain the spirit of Jack, which is let loose upon the world once more. Wackiness ensues.
Richard Harwell - A well meaning professor of Famous Crimes on Film, a class infamous for being an easy A. He loves cheesy horror films, has not been sleeping well lately, and oh crap he's me.
Stephen - One of Richard's students, and loves bad horror movies as much, if not more than he does. He's a total suck up and frequently calls his teacher multiple times in one day to remind him when one is on tv.
Carol and Cindy - The girlfriends of Richard and Stephen, respectively. Their sole purpose is to mock their boyfriends' taste in movies, and be fodder for the Ripper.
The Ripper - If you need me to tell you about one of the greatest, most well known murderers of our time, you may be on the wrong site.
THE GUTS: We open the movie with a horse clip clopping down the street and since this is supposed to be London, we get the obligatory shot of Big Ben. But this is no stock footage of Big Ben, oh no. That would have been too easy.
This is a very badly lit version, where the only illumination comes from the clock faces. And it just looks wrong. It looks like someone stenciled the clock faces on translucent plastic and stuck a light bulb behind them.
These sorts of production values are always a warning sign.
The woman in the carriage demands the driver stop for no apparent reason, and gets out. Hopefully this isn't a stop at the corner of Plot Street and Convenience Ave.
Yes, she decided to get out of the carriage in the worst part of town simply because the script tells her to. There's no reason given for her being here, other than the Ripper needs a body.
While she stands there, and may as well be wearing a shirt that says, "kill me", we see the classic Ripper image of a man in a dark cloak and large top hat, playing with a scalpel. Good thing the script gave him front door delivery for his victim. At least she finally moves away from where she got out, making it almost seem like she's there for a reason. Although that leads her into the dark alley, and THAT never goes well.
In a scene we've seen a million times, Jack ducks in and out of the columns and such along the alleyway as he pursues his prey. Even by the 80s, we'd seen this scene done better.
Finally she twigs to the fact she's being followed and runs. She runs for all of five teeny tiny steps, and then stops to catch her breath around the nearest corner. I blame corsets.
It doesn't take the Ripper long at all to catch up to her, grab her, and slit her throat. The funniest part is that the movie has been very washed out up to this point, and I thought that was just how it looked. Lots of 80s movies have a dull pallette to them. But once the woman's throat is slashed, the colour brightens up considerably. That's actually a nice touch. A dark version of the Wizard of Oz? Or is that giving the movie too much credit?
From there, the movie screeches and changes gears into more modern times, or as modern as 1985 gets, and we're dropped into a classroom. Here we find out that the preceeding scene was being described by the teacher to see if his students would recognise it. That must explain the low production values in London.
The teacher explains this is the Hollywood version of events, and how the killings are embelished to seem more colourful. Ooooh, I get it! The movie was actually trying to say something with the pallette shift! I think this level of cleverness is beyond what this movie should be trying to do. Also, that explains why it was so very cliche.
One of the students, Brian, asks Professor Harwood if he heard about a murder over the weekend that seems similar to the Ripper killings, and there are definite similarities to the story. The teacher turns it around and asks Brian why he thinks the papers are calling it a modern day Jack the Ripper. Brian doesn't know, but it's because Jack was known for killing prostitutes and slitting there throats.
So, the reasons why Brian brought this up in class, the murder sounding like Jack's style, is the same reason the cops are comparing it to the Ripper. Which Brian can't figure out. Because he just said the exact same thing as the reason for him bringing it up and...
After class, Stephen stops to talk with the professor a bit about films, as they seem to share a similar love for horror movies, talking about various ones on during the week.
The movie jumps straight from there to a dance class, and...oh my gods. They jump into rehearsal and the video does one of those cheesy spin wipe effects like it just became a bad music video. You know the movie is low grade when they reach for the star wipes.
And it may as well be a bad 80s music video, because they dance for a solid three minutes. It's only broken up when Richard enters to talk to their teacher, his girlfriend Carol. Hellooooo, padding.
The two of them take the longest lunch break ever, because in the next scene, Carol's changed, and they've travelled to an antique store. I guess college teachers can swing that.
While Carol haggles over the price of a headboard, Richard goes exploring in the store and finds a gaudy as hell ring. He starts getting flashes back to the start of the movie. Nooo, we're rewinding.
Richard returns home, and I guess he's our main character. Sigh. I want to mock him for leaving lights and a ceiling fan on all day long while he was at work, but that's real petty nitpicking. Even for me.
I love that Stephen even calls his teacher to remind him about the bad movie on tv. Kiss ass. He calls again once the movie has started and gyah! Put a shirt on man! Or warn us first!
