Ripper: Letter From Hell (2000)
WRITER: Story by John Curtis and Evan Tylor
Screenplay by Pat Bermel
DIRECTOR: John E. Eyres
STARRING: A.J. Cook as Molly Keller
Bruce Payne as Marshall Kane
Claire Keim as Chantal Etienne
Ryan Northcott as Jason Korda
Derek Hamilton as Eddie Sackman
Courtenay J. Stevens as Aaron Kroeker
Emmanuelle Vaugier as Andy Carter
Daniella Evangellista as Mary-Anne Nordstrom
Kelly Brook as Marisa Tavares
Jurgen Prochnow as Detective Kelso
QUICK CUT: Five years after a massacre, sole survivor Molly Keller is off to college, and another string of murders begins amongst her classmates. Oh, and there's some Jack the Ripper stuff involved, maybe.
Molly Keller - A poor girl who is the sole survivor of an unsolved massacre five years before the main movie starts. Now, she's somewhere between goth and punk, and can't be bothered with anyone. She's grumpy, anti-social, and generally always on the other side of an argument.
Marshall Kane - A professor at Molly's university, and an expert in criminal psychology, specialising in the profiling of serial killers. He had a breakdown a number years ago and disappeared before resurfacing to teach, just in time for Molly to attend his classes.
Detective Kelso - The detective that found Molly after the startling events five years ago, and turns up just as the murders start again. He's creepy, and always around, being a bit of a mystery himself.
Jason Korda - Molly's love interest and fellow student in Kane's criminal psych class. He's probably the most well-defined of the Cannon Fodder Crew, but even then, he's a bit of a blank slate. He's smart, and observant, but nowhere near as much as Molly.
THE GUTS: Ripper: Letter from Hell opens up with drunken, swirling credits playing over actual documents from the original Jack the Ripper cases, which is a nice touch. If the credits were a little more stable, this would be a nice, slow establishing sequence. It's no Se7en, but does a good job for a smaller budget film.
After the title card gets Monty Pythonned by a passing foot, we follow that foot and the young girl it's attached to as she runs through a rain-soaked forest. She stumbles across a few dead bodies, and that's gonna mess her up for life. The not-dead ones that suddenly grab her and beg for help, aren't going to do anything for her, either.
The bloody, blonde Molly makes her way to a boat just offshore, where she finds another dead body, a girl caught in the motor, and the killer tries to make stabby. Not a fun night at all.
We leave that version of Molly, and pick up with her five years later in university. She's taking a class on serial killers, taught by Jeffrey Irons' right hand man in D&D.
Fortunately for the sake of our title, they're currently looking at the Jack the Ripper cases, and from what I know of them they actually stick pretty close to the facts. As Damodar lists off the victims, the movie cuts to random shots of the class, which actually makes sense later in the film. It's a nice bit of foreshadowing, that is easy to miss the first time around.
We meet the cast more thoroughly as the teacher quizzes them on serial killers. We've got the hot, sultry girl, there's your horny guy, the awkward mumbly guy who's a little too creepy. You know the archetypes by now, right?
Modern day Molly finally pipes up with way too much knowledge of killers, blowing all the other students out of the water. Oh, and it looks like she never got the blood out of her hair, since she's now a redhead. And trying a bit too hard to look punkish/gothy without actually getting there.
Our heroine describes the typical Ripper type in great detail, and it pretty much closely resembles Kane. Almost to a T. Fortunately, she knows just as much about her teacher as she does Bloody Jack, and he's too much of a momma's boy to be a killer.
He pulls out a knife, and starts telling the class how he really feels about them, and his plans to kill them, except it's suddenly a voiceover, and not really him speaking. I don't know what just happened there. Is he speaking or isn't he? The students seem to be reacting, and not just to the knife. A very weird and needlessly confusing scene.
Kane suddenly turns and slashes a student's throat, freaking everyone out, until the student starts laughing and shows it's just fake blood. It was all a trick he and Kane had planned out as a demonstration that you can't always tell everything from a profile.
