Jess Franco's partnership with producer Erwin C. Dietrich ran for 15 films and Jack The Ripper was arguably their most lucrative venture. Here, Switzerland - save for a few stock shots - replaces 19th century London, with the Ripper portrayed by the late Klaus Kinski.
In the fog-shrouded East End, prostitutes are killed and cut-up by a Doctor who spends his days prolonging the lives of patients and his evenings reducing the life expectancy of London's 'ladies of the night'. Many of the more recent serial killer flicks have operated in a world bereft of law and order, where police are neither seen nor heard, allowing the maniac to remain active. In Jack The Ripper, the killer strives to keep one step ahead of Inspector Selby (Mankopff), who must juggle domestic concerns with the pressure of ensnaring his elusive prey. As Selby struggles to come up with the answers, his girlfriend Cynthia (Chaplin) decides to lure the Ripper into the arms of the law: a dangerous game which makes for a tense final act and, it must be said, a finale that runs out of ideas. Despite this rather weak conclusion, Jack The Ripper is a worthwhile, if hardly essential entry in the Franco/Dietrich filmography. Kinski in particular is excellent, switching moods to present the two faces of the Ripper, while Chaplin makes for a convincing heroine who is willing to risk life and limb in order to halt the killing spree. Mankopff is slightly less impressive as the floundering cop; indeed, his detective work is frequently overshadowed by the input of a blind witness to murder (Gaugler) whose obversations consistently amaze: more grist to the mill of a wholly literate script.
On a visual level, Jack The Ripper looks ravishing, thanks to DOP Peter Baumgartner who clearly had an influence over Franco's directorial style. At various points in Franco's career, the challenge of turning Swiss streets into London walkways would have resulted in a mess but it's a fairly stable transformation, with colourful tavern interiors, and fog-infested side-streets that recall the alleyways of Mario Bava's Kill, Baby......Kill!
Anchor Bay's Region 2 DVD does full justice to Baungartner's expertise, with an absolutely stunning transfer (taken from the print restored by VIP). Those of us who have 'seen' this film via bootleg tapes or even Platinum's dreadful budget DVD will not believe their eyes: bold primary colours, nice inky blacks and virtually nil edge enhancement. This film could have been shot 28 days ago rather than 28 years and an excellent restoration documentary shows, for once, exactly what goes into the process of taking a battered print and turning it into a work of art.
A 21 minute featurette is also included; worth a view, though a little judicious editing could have resulted in less overlap with Dietrich's other contributions - the main one being an absorbing commentary track where Erwin comes over as an astute businessman with an exceptionally retentive memory. Practically all of the major and minor cast members are mentioned here, with Kinski singled out as an unselfish artist who never caused Dietrich any problems during their 3 film association. Other topics include censorship problems (the eye in the bag caused outrage in Germany, and this, along with several other scenes were darkened to obscure some gory fx shots); cast selections - we learn Chaplin was recruited to help meet the required quota of Swiss actors - and there are warm memories and anecdotes recalling Franco's zest for filmmaking. Also listen out for a memorable quote concerning on-screen nudity (particularly relevant here): "The shame persists, the money has gone".
While some of us may regret the lack of insight into any historical research that may have been undertaken (Dietrich fails to acknowledge a line of dialogue hinting at a royal connection to the killings), it's still a fine commentary which increases our appreciation of this film. Sure, the heightened clarity afforded by digital technology does show up some amateurish fx work, but this tip-of-the-hat to Franco's previous Orloff-ian adventures does contain some nerve-shredding scenes; not least when Romay is taken to a secluded spot and murdered after being tracked down by her deadly 'client'. Watch out, too, for a continuity error regarding identification of the killer which takes place during the 81st minute.
Legendary director of predominantly sex-and-horror-based material, Spanish-born Jesus Franco had as many as 200 directing credits to his name. Trained initially as a musician before studying film at the Sorbonne in Paris, Franco began directing in the late 50s. By using the same actors, sets and locations on many films, Franco has maintained an astonishing workrate, and while the quality of his work has sometimes suffered because of this, films such as Virgin Amongst the Living dead, Eugenie, Succubus and She Killed in Ecstasy remain distinctive slices of 60s/70s art-trash.
Most of his films have been released in multiple versions with wildly differing titles, while Franco himself has directed under a bewildering number of pseudonyms. Actors who have regularly appeared in his films include Klaus Kinski, Christopher Lee and wife Lina Romay; fans should also look out for his name on the credits of Orson Welles' Chimes of Midnight, on which he worked as assistant director.