With his reminder out of the way, we watch Stephen and his girlfriend watching a better movie than the one they're in, and discussing how corny it is. Eventually she gives up caring about the movie and goes to take a shower. I feel your pain, Steve.
Richard dozes off during the movie, something I can relate to or wish I could do, and has a dream of his girlfriend dancing on stage in Victorian era dress, while the Ripper watches from the audience. Fortunately, it's supposed to look like a stage with cheap sets, because I was worried for their set designers.
The Ripper comes up behind her and she runs through the rows of seats, calling out to know what he wants from her. The Ripper keeps changing actor, from whomever it is most of the time, to Richard, and I think Stephen as well. I'd complain about how drawn out and weird this is, but I must remember it's a dream. Still feels like a bit of padding here and there.
Richard the Ripper catches her finally, slits her throat, and slices her open from stomach to sternum. He then plucks out organ after organ, in a pretty graphic scene. Lots of blood and piles of body parts. I's happy.
He gets woken up by Stephen calling him AGAIN, and later he's brushing his teeth and the phone rings once more. Oh, how he wishes he lived in the days of Caller ID right now.
Fortunately, the last time it's Carol calling and not Stephen. Richard foolishly tells her all about the nightmare he had, and she reacts just about how you would expect.
Insert more padding with Stephen as we get a lengthy almost sex scene between him and his girl. This makes the dance scene look short.
I should've counted my blessings, since after the sex we follow it up by going back to the class room where Brian is doing a terrible song about Jack the Rapper. Ugh. It burns.
Now, Professor Harwood said he would be discussing various other famous crimes on film, but the first thing on the list? More on Jack the Ripper. I get it's the thrust of the movie, but they could've peppered some others into the classes. In more than just a name dropping "Oh, we'll talk about Bluebeard too!" way.
He goes into great detail about the Whitechapel murders, covering much of the information most people should be familiar with, but if you're not, it's a fair enough crash course.
One of the students asks about another murder that occurred during the night, and the description matches the nightmare that Richard had. She asks him if he thinks it's a copycat. What is he supposed to say? Jack the Ripper is alive and well 100 years after the fact? Yes, I know the plot of the movie, but in reality, that's a dumb question!
They also namedrop a better Ripper movie, Mudrer By Decree, and discuss favourite theories, most notably the one from that movie, and from the comic books and film adaptation, From Hell.
Harwood also shows off a new book about more of the coverup, and how some evidence was lost. He flips open the book at random and quickly closes it again as he sees an image of the ring he found at the antique shop. Hello, coincidence!
Not surprisingly, for otherwise there would be no movie, he heads back to the store. But the owner has already sold the ring. But then it was brought back. But then she sold it again. But not quite, she just promised to sell it, and still has it somewhere. Whatever it is, the ring is there, and Richard wants to see it.
He compares it with the book and offers the store owner double the price the other woman would pay so he can get it instead. He's rather insistent. Because that's not crazy at all.
Unfortunately, a woman arrives and we think it's the one asking after the ring, but it isn't. Instead the movie wastes more time with her buying a clock, and babbling about the Red Cross. Since she doesn't die horribly, this was pointless.
As the time strikes 12, Richard is about to buy the ring, when the woman calls to say she's no longer interested. The store owner offers it to Richard for the original price of...50 dollars. SO WHAT WAS THE POINT??
Seriously. The entire scene was just there to drag out the running time with pointless circling to bring us right back to where we were.
Next we're outside a motel, and see a woman wandering around, and we see someone dressed like Jack the Ripper in the background. It was bad enough trying to not stand out in 1880s London, but this? Never gonna work.
The woman panics and runs for her car, fumbling for a good long while, as the Ripper stands behind her waving his knife around. This is a crowded, well travelled area. I know shit like this actually does happen in such areas, but that's usually kinda quick. This is almost laid back. She could at least call our for help instead of key fumbling for several minutes.
She finally gets the door open, and the Ripper finally strikes. We couldn't have done that two minutes ago? He was just standing there waiting for her to get the door open? Oh well, more blood and disembowling, at least.
Richard gets woken up again, this time by his girlfriend banging on the door. They had a dinner date, but he dozed off for four hours. I guess he just had time to kill.
This movie needs to stop referencing other cheesy horror flicks. I'm getting ideas for future reviews. And again, try not to mention stories better than yours.
I love that Richard tells her he's having trouble sleeping, so she goes to the kitchen and starts making him coffee. She says it will be good for him. Because what he needs is LESS sleep?
The next day in the library, Stephen finds the professor working on papers. We get to hear about the newest murder we've already seen, and again get told that they're calling this one another Jack the Ripper too. In case you had yet to realise what you were watching.
