Bonus Reviews: The Ripper (1985) and London After Midnight (1927)
Horror Bulletin Bonus for Week 188
For this week’s bonus films, we’ve got a much-maligned low-budget film from 1985 that Tom Savini has repeatedly apologized for making, "The Ripper." We'll also look at the most famous lost film of all time, "London After Midnight," which has a decent reconstruction done with still photos.
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The Ripper (1985)
Directed by Christopher Lewis
Written by Bill Groves
Stars Tom Schreier, Mona Van Pernis, Wade Tower, Tom Savini
Run Time: 1 Hour, 42 Minutes
Spoiler-Free Judgment Zone
It’s from dead smack in the middle of the eighties and completely looks it. It’s dated, but not too bad. Tom Savini’s body double, who looks nothing like him, is in the movie more than Tom Savini is himself, which was a disappointment. But it’s watchable and was pretty entertaining overall.
A woman rides home in her carriage at 4 a.m. as credits roll. The cabbie warns against it, but she wants out in a bad part of town. A fancy man in a top hat with a scalpel follows her not-so-subtly. He catches her, and we see why they call him The Ripper.
We cut to a modern day professor teaching a class, “Crime in Film.” The previous scene with the Ripper was something Professor Richard Harwell described to make history more colorful than it actually was. Brian brings up in class about a local murder of a prostitute that sounds a lot like what the Ripper did. Cindy and Steve stay after class to brown-nose.
We cut to a Jazzercise class. Or Flashdance. Or something– it was the 80s after all. Whatever it’s called, the fog machine is working overtime. Professor Richard Harwell comes in halfway through and asks Carol the teacher out tonight. She takes him to buy an antique brass headboard for her place. He goes browsing while she haggles. He finds a huge red ring and tries it on. He gets flashes of the Ripper’s murders.
Richard then goes home to watch “The Conqueror Worm.” He nods off and has dreams of the past, with the Ripper stalking a woman on the street. It’s not just any woman, it’s his girlfriend Carol. She sees the Ripper and screams, “Who are you?!” The credits tell us the Ripper is Tom Savini, but he’s clearly not. It’s Richard, who cuts her throat and pulls out her organs one by one. The phone rings and wakes Richard up. It’s Steve wanting to chat about the movie.
Carol calls Richard, and he tells her about the dream. Meanwhile, we get a sex scene with Steve and Cindy.
The next day, they start talking about Jack the Ripper in class. We get a short history lesson. It comes up that there were more murders just last night. He finds a picture of that ring on one of his Ripper books. Later, he goes back to the antique store and ends up buying it after some confusion.
That night, we watch a waitress get off work and walk home. We see a well-dressed man in a top hat following her– in the modern day. He kills her exactly like he did in the pre-credit sequence then rips her guts out. We see that he’s wearing the ring, but we don’t see his face.
Carol comes over and wakes up Richard, he seems to have passed out in the early evening. He’s upset because he missed tonight’s showing of “Theatre of Blood.”
At school, Steve asks Richard about the murder last night. They’re calling it another Jack the Ripper kill. All these killings began three days ago, the same day their class started. Steve is both weird and annoying, a detail that Richard can’t help but pick up on. Suddenly, Richard becomes left handed, just like the Ripper was.
Carol comments that Richard’s new ring is really gaudy, but it won’t come off. He complains about not being able to sleep at night and being tired all day.
A girl runs out of gas just outside the gas station. Doesn’t matter, since the station is closed anyway. The Ripper gets her as she waits on hold for her ride. At home, Richard has nightmares as smoke comes off his ring.
The next day, Steve notices that Richard’s ring is exactly like the one they found at the scene of one of the original Ripper’s crimes. He thinks the ring has made Richard into the “new” Ripper. Cindy thinks he’s seen too many horror films. They go off in the woods to make out, and they do exactly that for entirely too long. Suddenly, she goes missing, and Steve soon finds her mutilated corpse. He takes off after the Ripper, who is on foot, but it’s Steve who gets stopped by the dumbest cop on Earth.
The next day in class, they talk about Hitchcock’s “The Lodger.” Richard talks to Fred, another teacher, about Cindy’s death last night. Fred teaches Abnormal Psychology. Fred tells Richard to look for anyone who resembles a Victorian prostitute that the Ripper, or someone who thinks he’s the Ripper, would be drawn to. But the problem is, they realize as they look around, that almost every modern woman dresses to reveal more than any of them ever did.
Meanwhile, Steve has bought a gun and is obsessing over the picture of the Ripper’s ring in his book. Richard gets ready for his date with Carol while Steve waits outside with his gun to follow. Richard’s car won’t start, so he calls and tells Carol to come and get him. Steve comes to the door, and he wants to talk.
Turns out, Richard has an injury where the Ripper fell on his leg last night. Steve accuses Richard of killing Cindy and the others. They fight, and the gun goes off. Richard runs out and takes Steve’s car. Steve calls Carol and tells her everything; he warns her that Richard’s the Ripper and she’s his next victim.
Richard and Carol pass each other on the road in their cars. Steve gets Richard’s dead car working and he heads off to find them both.
Carol follows Richard into an old warehouse and runs into Tom Savini with glowing eyes. He talks about people he’s met over the past hundred years. The Ripper torments Carol as Steve arrives outside. So do the police. The Ripper explains that he’s achieved immortality through his murders. Still, he monologues for entirely too long, allowing Steve to get the drop on him. Steve shoots him until the gun is empty, but the Ripper doesn’t even slow down.