After class, the mumbly guy, Aaron, approaches Molly and we find out he was there during the first wave of murders in the woods setting himself up as our new killer by being creepy, stalkery, and damaged from the first killings. Hello, red herring #1.
Horny Guy, er Eddie, tries flirting with Molly next, but she was thoroughly unimpressed by the way he wet his pants during the fake throat slashing during class. She grabs his junk and makes it very clear to stay far, far away. I wouldn't be surprised if he was actually into that.
Later at the study group that just so happens to be only made up of our stars, there's tension between the group. Mostly because of Molly and her rage, snark, and general inability to socialise. A fist fight almost breaks out simply by her being there.
Meanwhile, outside, Molly spies a man in black watching them from the nearby trees. We'll come back to him later. But needless to say, it's weird for him to be standing there, no matter who he is. He may be Red Herring #2.
While Molly heads to her crappy rathole of an apartment, the rest of the group heads to a crappy rathole of a warehouse where there's a dance going on. Oh, and it just so happens to be a costume party? Randomly weird.
Antisocial Molly does eventually show up, for no apparent reason other than to put her in the same place as the rest of the movie. She arrives just in time to watch Marisa dancing with some guy in a cloak and mask. That's why it's a costume party. For the sole reason of having a contrived excuse to dress our killer like Ghostface from the Scream movies, and you can't tell who it is. That's the only reason.
We get treated to Marisa having dirty bathroom sex with the guy in the cloak, who may or may not be Aaron, since we saw him putting the same white mask and cloak on, but who really knows? And seriously, this bathroom is filthy. Someone's gonna catch something, and not just from the slutty girl.
Hot studly guy Jason, a name I approve of, tries milking Molly for info on her life, and they analyse each other and Kane, giving some heavy handed exposition about how Kane was a profiler who disappeared then resurfaced coincidentally five years ago, to teach and sell a book. Hello, Red Herring #3.
Marisa regrets what she's done, and if it was with Aaron, I don't blame her. She tries to leave, but the crappy elevator breaks down and she gets off on the 13th floor. Another thing I approve of.
She wanders through a storage space that manages to be more dirty, run down, and dusty than the bathroom she just had sex in. How that's possible, I don't know.
The killer finds her, and stabs her pretty good with a large knife. She calls for help, but no one can hear her with all the music and yelling. And even if they did, they'd probably just think she was having more sex.
Marisa somehow manages to fall out an open window that just so happens to be the only window with a length of girder and chain sticking out of it for her to dangle precariously from her boot. Nice coincidence, that.
The killer finally decides to drag her back inside so he can finish the job, her screams still going hilariously unheard of even when she was noticed hanging outside the windows. Her blood pours down through the large safety violations in the floor and cover a poor girl in it. Speaking of catching things from Marisa...
This, now this they notice. Because no one would wear fake blood to a costume party. This is what finally tells them something is wrong. Of all things.
Everyone in the study group is pretty broken up the next day, what with having called Marisa a slut just before she was murdered. Don't worry, if the stiletto heel fits...
Chantelle has the realisation that they're in a class studying serial killers, so they should put the class's theories to the test, and see what they can figure out. Now, that is one final thesis paper, if it works out.
Stalker guy from the trees finally gets confronted by Molly, and we learn he's the cop that found her on the boat five years ago. Now Kelso is investigating this new murder, which...um, doesn't make sense, considering he was lurking around BEFORE anyone died.
After Molly tells her Study Group of Impending Doom to not get into their own investigations, she does exactly the opposite and heads to where Marisa died. And runs right back into Detective Kelso, with a sharp and pointy knife in his hand.
Behind them, we see shadows reenacting the murder of Marisa, and it's a pretty effective little bit of film making. There's a quiet screaming just underneath the dialogue, and the scene is well played.
Kelso makes quite the leap to say this was the same killer as five years ago. That's a long gap, and this is only one murder, with no real showing of what connects it to a massacre on an island. Which again makes me want to know why he was there.
