When director Christopher Lewis ventured behind the camera again in 1985 to make his second feature, hot on the heels of the previous year’s Blood Cult, he had a pretty tough act to follow. After all, “sophomore slumps” are a notoriously common fact of life in fields of human endeavor, and —
Oh, wait a minute. What the hell am I talking about here? Blood Cult sucked. And I say that as a guy who really does appreciate its place in history, given that it was the first-ever shot-on-video, direct- to-VHS horror movie ever made, and I generally love ’80s SOV/DTV stuff — still, much as I really am thankful that Blood Cult opened the floodgates for what was, by and large, a fairly fun sub-genre, the fact is that it’s an almost preposterously lousy flick in and of itself.
But hey, it did turn a tidy profit for Lewis and his business partners, so less 12 months later, they did exactly what (probably) you and (certainly) I would have done in their situation — hustled up 75 grand and gave the whole thing another go . And this time, they even had a bankable horror icon on board with them.
Notice I said “icon” there, not “star,” because, let’s face it, much as I absolutely love Tom Savini, it’s always gonna be his work behind the camera that he’s most renowned for, rather than his work in front of it. Which isn’t to say that he’s a “bad” actor by any stretch of the imagination, just that he’s — how can I put this kindly? — rather limited. Still, in 1985 he was getting restless in his role as top horror special effects guy in the world, wanted to give the thespian life a go, and Lewis, canny businessman that he was (and probably still is), figured that just even having the Savini name attached to his project would guarantee, at the very least, a modest return on his (admittedly minimal) investment.
I guess it all worked out as far as that goes, since the finished result of their collaboration, The Ripper, did indeed turn a tidy little profit. So that’s at least one thing they can hang their hats on, at any rate. Beyond that, though, well —
Our “story” here, such as it is, revolves around one rather asshole-ish college professor, played by Tom Schreier, who happens upon an ancient ring that was apparently once worn by Jack The Ripper himself. Whenever he puts it on, he turns into Tom Savini and kills somebody — usually a young woman, and usually via throat-slitting. Then when he takes the ring off, he can’t remember what the hell happened, and reads about his crimes in the paper the next morning. Now, you or I, we might simply stop wearing the ring, just to be on the safe side and all — but he keeps putting the damn thing for reasons that, I guess, are known only to him. Maybe blacking out and reading about grisly crimes on the front pages the following morning is just his idea of a good time, or maybe he really is just too damn thick to put two and two together — I dunno. What I do know is, that’s about all the “plot” recap that’s necessary to sufficiently clue you in as to what’s going on here.
Incidentally, if all of this sounds somewhat similar to Rowdy (Road House) Herrington’s 1988 film Jack’s Back, starring James Spader, maybe it is a little bit, albeit with a couple of key differences : if I remember correctly (and it’s been awhile, so I can’t rightfully claim that I do) in Jack’s Back, Spader’s character was a then-modern-day serial killer inspired by Jolly Jack’s crimes, rather than his outright reincarnation ; and, more importantly, Jack’s Back was actually a halfway decent little movie, while The Ripper, frankly, is anything but.
Shit — who are we kidding? I’m being too generous. Fact of the matter is, The Ripper is downright painful to watch. The acting is uniformly deplorable, the soundtrack “music” is among the most grating in cinematic (or videomatic, or whatever) history, the production values are shit (in particular the laughable “flashback” sequences where Lewis and Co. try, without success, to recreate Victorian London on the streets on Tulsa, Oklahoma), and, perhaps most surprisingly, the makeup effects are beyond lousy. Seriously — I know Savini was otherwise occupied on this production, but you’d think that when he saw what the crew were trying to pass off as blood and gore here, he’d have at least stepped in and offered a few pointers. Apparently — and obviously — he didn’t.
Anyway, all these years later, The Ripper is, if you absolutely must ignore me, available on DVD from VCI, the company Lewis founded with the cash he netted from even-less-than-half-assed “efforts” such as this. It’s presented full frame with mono sound, neither of which is anything to write home about, and includes both a dry “making-of” featurette on the flick’s production and an even drier feature-length commentary where Lewis drones on at length about how much “work” went into this production. I can’t imagine much of it being of any interest to anyone other than die-hard Ripper fans — assuming such an animal even exists in the wild — but I did get a kick out of checking out this movie’s comments section on the IMDB where the author of its screenplay, one Bill Groves, states that, if Lewis loved the script even half as much as he claims he did on the commentary, “then how come he treated it like one of The Ripper’s victims?” Ouch. Gotta love that.
But wait, there’s more! If you’re in the mood for even more self-abuse (and not the fun kind) than watching this provides on its own, VCI has also released it as part of something called “The Ripper Blood Pack,” a three-DVD set that features not only The Ripper, but Blood Cult and its if -anything-even-worse sequel, Revenge, as well. If you’re tired of pushing saltwater-soaked safety pins through your nipples, attaching untreated heated copper wire to your scrotum or labia, stapling your eyelids open for days on end, or clamping your toes between shards of steaming dry ice, then might I humbly suggest trying to watch all three of these movies, consecutively, in one sitting — that, my friends, is some real pain.