Steve grabs the Ripper’s knife and hacks his finger off, Sauron-style. The Ripper screams and falls down. Steve and Carol run outside and tell the cops to shoot the Ripper. Richard staggers out of the warehouse with his hand all cut up, so the cops shoot him excessively. Richard, who isn’t wearing the ring now, falls down dead.
The next day, a bunch of kids find the ring and take it home to their mother.
It’s very, very 80s.
Tom Savini has literally apologized to his fans for being associated with this film.
The body-double for the Ripper looked nothing like Savini, and Tom Savini only appeared in one brief scene at the end. Actually, I suspect most of the flack this film gets is because of them hiring Savini for one night’s work and featuring him in all the advertising. It’s definitely a bait-and-switch, but other than that, the movie’s not any worse than a hundred other indie films that we’ve reviewed here. It wasn’t nearly as bad as we were told.
1927 London After Midnight
Director: Tod Browning
Writers: Tod Browning (story "The Hypnotist"), Waldemar Young
Stars: Lon Chaney, Marceline Day, Henry B. Walthall
Run Time: 1 Hour, 9 Minutes
Roger Balfour was found dead in his home, murdered. We are immediately introduced to the characters: Professor Edward Blake investigated the crime. Sir James Hamlin was friend and neighbor to Balfour. Lucille was Balfour’s daughter. Arthur is Sir James’ nephew.
Blake interviews Balfour’s butler or many years. The butler insists some strange supernatural power forced him to come downstairs and check on Mr. Balfour that night. Sir James said he saw no one when he left Balfour that evening. Arthur says he was in his room reading all evening.
Blake is convinced that it was a suicide. He shows us a note: “I am taking my own life. Forgive me, Lucille.” Yep, that’s mighty convincing. James says Balfour would never have killed himself.
Five years later, the case is still unsolved. Balfour’s house has some new occupants: A strange man with pointed teeth and a top hat and lantern, and a creepy girl. The duo lease the abandoned house.
Sir James hears about the new neighbors, who are reported to be “dead people.” More specifically, they are described as vampires. Sir James goes to Burke for help investigating the strange pair. Arthur also hears about the undead couple.
They check the lease paperwork, and it was signed by Roger Balfour. Coincidence? No, it really is his signature.
Lucille reports that a voice keeps calling her to the garden. It sounds like her deceased father. Sir James and Burke go to Balfour’s tomb, and they find that it’s empty.
We see a collection of pages from Arthur’s book explaining what vampires are. They drink blood and sleep in the daytime; there’s nothing unusual about this film’s vampires.
The maid watches in horror as the man with the teeth comes into the house, seemingly planning to attack Lucille. The maid locked Lucille in the closet for her protection. The maid then screamed and the man flew out the window to escape.
They don’t want to get the police involved, but they do all agree to go over to the Balfour house in the morning. The next morning, they go in, guns drawn, but they cannot find the vampires.
Burke tells Lucille that he doesn’t believe Mr. Balfour died from suicide. He wants her to trust him. Later, Arthur confides to Lucille that he doesn’t trust Burke.
That night, Burke and Sir James go back to the Balfour house and they see the strange man along with Roger Balfour. The “Bat Girl” flies in and lands nearby as the two men watch.
The next night, Burke has a plan. Burke asks Arthur about the night of Balfour’s death; Burke hypnotizes Arthur and then searches Arthur’s bedroom. He finds someone else in the bedroom and shoots at them.
A little later, they go into Lucille’s room and find it’s been ransacked. Lucille has been taken to the old house with the Bat Girl. Arthur and Burke continue to blame each other for the murder while Lucille is helpless with the vampires.
Burke gives Sir James his gun. He tells Sir James to go over there and demand Lucille’s return; to look right into their eyes and show no fear. They catch Arthur and lock him in a room to take care of later.
Sir James confronts “the man with the beaver hat.” The man hypnotizes Sir James and takes him back five years to the night of the murder. Balfour named Sir James the executor of his estate and also Lucille’s guardian. Sir James wants to marry Lucille someday, but Balfour says he’s way too old for her; she’s just a child. Balfour says, “Over my dead body!” And the rest was history. Sir James comes back later and makes Balfour write the suicide note and then shoots him.
The police come in and arrest Sir James. The “undead Balfour” is just a similar-looking actor. It turns out that “the beaver hat man” and “Bat Girl” were just actors as well. The whole thing was a setup by Burke to expose Sir James.
This is one of the most sought after of all “lost films.” The last known copy was burned in a fire in 1967. What I watched was a “reconstruction” of the story using stills taken during filming; it’s more of a slideshow with music than a real film, but the story is there. This 2002 version was produced by Rick Schmidlin and Christopher Gray, and is still quite entertaining, even considering what’s missing. It runs around 45 minutes in length.
The Bela Lugosi film Mark of the Vampire from 1935 was essentially a remake of the same story. Even the ending with the actors was the same; the odd part is that this film wasn’t lost when Mark of the Vampire was produced; they just thought it needed a remake.
It was a little disappointing to see that the cool-looking “man with the beaver hat” was really just an actor; there were no real vampires in the film. He’s really iconic looking, even today, and no one’s seen the actual movie for more than sixty years. When I was very little, I had his face on a Halloween mask and always wondered what movie he was from. Well, now I know!
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