With Klaus Kinski in the starring role you’d think that Jess Franco’s 1976 Jack the Ripper would be a winner. It is good, but I was left feeling that it could have been even better. I’ve always thought that Franco is at his best when he’s at his most outrageous and most trippy, and Jack the Ripper is played just a little too straight. If Kinski had gone a it more over-the-top it might have helped. It’s not that it’s a bad movie, or that Kinski is bad, but to me it just needed to be a bit more excessive stylistically.
Perhaps the problem is that Franco isn’t quite sure if he wants to do a realistic movie about the infamous Whitechapel murders or if he wants to do a real Franco film. It certainly plays fast and loose with the known facts of the case, to the extent where it might have been better to go all the way and create a surreal nightmare film. It looks good though. And there are moments when things start to get really interesting, especially the scene where he’s haunted by memories of his mother. And one of the murders is especially well done, although I won’t spoil things by saying any more.
It was filmed in Switzerland. Franco concentrates on capturing the overall feel of fog-bound London rather worrying too much about details, and it’s an approach that works well. Josephine Chaplin (daughter of Charlie Chaplin) is extremely good as the girlfriend of the police inspector hunting the Ripper, a respectable young woman who decides it might be fun playing at being a whore. Lina Romay steals the picture as the outrageous and adorable prostitute Marika.
How much you like this one really depends on whether you prefer Franco’s more conventional horror movies such as Count Dracula and The Awful Dr Orloff (with which this one has quite a bit in common thematically) or whether you prefer his forays into the world of psychedelic dreamscapes, nightmare and madness. As an exercise in fairly straightforward horror it’s very successful. There’s also less gore and a lot less sex than you’d expect in a 1976 Franco film.
The Region 2 DVD includes a documentary on the restoration of the film, and it’s one of the best of its kind that I’ve seen. And the restoration really is magnificent - the movie looks stunning. It’s not by any means a bad movie, but the combination of the subject matter, the director and the presence of Klaus Kinski meant that my expectations were abnormally high.