In 1988, a horror film called Jack’s Back established the directorial debut of Rowdy Herrington, however it was more of a thriller, aside from that it starred James Spader in dual roles, and it marked the 100th anniversary of the Jack the Ripper killings. Herrington used Ripper’s atrocious crimes and the anniversary as a clever mystery movie, the studio tried to slide into the dying slasher market of the horror genre, while ignoring many of the solid points for a good thriller of tracking down a clone killer. The studio made the wise choice of the title change from originally calling it Red Rain, as it had zero connection to the plot, let alone the difficulty of marketing, hence the current title tying back to Ripper pitch storyline. While granted a budget of $1 million, someway or somehow non-existing promotion assisting in the film falling flat with distribution from Palisades Entertainment Group, however Paramount Home Video rescued the movie, giving it life on then VHS. Scream Factory gave the flick a proper release with a Blu-Ray in 2015 however it was also because of Spader’s rising star power, with a hit television series The Blacklist.
While many know that the infamous killer Jack the Ripper, always continues to stir the boiling pot of theories, recently that he was H. H. Holmes, his popularity feeds a steady supply of novels and reference material, but has a lasting impact on the cinematic world, especially the horror genre. His story leading episodes on Kolchak and Friday the 13th: The Series, but also numerous movies, in fact three movies in 1988. Those creations first Jack’s Back; then Waxwork (1988), which contained a small role of Jack, and lastly the mini-series, Jack the Ripper, in October of that year, starring Michael Caine. Needless, the topic of serial killers keeps churning out product for the masses, and keeps the BAU of Criminal Minds in business still.
First, to set a few things in place, no awards for original content, but an entertainment quality does fill the allotted running time, with James Spader leading the charge of the movie, portraying dual roles, and Cynthia Gibb assists, together they make for a Holmes and Watson team. Then a minor issue, technically Jack the Ripper copycat not exactly in the movie that much, and the blood-splatter – sorry gore-hounds not present, a lot off screen killing though. Therefore, a movie more based on a whodunit, with the sensationalized story, Spader stars as twins John and Rick Wesford, John a doctor working in a clinic in a poor neighborhood where he grew up he strives to help his community. Nearby, inspired Jack the Ripper killings occurring and soon enough John find himself removed from the script and bad news Rick comes to both the rescue and becomes the new target of the police. Psychologist Dr. Carlos Battera (Robert Picardo, incidentally who had three horror films released and one TV-movie released in 1988) brought in for insight, but he only informs the taskforce of what they already know about the case, the next person on the Ripper’s hit list. His introduction to the audience is to allow for further advancement of Rick’s storyline, and further explanation of twins, meanwhile portraying the police as typical know-nothing television detectives. How so, easily, questioning do twins have the same fingerprints, a science existing for well over a 100-years, and then so quickly assigning blame for Ripper copycat crimes without a lot of evidence – oops. It falls apart when alibi witnesses appear and more red herrings appear before the audience, some very obviously not the primary killer, again, it’s not a true horror movie rather a thriller layer over a crime mystery story.
Herrington’s script and story well designed for his first attempt in the director chair, prior to this he worked in the camera department of the 1984 blockbuster horror film A Nightmare on Elm Street, even so generated a pace film. Many of the action sequences work very well, and as do the fight sequences, as most know fighting whether with hands or gunplay (weapons) contains a choreographed dance within, and all it looks nice. Factor in the bizarre police thinking and strategizing then one will find plenty of laughs to break the tension. Just remember if you seek blood, gore, violence look elsewhere none of it comes in buckets, but Spader nails his performance.
Nothing outstanding or earth-shattering, just a basic thriller with a good entertainment value, worth one’s time to view it once or to retrace Spader’s early work, after all he takes on some of the most quirky roles in films, Crash, Secretary, and Wolf, therefore enjoy a mystery for a change, one could do a lot worst.