Klaus Kinski plays the infamous Victorian serial killer Jack the Ripper, in Jess Franco's predictably perverse take on the legend. Kinski is a mild -mannered doctor by day: respected by all — especially the poor and needy of London's East End, who's health he administers to from his small surgery. His lonely landlady sees the bachelor doctor as something of a kindred spirit, and has amorous intentions towards him. By night though the doctor is tormented by memories from his childhood, when he suffered sexual abuse at the hands of his prostitute mother. This has made him into something of a textbook misogynist and he now spends his evenings seeking out prostitutes and, after a bit of inept sexual fumbling, spirits them back to the botanical gardens where his lovesick assistant Flora cheerfully assists him to dispose of them — after he has soothed his woman hating proclivities by killing, sexually mutilating and dismembering them! — and dumps their remains in the Thames. Meanwhile, Inspector Selby (Andreas Mannkopff) is making little headway with his efforts to catch the killer, and the public are becoming increasingly impatient for results as more and more female body parts are cropping up all over London. Eager to help the beleaguered inspector, Cynthia (Josephine Chaplin) his ballerina girlfriend, sets out on her own disguised as a prostitute to trap the doctor/killer after recognising him from an artist's sketch. Unbeknownst to her, the Ripper has already developed an obsession with the young ballerina because of a coincidental resemblance she has with his mother. When the killer finally traps her, Cynthia becomes the focus of his murderous obsession and perverted lusts — and Inspector Selby must race against the clock to save her.
Jess Franco is renowned for his obsession with movie making — he has made hundreds of films over thirty years or so. Writing, directing and acting in many of them, he has even operated the camera himself on many projects. Bemused actors have often found themselves cast for one role in a Jess Franco film, only to find that they are shooting scenes for several others at the same time! Over the years, the man has become adept at achieving wonderful results on no budget, and although he has worked in almost every genre, his unique cinematic vision has won him increasing amounts of praise and recognition among fans of Euro-shock cinema.
In the mid-seventies Franco made a series of movies for the producer Erwin C. Dietrich which enabled him to work with a full film crew and provided him with a decent budget. Dietrich has since become a leading distributor and has committed himself to releasing all fifteen of the movies Franco made for him on DVD (released by VIP) as part of the Jess Franco Collection. ''Jack the Ripper'' is the first in that series — and the restoration job that has been done on the movie is a sight to behold! There is a featurette on the disc detailing every stage of the restoration process, which will give the viewer a good idea of the time and care that has been spent in bringing this movie to DVD in the very best condition possible. The anamorphic transfer of the film has even been supervised by its original cinematographer Peter Baumgartner. In fact, it probably looks better than the original prints of the movie, because some scenes were ''darkened'' to get the film past Germany's unofficial censorship laws in the seventies!
The stand out feature on the disc is of course, the restoration job on the movie its self, but there are a number of other goodies included that will be of interest to Franco fans: There is a twenty minute documentary about the making of the movie; the featurette about the restoration of the film; a theatrical trailer, cast & crew biographies and a collection of production stills. Of particular interest is a disturbing deleted scene. Before movies were available on VHS, edited 8mm films were distributed which contained all the sex and gore but dispensed with subplots and back story. One of these films of ''Jack the Ripper'' contained a scene not present in the director's cut — a brief but repulsive image of one of the victims (Lina Romey) after the Ripper has finished his handy work! Dietrich provides an informative commentary with the film — it is in German (as are the documentaries), but there are English subtitles provided. There are English, German, French and Italian Language tracks (all in Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono) and Dutch, Finnish and Greek subtitles. It is a pity that we don't get English subtitles with the movie it's self because the dubbing on the English language track is very annoying — but, because of the unusual way the sound was recorded, I doubt if the dubbing is entirely satisfactory on any of the tracks (more on that later).
The East End in the 1880's was an extremely unpleasant slum — the poor were crammed into filthy tenement houses; the streets were filled with rubbish and raw sewage, and crime and prostitution were a way of life for thousands of desperate people. There is nothing of this in Franco's London ... but then again, this film doesn't have anything to do with the real Ripper case and doesn't pretend to. Franco has named his Ripper Dr. Orloff - a reference to his earlier gothic horror movies ''The Awful Dr Orloff'' and ''Dr. Orloff's Monster'', and there are many wonderfully shot scenes that recall these past glories. Kinski stalks his victims through deserted foggy streets, moonlit church cloisters and darkening, misty, green forests. Franco has always been a supreme stylist, and with the extra money to spend on set and costume design he was able to create one of his classiest looking pictures in ''Jack the Ripper''. Klaus Kinski, although not actually on screen that often gives a great performance as the tormented killer — with his repertoire of facial twitches and brooding stares suggesting a man who's psychosis is constantly bubbling away beneath his genteel Victorian exterior. Unfortunately, the film's successes are eclipsed by that perennial bugbear of euro-horror — bad dubbing! Like a lot of European films, ''Jack the Ripper'' was filmed without sound, the actors talking in their native tongue on set. Different language tracks were created afterwards, one in German and another in English. But, according to Dietrich, most of the script was written after the film was completed! I'm not sure how this is supposed to work, but the English dialogue is pretty poor in the main. Some of the performances are marred by an almost comical delivery which detracts heavily from the atmosphere built by the visual style. The plot is also very limp ... this is not usually a great concern in Franco films but since the eccentricities that usually make them so beguiling are largely missing (crazy acid jazz soundtracks, surreal, often irrelevant images), this particular weakness is thrust into the spotlight and means that ultimately, this film has to be judged a failure overall — although not one entirely without merit.