Jack the Ripper On Screen – Eight of the Best

October 22, 2018

This year marks the 130th anniversary of a series of brutal killings that have gone down in infamy. It was in 1888 that the murderer known as Jack the Ripper slaughtered five prostitutes in London’s east end, and, since then, he’s captured the imaginations of dozens of filmmakers and TV writers. With that in mind, here are just eight of the best films and TV shows inspired by Britain’s most notorious serial killer…

Pandora’s Box (1929)

The Jack the Ripper murders were still in living memory when Louise Brooks starred as Lulu, the frolicsome mistress of a middle-aged newspaper magnate in this stylish, silent melodrama. Unlike most Ripper films, this one isn’t specifically about Jack the Ripper, with the Whitechapel knifer only appearing in the film’s final reel to sensationally slay our perfectly-bobbed heroine.

A Study in Terror (1965)

What if Sherlock Holmes had really existed and had been around to investigate the Jack the Ripper murders? From this juicy premise, brothers Donald and Derek Ford penned this career high thriller which headlines John Neville as Holmes and Donald Houston as Dr. Watson, with the film taking the now largely discredited line that the killer was linked to the British Royal Family.

Hands of the Ripper (1971)

The 1970s saw Hammer move away from the rich, gothic melodrama of its early horror flicks to something much more visceral and bloody. Hands of the Ripper then owes more to the cinema of Dario Argento than it does Terence Fisher, telling the story of Jack the Ripper’s daughter, who, ten years after his death, embarks on her own murder spree.

Murder by Decree (1979)

Fourteen years after Frank Finlay played Inspector Lestrade in one Sherlock-Holmes-vs-Jack-the-Ripper mashup, he again played Scotland Yard’s finest in another Sherlock-Holmes-vs-Jack-the-Ripper flick, the rather more star-studded Murder by Decree. With Christopher Plummer and James Mason heading up a cast that includes Donald Sutherland, David Hemmings and Sir John Gielgud, Murder by Decree draws heavily on the same Masonic/Royal Family conspiracy theory from which A Study in Terror took its inspiration.

Time After Time (1979)

As pitches go, this is a doozy – HG Wells on the trail of Jack the Ripper in modern-day San Francisco. But however hokey this one sounds, Nicholas Meyer’s sci-fi take on the Ripper story is a clever, pacy ‘fish out of water’ tale that was well-reviewed at the time, but remains little remembered now. Unusually, the film makes up its own Jack the Ripper, in this case a surgeon friend of HG Wells’ who steals the author’s time machine, travelling 100 years into the future in order to continue his murder spree. A TV version made its debut in 2016, masterminded by Scream’s Kevin Williamson, though it was canned after just one series.

Jack the Ripper (1973)

In this high-concept spinoff-of-a-spinoff (the show was a spin-off of Softly Softly, which was itself spun off from Z-Cars), CID officers Barlow and Watt reopen the case of Jack the Ripper and analyse the surviving evidence. Interspersed with dramatic reconstructions, this BBC curio infuriated viewers at the time, when, after six hour-long episodes, it concluded there simply wasn’t enough evidence to determine who Jack the Ripper was. (Cue lots of stamping of feet)

Jack the Ripper (1988)

Screened on ITV to mark the 100th anniversary of the killings, David Wickes’ lavishly mounted three-parter began its life as a low-budget serial, with Van Der Valk star Barry Foster as Chief Inspector Frederick Abberline and Grange Hill’s Brian Capron as his loyal sidekick Sergeant George Godley. ITV recorded for nearly two months with the pair, until CBS offered the company a generous co-production deal. With tonnes more money suddenly available, the project was shut down and remounted as a stellar-budgeted mini-series, with Michael Caine replacing Foster and Lewis Collins taking the place of Capron. Much of the original Foster footage is included in the Special Features section of Network’s DVD of the series.

From Hell (2001)

Titled after the address given on a letter allegedly written to the police from ‘Jack the Ripper’, From Hell was adapted from Alan (Watchmen, V for Vendetta) Moore’s celebrated graphic novel. Starring Johnny Depp as Frederick Abberline, the film is a greatest hits package of every Ripper theory going, weaving a conspiracy of Watergate-like proportions, hooking in the Royal Family, the Freemasons, the artist Walter Sickert and corrupt policemen.

Steve O’Brien

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  1. Michael Hall Reply

    Dear Boss.
    For me, the most ‘infuriating’ thing about Barlow’s and Watt’s “Jack the Ripper (BBC TV 1973)” is its unavailability.
    I have DVDs/Blu rays of all of the other seven recommendations on your list and yet this has been my most wanted, right from the early days of home video.
    On seeing it again in recent years (albeit in a very ropey condition) it still had the power to enthrall.
    You know what I’m going to ask next, don’t you, NETWORK? . . please! . .

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