And all the while of this little scene, we hear Stephen's annoying as hell walkman continuing to play bad 80s synth pop that started the scene and instantly dated it. I coulda let it slide, but now it's just annoying.
They point out Jack was left handed, then make sure that the professor signs something...with his left hand! DUN DUN DUN!
It is at least worth noting he was writing earlier in the movie with his right hand.
Later, Richard and his girl are sitting watching a movie, and I instantly get suspicious when they finally show some footage from this one. They've been avoiding that all movie long, with the other films on tv. Finally, he holds up a big VHS plastic clamshell for Blood Cult, another movie from the same creators. The best part is when Richard says he has friends in the movie. If that's not an in joke, I don't know what is.
But there's actually some good chemistry and cute moments between the two actors during this scene. I've seen better, but there's something I like about them in these moments. It's almost charming, and there's a certain playfulness.
While Richard sleeps, we jump to a girl driving through the middle of nowhere until her car runs out of gas. She almost makes it to a small store, but has to walk the rest of the way. And her sneakers sound like high heels on the pavement. Oops.
She uses the phone to call home, and spends way too much time standing there waiting for something to happen. It's some decent tension, but maybe just a bit too much. Way too much with the rest of the padded movie.
The Ripper finally arrives to stop me drumming my fingers, and strangles the girl with the phone cord. Strangled and almost decapitates. That's a mighty sharp phone cord.
Just as I'm wondering why Steve is even in this movie, he runs into the professor the next day, and notices the ring and how it looks exactly like the one in the book. I guess he has a purpose after all.
Oh look, even more padding. The previous scene at least had something to do, but now the movie jumps to Stephen and his girlfiend in a car later that night, and then dancing as well as talking about their future home, for over five minutes. Steve is in some sore need of charactiersation, but this is just boring filler.
Finally Cindy just ups and disappears, and I can't say I blame her. Stephen pokes into the bushes and finds blood, lots of it. In the 20 seconds in which his back was turned, his girlfriend was disemboweled. That Jack works fast. And silently.
We see the Ripper lurking in the trees and he runs off when Stephen sees him. He's about to give chase, when a cop car pulls out of nowhere in another fit of coincidence. Both cars zoom off after the killer. Well, that should be a short chase.
A motorbike crosses their path and skids into the wall. It promptly fulfills the explosion requirement of all Hollywood vehicles, and then some. I've seen smaller explosions in bigger vehices on other shows. I had to go back to see just what exploded, because such a tiny thing making such a big fireball was a new level of absurd for this movie.
They finally can't drive any further, and Stephen wants to give chase, but the cop says he has to go get help. Why not do that before? Or call for backup? Why go all this way and then say, "Oh yeah, I can't do this alone. Good luck!"
So, it's back to class, with more Ripper stories, and Richard gets the wrong name of the classic Trek episode with Jack the Ripper. But fortunately Brian is there to correct him. Brian, and his dog?! The movie just went randomly WTF on me, didn't it?
Richard heads out to a friend that teaches abnormal psych, and asks him about the killings. He asks if the murderer is a copycat, or actually thinks he's Jack. Now, here comes a big steaming pile of horseshit. The killer must think he really is Jack, because a copycat wouldn't know enough about the killings to imitate him.
That logic train practically flies off the rails, doesn't it?
First off, the movie has made a big point about how we know a lot about Jack thanks to Hollywood. We know how he did what he did, and his style. Or we think we do, at least. The movie has spent a lot of time going over the same tired ground and theories we've all heard, so that's easy enough to imitate, right?
Secondly, how does being crazy make it easier to imitate? It doesn't suddenly grant medical skills which some say Jack had. It doesn't make you suddenly more knowledgable about what Jack did and how he did it. If you're crazy and think you are Jack, if you think he killed his victims with a halibut, you're not going to go, "Ah no! It was a sturgeon! I know this for I am truly Jack the Ripper!"
By that logic, anyone crazy who thought they were Jack the Ripper would instantly know his true identity, right? If being crazy and believing yourself to be Jack gives you insight to the person that a regular copycat wouldn't be able to immitate...
Of course, if you're a person going around killing people as a copycat, then you're also crazy!
In fact, being crazy is LESS likely, because you'd be less in your right mind and capable of recalling actual facts. Which brings us back to using fish to kill people.
Later, once the crap has been shovelled out, Richard is getting ready for a date and waiting to be picked up since his car battery died. While Stephen shows up with a gun. Because that's the best way to get an A.
Points to Stephen for just blurting out his suspicion of his teacher being the Ripper. He demands to see Richard's leg since the Ripper hurt his fleeing the scene of Cindy's murder.
