Jack the Ripper is the newest gruesome pulp icon to be brought back to life on the screen. With the exception of the upcoming “From Hell,” which also departs, at some point, from painstaking historical accuracy to tell a fictionalized account of what happened back in 1888, most of the Ripper films use the character as a device for a contemporary horror story. One of the best ones was “Jack’s Back,” which used the murders of the Ripper to unleash some truly interesting surprises on the audience. In the new film “Ripper” (subtitled “Letter From Hell” overseas) the character of Jack the Ripper is just a device, period, for a teen horror film. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with any genre, as the excellent teen thriller “Joy Ride” proved, but “Ripper” is low rent from the first frame.
In “Ripper,” Molly Keller(A.J. Cook) witnesses the murder of her teenage friends, on an isolated island, in the film’s opening. Scarred, and worn out from therapy, she returns to college and begins studying criminology, under the tutelage of renowned manhunter and profiler Martin Kane(Bruce Payne). As Molly and her fellow students (about seven of them) begin studying the legend of Jack the Ripper, they are killed off one by one, as Molly copes with the murderous demons of the past. It turns out that each of the student’s initials matches one of the real life Jack the Ripper victims. Jurgen Prochnow, who should know better, plays a Detective who shows up to grill Molly on her findings.
Enough. So, what does this have to do with Jack the Ripper? There’re a few scenes in “Ripper” where the students in the class talk about Jack the Ripper’s crimes, but it’s like he’s just a name. There’s no psychology, no insight, no deep connection to the real story, which is fine if, like in “Jack’s Back,” you transplant the basic situation with interesting ideas and style. Inject a random killer into the plot of “Ripper” and it would make no difference. None of the characters’ actions would change. That’s reprehensible in any horror film.
“Ripper” is a seriously bad film. It’s also technically incompetent. The idea that all of the character’s names would match with the names of the real life Ripper victims is ludicrous, since the plot doesn’t explain how any of the characters were coerced, or driven, to attend the college in the first place. Scenes in the film are padded with worthless dialogue so the movie can exist. The look of the movie is ashen and washed out. The college looks wooden and underpopulated, which, if you’re a connoisseur of ’80’s killer co-ed flicks, is always some kind of knowing imprimatur. The ending is an insult to anyone whose invested time in this movie, in every sense of the word. When the killer is revealed, a number of paradoxes and impossibilities immediately reverse on themselves, making the ending logically impossible. It’s as if the director, John Eyres, thought no one would notice.
Okay, enough gawking. Just what am I looking for in a teen horror film? Simple. What good movies, like the recent “Jeepers Creepers” and “Joy Ride” gave us: a genuine effort on the part of the actors and filmmakers, in those films, to transcend their genre by caring about the story, realizing that if we don’t care about the characters and understand the story, then we won’t accept either. “Ripper” is a worthless film, artless, cynical and naive. It’s as if the makers of “Ripper” thought that all they had to do was show up. Jack would’ve been very disappointed.