The next day, Mary-Anne is driving home since her parents are freaking out over a dead classmate. On the way, she meets a guy who just won't stop tailgating her until he runs the car off a convenient cliff. Oh wait, it's probably the killer. Do I even need to get into the levels of coincidence here? Ok, I can get following her along the road, but knowing the perfect spot to find a cliff and run her off? That's a bit of a stretch. They could've kept it simple with hitting a tree.
Best of all, Mary-Anne just won't die. The car doesn't quite go over the cliff, it kinda stops short. The killer rams the car and she shoots through the windshield, but she grabs onto the bumper of the now dangling car. She slips off that, and actually grabs some rocks and dangles some more! All while the killer stands there and looks down at her. Oh, and wears a black mask for no reason other than to hide the identity from the audience.
Fun goof too, they clearly use two different cars. I often miss these things, but the car logo on the front grill moves from very front and center, to very off to the side. It's impossible to miss.
Mary-Anne finally bites it, and we see Kelso discover the body in a random, run down shack in the middle of nowhere. Which is never explained. She's just there, he's just there, they find her. There's no investigation or tip, just hey, body! He must have psychic powers. Or maybe...
Kelso confronts the class, and tells them he believes the killer is targetting them, knows them, and Kane tells his students to stop investigating the crimes. Probably good advice, but the class challenges him, and they start profiling right there. And Molly's the one who brings it back to our title with Jack.
Molly gets up in front of the class and shows them a picture of Marisa's wounds and those of the disputedly first Ripper victim, Martha Tabram, which we eventually find out she stole from Andrea who stole it from the morgue. That had me wondering.
Kane doesn't want to be shown up, so tears apart Molly's theory with troublesome little things called facts. Of course, saying it can't be the Ripper because the slices weren't surgical shouldn't really count. It's someone emulating the Ripper, not the real deal, so they may or may not be surgically inclined. Now, all his victims were prostitutes is a fair point, and definitely something a Ripper copycat would emulate.
Molly has a few rebuttals, and even throws Kane's own mantra of thinking outside the box right back at him. Careful though, if you think too far outside the box, you might forget to even think of the box.
And like Molly warned them, Chantelle is starting to have second thoughts as this is all becoming too real. Sure, now they listen, when they might actually do some good.
Jason, being the brains of the group (as he should be), points out that the two victims are from their specific group, and he's determined to figure this thing out before he gets added to the body count. He even manages to somehow suck Molly into it.
Weirdness continues to ensue as Kane heads to his car and runs into Kelso. Which admittedly wasn't hard, since they were just in the same room. Kelso stands out in a downpour and confronts the professor. We learn that Kane was asked for help on the island murders five years ago but refused because of whatever happened to him that made him disappear.
And it gets weirder. They discuss the rain, with Kelso getting slowly drenched, and suddenly Kane starts thinking his internal monologue again. I could kinda roll with the first one, since it could just all have been his own thoughts, but didn't quite seem that way, but this time it clearly isn't. We hear the words. We don't see Kane's lips move. AND KELSO ASKS HIM "WHAT?" He hears his thoughts! What the shit is this? Mind blown!
The Scooby gang wants to get their hands on Mary-Anne's coroner's report, to see if her wounds match those of Mary Nichols. Unless Jack dropped her off the east end of London's cliffs, I don't think they will, guys.
So that night in the morgue, Andy checks things out and gets the creeps. Because, frankly, she's in the morgue with her dead friends. That's enough to freak anyone out. Ok, the killer is there too, but still.
Andy runs for it, and locks herself in a room when the phone rings. She tries to tell the person on the other end that there's someone outside trying to kill her, but they hang up. She turns around and sees a bloody message scrawled on the wall, asking her why she thinks they're outside the room? Wow, they did that fast, undetected, in this small enclosed space!