Unfortunately for Richard, there is a wound, and that just makes Stephen all the angrier. Richard is still in a deep state of denial though, and I wonder if he genuinely doesn't think or doesn't want to admit it to himself because it's too insane, or if the ring has more control over him than he thinks.
Richard is pretty quick and easily disarms the kid, but there's a struggle and the gun goes off, but no one seems to be shot. Richard runs off and steals Steve's car, while he sits around and calls Carol to warn her, before heading out himself.
That doesn't exactly stop her though, so Carol and Richard bump into each other along they way. Both of them pull over and she follows Richard into a storehouse, but can't seem to find him. So she wanders around aimlessly looking for padding.
Instead of Richard jumping out to get her, instead jumps out a transformed man, the real Jack the Ripper, played by the star they used to sell the movie who didn't even show up until the final five minutes. Some wicked cool glowing eyes on the guy, though.
We find out that all this, all these murders, have been so Jack could be immortal, living forever through others, all at the cost of someone else's blood. Jack's been trying for years to be free of the ring, but he's always been stopped. Now, all he needs to do is kill Carol, and he will finally get his wish. He tried to only kill the dregs of society, but he finds it harder and harder to tell who the bad people are. Oh look, they're trying for a message again!
Finally, after his infodump, Stephen arrives with his gun to try and stop Jack. Let's see how well this goes, shall we?
Yeah, Jack laughs about as much as we are at his chances.
Stephen empties the gun into him, and it does nothing. Jack rushes forward and tosses Stephen to the ground. Or lightly nudges. Stephen does most of the work of gently kneeling down and looking like he fell. Or rolled over. Nice stuntwork.
Jack advances on the boy, but Stephen grabs the discarded knife and uses it to slice Jack's fingers off, severing them and thus the ring.
Stephen and Carol escape the warehouse to a sea of cops outside, and order them to start shooting, make sure to kill Jack dead before he can get the ring back on and maintain his immortality.
In a twist that Dan the Obvious Psychic could see coming, Richard is the one that stumbles out of the convenient fog that has rolled in INSIDE the warehouse and gets gunned down by the cops responding to the victims' urging. Oh, the irony.
We could have ended there, but the movie goes on just a little more so some kids can find the ring and keep things going. Stupid kids, screwing up everything.
Video: Oh, this movie looks awful. You can tell the quality is just not there in the screencaps, can't you? This is one of the very early movies shot on VHS and made for the direct to video market. And you get what you expect to see from that. The DVD transfer just makes it look even worse with the increased quality of a low quality source.
Audio: It pretty much matches the video in all its stereo glory. It's not supposed to be high quality though, and everything is easy to hear at least.
Special Features: This is the last movie I expected to have so much on the DVD. We get treated to a commentary, there's a great music video, and I say that without too much irony. A short film, and several bios, as well as a tribute to one of the actors. All that and a ton of trailers for similar cheesy movies.
Best Line: "This may be better than the movie,' says Stephen about making out with Cindy. Steve, anything is better than this movie!
First Kill: This is a tough one. Is it the flashback five minutes into the film in London? That's just a story told by Professor Harwood. Is it the dream of Carol getting disemboweled? Or is it the first actual murder we see in real time, when the Ripper slashes up the girl fumbling to get in her car? Since dead is dead, and blood is blood, I go with five minutes in, getting the gore going right off the bat.
Best Kill: Definitely the poor girl getting almost decapitated by a telephone cord. That's just classically over the top.
Blood Type - A: If you want blood, if you want gore, this movie is great for it. Repeatedly slashed throats, multiple disembowelments, piles of organs, a beating heart. Severed fingers. And the buckets of spurting blood that one expects from Tom Savini.
Sex Appeal: Not much. The women are kept covered up, even when the Ripper is slicing them up, and only Stepehen gets shirtless time. Shudder.
Movie Rating: For something so cheaply made, they got a lot for their money. The movie looks...ok. The acting could be worse. Tom Savini is easily the best in the bunch, and is great as the Ripper, when he's finally there. And there's not a lot of plot holes here. Surprisingly few, even. The story is straightforward and makes sense, and the only logic flaws are in some dialogue that ultimately has no plot impact. If this was a tv movie in the early 80s, it would almost be a fun bit of camp. You could almost see it as some cheaply made tv movie on a Saturday night. But no, they tried for something a little higher, and a real movie, and the story just is not that good. Three out of five severed fingers.
Entertainment Rating: But oh, this movie is so much fun. There's lots of blood and gore, which is a must for these things. Lots of nods to classic cinema, and Tom Savini in a rare semi-starring role. Or at least playing a big part. And so very 80s, and so very poorly made. So much to point and laugh at. This is almost a must see. Four out of five slain prostitutes.
Don't fear the Ripper.