When not busy treating the most destitute of London’s paupers, Dr. Dennis Orloff (Klaus Kinski) likes to slash a prostitute or two. He’s Jack the Ripper, you see. After the good doctor is done with them, his trusty lobotomized handmaid dumps the bloodied remains into the Thames. Scotland Yard’s Inspector Selby is on the case, aided by a blind beggar and his dancer ex-girlfriend (Josephine Chaplin – Downtown Heat) .
This lavishly produced trash from producer Erwin C. Dietrich is Jess Franco’s auto-remake of his early classic Gritos en la La Noche/The Awful Dr. Orloff. With an international star in the lead, Jack the Ripper retains the classical, traditional essence of Jess Franco’s early B/W works while amping up the blood and sex factor. Such Franco themes as peeping, sexy dance routines, unusually wise and perspicacious blind characters, ineffectual policemen are all at hand in Jack the Ripper.
Often underused in Jess Franco films, Klaus Kinski is allowed sufficient screen time in Jack the Ripper this time around and does a good job portraying the mysterious Whitechapel maniac as a frigid, Victorian-era repressed gent with mommy issues.
Impressive production values (including lavish period costumes and props) aside, Jack the Ripper remains a trash film at heart – but a stylish and entertaining one. Peter Baumgartner’s quality cinematography can be unsubtle, with often overlit exterior nighttime scenes (this is especially noticeable in the Bluray release). Some less-disciplined shots here and there suggest that Franco did get to handle a portion of the camerawork himself. A beautifully crafted flashback/hallucination scene of Kinski being taunted by the ghost of his prostitute mother foreshadows the dazzling visual abstractions Jess Franco would explore some forty years on with the likes of Paula-Paula.
Klaus Kinski stalking a terrified Lina Romay through a nocturnal pine forest is a highlight. With no score, just some ambient sounds, the scene is a masterclass in subtle chills. Jess Franco spares no close-ups when capturing Lina Romay’s and Josephine Chaplin’s stunning natural beauty, in an out of authentic period costume. The English dubbing is, as per the norm, wretched. German-language track is somewhat more restrained and serious. Klaus Kinski doesn’t have his own voice in either language version, which is of course a sin.
An improvement on The Awful Dr. Orloff in terms of pacing and consistency, Jack the Ripper packs a good deal of blood and strangeness into its shortish running time. You don’t have to be a Jess Franco fanatic to appreciate what Jack the Ripper has got to offer.