The killer stabs her in the back with a syringe full of what looks like Mountain Dew. What is it with syringes and green liquid? Why is it always Mountain Dew? Is she gonna come back as a puppet now?
Andy wakes up on a slab and hallucinates her dead friends looking straight out of central casting for a real Jack the Ripper movie, blackened teeth and all. At least I hope they're just figments, because this movie can't handle much more weird. Yet the walking dead would not surprise me at this point.
Meanwhile, it's still downpouring as the remaining cannon fodder get together to check the dead pool now that Andy's gone too. Since they're bonding, Chantelle reveals that she's learned about the other dead skeletons in Molly's closet, which goes over real well. Friends don't like to learn when your old friends all died.
The group splits up after a lot of yelling, and Kane is suddenly standing there to look after Molly significantly. Where he came from, I don't know. Probably hanging out in the trees with Kelso in the rain.
What follows is a hilarious scene of poor A.J. Cook running through the city. It's supposed to come across as some deeply meaningful moment where she's been broken down by the harsh words of her classmates, and how everything is happening to her again, but it comes across as a girl running by stores.
And then there's...well, this.
Yep, she ran all the way to a cliff. Did she get her travel plans from the Highlander movies? I'm sure she wanted seclusion, but man.
Suddenly, Molly comes back down from the mountaintop, and trashes her apartment. Not that anyone would notice, really. As if things couldn't get any worse, Kane shows up to comfort her.
And they start making out. Hot for teacher, woohoo! Although, since I just made a Highlander joke, I'm not sure how I feel about her making out with Jacob Kells. We do learn about the wounds he received from a serial killer he confronted years ago, and was why he quit profiling.
The movie then jumps to someplace else entirely, and I don't mean that lightly, or jokingly. We've left everything behind, and have holed up the entire remaining cast in Kane's small cabin in the woods, because seclusion in the middle of nowhere is always safe in these movies. I wonder if they didn't run out of money and shooting locations and had to go hide in a small set somewhere.
While there, the class continues to postulate, and surmise that the killer thinks he really is Jack. Jason says it's either that, or he's a descendant of Jack. Now, the movie is well known (ish) for being about Jack's descendant, and this is the ONLY place it is mentioned. Ever. Just a random theory. The movie doesn't even give evidence to back it up. It just tosses it out there. Frankly, the other option is more likely. It doesn't even confirm it. Spoiler.
At this point, Kane makes an admittedly brilliant deduction. He pieces together that the first three victims all share the same initials with the first three original Ripper victims. They realise the rest of them all share initials with the remaining victims, with three of them sharing those with Mary Kelly; Marshall Kane, Molly Kelly, and Jason reveals his real name is Michael Korda. This is why the random shots of the class at the start of the movie as Kane listed off the victims was actually rather clever, and is a great thing to see on a second viewing.
Let's just say that Eddie? Being next in line with the initials of Elizabeth Stride? He's not happy right now.
As brilliant as this is to drop in, it does strain credulity. The killer waited for the precisely perfect class, with the precisely perfect single study group with people having initials that he could use to match up with the Jack the Ripper slayings? No wonder it took five years!
They all start to think it's creepy Aaron, what with being creepy, and weird, and creepy. His lurking outside the cabin, staring, and getting rained on isn't helping any.
As if that isn't bad enough, they try to call Kelso, but the satellite dish that handles the phone lines must be damaged, so the group splits up to try and fix it. Molly at least realises that's a little crazy. Jason goes anyways, since he doesn't want to be in the same room with Molly and Kane after he saw them boff the night before. Eddie and Chantelle head out with him for safety.
Which naturally means their jeep breaks down on the way, for no reason beyond plot contrivance. So, Jason must venture forth alone, leaving the other two huddled in the jeep.
Eddie gets bored pretty quick watching the rain, so decides to try and fix things. The killer grabs Chantelle from behind, and bashes her head into the steering wheel. Good thing she isn't dead, since that would mess up the pattern. Does it matter if they don't find the bodies in order though?
