At the height of the Napoleonic Wars The United Kingdom was pitted against the might of France, but was managing to hold its own in spite of a number of treacherous Englishmen who, for a hefty fee, would conspire against their own country and assist the enemy. Important documents would be worth a lot of money to these scoundrels should they get their hands on them, as it is this evening when a British soldier sets off to deliver such letters and is set upon by the dreaded Chief (Tod Slaughter) in a rural lane. The man is choked to death and the villain makes off with his prize - is there nobody who can stop this terror and save the British Isles from falling victim to Napoleon's forces?
Yes, there is, and he's Spring Heeled Jack. Who, you may ask? Although he intermittently makes a return to the headlines it is a long time since the once-infamous troublemaker was frightening the populace of England by leaping about and clawing innocent parties, now relegated to one of those peculiar moral panics of yesteryear. It is unlikely his crimes were the fault of one person in particular as there were a number of people in the eighteen-hundreds and even before who made it their business to make a nuisance of themselves by scaring innocent citizens, often women walking home alone at night. They were not rapists, but violence was at times their goal, and the more word got around the more the craze spread.
Spring Heeled Jack had various stories told about him, ranging from him being an attacker with spring heeled boots to him being a full-on space alien (obviously that was added in hindsight around a hundred years later), but in this case he was made the hero. The Curse of the Wraydons was supposedly a famous Victorian play which was the stock in trade of Tod Slaughter, who had made his career reviving the barnstormers of many years before and transfixing his (mostly working class) audiences with his characters' lip-smacking evildoing, a real man you love to hate from a time when portraying an outright dastard was just as lucrative as portraying a hero or comic. Those days may be gone and the once-famous Slaughter near-forgotten, but he retains a following.
Needless to say Slaughter didn't play the hero this time either, as Jack was played by Bruce Seaton who alas we do not get to see showing off his powers of leaping very high aside from one scene when he jumps from a window, so no bouncing about here. Indeed, you may be asking yourself why bother to make the lead character Spring Heeled Jack at all: there's a sequence late on where his jumping could come in very handy to save his life and he doesn't even bother doing it, employing an alternative route to safety. Certainly there was no supernatural business to contend with in this case, although this is often labelled a horror movie, and there was a degree of grisliness, it was far more of a thriller dressed up in appropriate period garb.
What you will be wanting to see, or at least be advised to watch out for should you opt to give The Curse of the Wraydons a viewing, was Slaughter and his very individual characterisations. In truth, he was not a performer of great range, but that was mostly down to his fans wishing to see him do pretty much the same thing over and over again, rubbing his hands together with ill-disguised glee and gloating at his wickedness, often accompanied by a throaty chuckle. Really this example, one of his latter, was mainly interesting for its Spring Heeled Jack references as a window into a different era; not the nineteen-forties, but the nineteenth century as Slaughter made sure to stay as faithful to the text as possible. You may still get movies of classic Victorian novels being made - Charles Dickens never went out of style - but these now-obscure, once blockbusting theatricals did not make a comeback and nobody is interested in remedying that, they're simply too creaky for modern audiences. Which can be fun to track down in efforts such as this, to understand how they used to entertain.