The recent success of From Hell, the film adaptation of Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell's excellent graphic novel, probably shouldn't have come as a real surprise. Jack the Ripper has fascinated people for well over a century, inspiring a small library of books ranging from the silliest conspiracy text to Iain Sinclair's hallucinatory novels. Inevitably there would be movies featuring the Ripper. He eventually became something of a generic boogeyman, popping up as a minor character in films like Waxwork II: Lost in Time (1992) but there are other films that focus mainly on him.
The first movie with Jack the Ripper appears to have been the 1929 Pandora's Box starring Louise Brooks as a free-spirted woman who may or may not be a prostitute. This was based on the work of the controversial Franz Wedekind, one of Germany's leading playwrights at the turn of the century. His story has been filmed at least seven times, including a 1980 version by Walerian Borowczyk (Immoral Tales). The 1929 version is actually based on two plays, Pandora's Box and Earth-Spirit, the convoluted history of which need not detain us here (except to note that this was also the source of Alban Berg's opera Lulu).
Oddly enough, considering the public interest and dramatic potential, Ripper films have tended to not focus on the actual case. Exceptions are a couple of TV movies, one in 1988 named Jack the Ripper (starring Michael Caine) and one in 1997 entitled The Ripper (starring Gabrielle Anwar) though some might mention the 1959 Jack the Ripper that imagines an American detective heading to London to track down the killer. More commonly though Ripper films attempt some twist to the story, often to the point that they have no relation to the real Jack the Ripper case. An obvious example is the idea of pitting the Ripper against his fictional contemporary Sherlock Holmes. A few novels had used the idea but the first film was A Study in Terror (1965) based on an Ellery Queen novel. More notable perhaps is Murder by Decree (1979) which pits Sherlock Holmes (Christopher Plummer) against a Ripper protected by a vast conspiracy. It was directed by Bob Clark of A Christmas Story (and Porky's fame.
Other cross-breeds with familiar characters occur as well. One of the better examples is Time After Time (1979), directed and co-written by Nicholas Meyer (who had written best-selling novels where Holmes meets Freud and Bernard Shaw). Here, Jack (David Warner) escapes to the 1970s using a time machine and it's up to H.G. Wells (Malcolm McDowell) to follow and capture him. Only Wells didn't plan on falling in love with a bank clerk (Mary Steenburgen), possibly because in his day such clerks were all men. Another example is Edge of Sanity (1989) which adapts the Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde story (with the lead played by Anthony Perkins) so that Mr. Hyde is actually Jack Hyde, aka Jack the Ripper. The Ruling Class (1972) starring Peter O'Toole as an unbalanced English lord features a subplot in which he imagines he IS the Ripper, going so far to even murder a woman on his estate.
Other Ripper films present a later series of murders that follow the earlier pattern. In films like the 1976 Jack the Ripper from prolific cult director Jess Franco (and recently released on DVD), the murderer (Klaus Kinski) is a modern serial killer mimicking the Ripper. A similar idea occurs in Jack the Mangler (1971, aka Jack the Ripper and originally Jack el destripador de Londres) where Spanish cult actor Paul Naschy plays a lunatic re-enacting the Ripper murders. Hands of the Ripper (1971), a Hammer production, features Jack the Ripper's daughter who has grown up to be a very unstabile adult.
Some films go even futher. Take Bridge Across Time (1985), a TV movie that shows the London Bridge being relocated to Arizona where suddenly mysterious murders happen and it's up to policeman David Hasselhoff to save us all. And during the busy days of blaxploitation there was an announcement for Black the Ripper but this appears to have never actually been made. Certainly there are more Ripper films waiting discovery....
By Lang Thompson
A Surrealistic Thriller From Spain Gets an American Makeover
One of the most anticipated new movie releases for this December is Vanilla Sky starring Tom Cruise (as David Aames) and his current flame, Penelope Cruz. What most people don't know is that the film is a remake of Abre Los Ojos/Open Your Eyes (1997), a psychological thriller by Spanish director Alejandro Amenabar which also featured Penelope Cruz in the central female role. In the original version, a handsome Lothario named Cesar attends a party where he meets his best friend's latest crush, Sofia. Immediately smitten, Cesar succeeds in luring Sofia away from his pal and is soon involved in a passionate romance with her, the first time he has experienced true love. But in the process, he abandons his current lover and she takes an unexpected revenge. The result of this action sends the storyline spiraling into a dark, netherworld of facial surgery, masks, cryogenics, and disturbing dream states which are often indistinguishable from reality. It's hard to imagine how director Cameron Crowe will handle the labyrinth plot twists and mind games in his version, especially in light of his past work (Jerry McGuire, Almost Famous) which seems positively sunny and upbeat compared to Vanilla Sky. And how will Crowe handle the ambigious ending? The original climax of Abre Los Ojos/Open Your Eyes - a surrealistic encounter on top of a skyscaper - sent most moviegoers out of the theatres scratching their heads, questioning what they had just seen.
What we do know is that Vanilla Sky is going to be set in New York City and focus on contemporary culture in America. On the official Vanilla Sky web site (www.vanillasky.com), Tom Cruise states that the film "is a pop culture ride. It's one of the sub-themes of the movie, how pop culture affects us, and how we use it as a standard as to what we expect from our own lives."
Vanilla Sky will also be visually striking and innovative in its approach to the main character's disoriented state of mind. Crowe said, "From the very beginning, I wanted a shot where David Aames is alone in Times Square. We had to have the shot because it's from a dream that David is having where he's running tragically alone in the world. The producers did some magic to get us Times Square to ourselves, and it helped us provide the shot with an eerie, inspired feeling."
Soon, we'll all have a chance to see just how successful Crowe and Cruise have been in their latest collaboration and whether Vanilla Sky will actually improve on the original version or whether it will depart from it completely, spinning off in a new direction.
By Jeff Stafford