The car starts and the engine grabs Eddie's hand. So, I guess Elizabeth Stride had a mangled hand, huh? Or does that wound not count? Which ones do? I mean, each victim so far would clearly have more and different wounds than the Ripper victims. I'm obsessing over this point, I know, but it bugs me, since the entire mystery is centered on it!
Chantelle wakes up and slams on the gas, which is bad for Eddie since he's hanging off the front bumper. And even worse when the jeep crashes into a giant log in the road. Again, did Stride have a snapped spine? Ok, ok, stopping.
She stumbles through the forest, running from the Ripper, and finds her way to a random lumber mill in the middle of the woods. Well, that explains the giant log, but still pretty convenient. And she of course accidentally turns the saws on, and doesn't turn them immediately off.
Aaron also just so happens to be at this mill, and tries to tell Chantelle who the killer is. Since she suspects him of being the killer, she goes for the balls, knocking them both off the catwalk they ran onto, and into the feeder belt for the saws. Which is enclosed to stop them from just rolling off it to safety. In fairness, I'm sure mills have such things as safety precautions, but it's still mighty handy to stop an escape.
Mumbles goes face first into the saw, and the remains of his leg gum up the works. And thus is the Ripper's pattern completely defenestrated.
Chantelle uses the stopped death trap to wriggle her way out, but Aaron's shoe pops off at the worst possible time, bringing the saw down on the French girl's head. So, you could argue that the Ripper didn't kill Aaron, so that doesn't screw up the pattern, but then you must also say he didn't kill Chantelle. It can't be one or the other. And was Catherine Eaddows' had cut off?
Meanwhile, back with the star of the film, she's shouting in the rain for Kane, which falls mainly on the plain in Spain. I feel like I've missed a scene. Anyways, Molly checks the laptop, and finds out that Kane's semen was found in Marisa, and Jason's blood was found on Mary-Anne...
It's a good thing they mentioned Jason must have fixed the satellite link up, or this would be a pretty gaping plothole.
Speaking of Jason, as Molly is freaking out over bloody clothes, he shows up looking like hell, and yelling. Yes, because scaring the shit out of people is the best thing to do when there's a murderer lurking around.
Frankly, he deserved the fireplace poker he got in the face.
And that's when Kane decides to show back up, and Molly doesn't trust either of her lovers, so runs off into the rain. Almost bumps into Kelso too, still lurking creepily with a knife.
Jason wakes up, grabs an axe, and yeah, someone's getting cut. We've got knives, axes, and...yep, Jason gets the poker to the stomach some more. Just not his day.
Someone picks up the dropped axe, and gives Jason forty whacks with it, while Molly keeps running through the forest and runs into the five years younger version of herself. Uhh, yeah. Remember when I said the movie couldn't take much more weird?
Molly watches as her younger self kneels beside Kane, who is beside Jason with the axe, which, I dunno. The movie's just veering into twist after twist with weird imagery that makes zero sense.
Kane would maybe make sense as the killer, almost too much sense, if this movie could be a little more coherent. Molly recognises his shoes from the party where Marisa was murdered, but Kane only had sex with his student, not killed her. Which is perfectly ok!
But maybe he's telling the truth, because now Kelso arrives, clocks Kane from behind, and stands there with a knife. I got nothin'. Too many killers, not enough plot, movie.
Kelso tries to tie it all together, by finding a cross on Kane that matches one from the first crime spree, as well as finding a vial of Jason's blood in his office, which he could have used to frame the boy.
But wait, ONE MORE TWIST! We zoom into Molly's eyes, and see her younger self running around with a bloody knife, and killing her friend on the boat that was stuck to the prop. Yes, Molly is the killer! After so many red herrings and false leads, this must be true!
After we see Molly was holding the axe that bashed in Jason's skull, the movie jumps forward another five years. Because that will clear everything up.
We see Kane in prison, being lead down the last walk to his death, after being convicted for the crimes of Molly, voiced over by his earlier speech about thinking like a serial killer, and manipulation.
Also, we see a letter he received with the names of the study group, and arranged so a letter from each name spelling out TEACHER, and the final tag of "Think outside the box." And I have no idea what that means. Was this somehow a clue to the police? Make it look like Kane picking those victims because they spelled out his job, and Molly used that as a clue to point to him? Or is it a message from Molly to taunt him, saying it's how she picked him to take the fall?
Or is it just confusing, meaningless drivel? Yeah, that's what I thought.
Oh yes, we also get to see Molly, who has once again changed her hair colour. She's been blonde, redhead, and is now a dark brunette. Probably to show us how eeevil she is now that she remembers everything. She's also a successful writer, chronicling her experiences in a book, following in Kane's footsteps.
She then steps through a door, and into a painting, and into 1888. At least, she thinks it's 1888. She gives this weird monologue about being Jack, believing SHE is Jack, back then, doing his crimes. Yep, she's snapped.
Oh for...they're STILL not done with the twists. As successful, happy Molly walks off into Jack's life in the distant past, she suddenly wakes up screaming, strapped down to a bed in an asylum. And since she has red hair...did any of the tag actually happen? Is Kane dead? Did he go to jail? Or was it all pinned on Molly? How can a movie have so much plot and twists, and so few real answers that make a lick of sense?
Molly can't be the killer. Can Not. The only way this movie makes any sort of coherent sense, is if Kelso was the killer. Since he turned up stalking Molly before they even had a dead body. Police are not precognative. He shows up, bodies start falling, and he pins it all on Molly and takes advantage of her already fragile state to make her think she did it, and is Jack, or a descendant of him, or whatever. That actually makes sense. And plays fair. Unlike the movie, because they never really resolve or explain anything.
Video: For a small movie that went, I believe, direct to DVD or tv, this looks surprisingly good. It's sharp, well lit, the colours pop when they should... It's from 2000, so not the best looking movie, but it's solid. One of the few things I can't nitpick.
Audio: Another good mix. Everyone is easy to hear, but there's nothing overly special. No atmospherics, no rumbling base. But it does what it does.
Special Features: There's a full length commentary with the director of the movie, which is surprisingly informative. Not in any way that clears up the plot, but the actual production of it, and actually worth listening to. He gets into the original Ripper slayings, the information they used, and a lot of background.
Blood Type - B: There's quite a bit of blood and creative killings, but they don't go overboard, staying nicely respectable for a slasher film. Good stuff. Nothing too cheesy, but they don't shy away from the stuff.
Sex Appeal: A brief shot of a dead, naked woman at the start of the movie, and then a shirtless Bruce Payne.
First Kill: Molly's friend caught and sliced up by the boat prop five years ago and six minutes into the movie. Or Marisa Tavares 30 minutes in, if you want to go with the proper storyline.
Best Kill: There's actually quite a number of good deaths in this movie. My fave would probably be Mary-Anne's, because she just will! Not! Die! Gotta love the persistence. But as for bloody deaths, it's hard to top Chantal's beheading.
Movie Rating: Well, this is, surprisingly, not a horrible movie. For 75% of it, at least. That ending damages it beyond repair, but for most of it, Ripper is a well-made, well shot movie with good actors. The characters are woefully underdeveloped though, and that good acting is wasted. If there had been more investigation of the mystery, more coherency to the mystery, and more actual resolution, this would have been a good movie. As it stands, it only gets a three out of five zombie Ripper victims.
Entertainment Value: But that being said, it is a good FUN movie to watch. I enjoyed watching it, when I wasn't scratching my head or bashing it into the desk as the plot imploded and ate its own tail. The story is solid until the end, the deaths are fun, and you can get drawn into the mystery wondering who did it. Shame we get no kind of answer that makes a lick of sense to any of our questions! But then you get to spend the next hour with friends debating what the hell just happened, and that can be fun in and of itself. Surprisingly good fun, so it gets a four out of five plot twists. Which is three too many.