• Gabe Powers

Jack’s Back Blu-ray Review (originally published 2016)

One hundred years ago, Jack the Ripper slashed his way through London's red light district. Now, a modern-day maniac is honoring the event by mutilating L.A.'s ladies of the evening. Has Jack the Ripper been reborn? The police are stumped and the prostitutes of L.A. are scared. The only person with a chance of solving the murders has a problem of his own – he's the LAPD's number one suspect. (From Scream Factory’s official synopsis)



Jack the Ripper remains an extremely popular subject for horror movies, due to the ghastly extremes of his crimes, the fact that he was never caught, and other ongoing mysteries that supplemented his legend. Some Hollywood screenwriters enjoy concocting their version of the ‘truth’ behind his identity and motivations, while others prefer to cast him in ‘what-if’ scenarios alongside other historical and literary characters (i.e. Dr. Jekyll, H.G. Wells, and Sherlock Holmes). Then there’s the smaller, but still surprisingly popular subset of movies in which the Ripper haunts modern generations via supernatural means, reincarnations, previously unknown relations, or at the hands of a copycat. Such a list would include Peter Sasdy’s Hammer-produced proto-slasher Hands of the Ripper (1971), Christopher Lewis’ shot-on-video The Ripper (1985), E.W. Swackhamer’s made-for-TV Terror at London Bridge (1985), Phil Sears’ Ripper Man (1995), John Hough’s Bad Karma (2002), and Shawn Anthony’s SoulMate: True Evil Never Dies (2012). Sasdy’s film is definitely the best of the bunch, but Rowdy Herrington’s once-forgotten flop, Jack’s Back (1988) has also developed a strong and deserved following since its original home video release.


Produced in 1988 to capitalize on the 100th anniversary of the Ripper’s crimes and mostly remembered as the movie where a young James Spader plays twins, Jack’s Back is a stylish post-slasher thriller in the vein of Donald Cammell’s White of the Eye (1987) and Michael Mann’s Manhunter (1986). Herrington’s screenplay isn’t quite as esoteric as that comparison might imply and his MTV-inspired imagery doesn’t have the same cool timeless appeal, but this gory, Argento-esque psycho-thriller matches the general spirit of those films. The enthusiastic style and likeable (though heightened) performances (Spader strikes a nice balance between nebbishly charming and tortured in his dual roles) help carry the occasionally nonsensical plotting and heavy-handed political ambition through their paces, ensuring that even the most cliché-ridden expositional sequences are tonally interesting. The twist ending is awfully easy to guess, unfortunately, but that’s sort of par for the course. Directly following this, his directorial debut, Herrington brought his brand of heightened melodramatic reality to the similarly silly Road House (1989), the forgotten Cuba Gooding, Jr./James Marshall boxing drama Gladiator (1992), and the Bruce Willis ego-trip/mega-flop Striking Distance (1993), before disappearing into STV/limited release movies. The closest he got to reclaiming the type of horror-tinged glory he achieved with Jack’s Back was I Witness (2003), which also starred Spader. I’m not sure if anyone saw that one, though.



Video

Jack’s Back had two official UK DVD releases (one anamorphic, the other full-frame) and I believe SD versions cropped up on television and streaming services (Netflix specifically). Scream Factory’s Blu-ray Combo Pack represents the first Blu-ray and DVD version available on the North American market. This 1.78:1, 1080p transfer was newly transferred from the original 35mm negative (restored by Pinewood) and improves upon memories of those SD versions with tighter details, better gamma correction, and slightly brighter colors. However, like the aforementioned White of the Eye, Jack’s Back is a very foggy and grainy movie. This does make it difficult to judge the transfer by the same standards as the other movies on this page. Cammell and cinematographer Shelly Johnson embraced soft focus, diffused lighting, smokey sets, and other stylistic choices that don’t lend themselves to sharp edges. There are also some pulsing qualities and blown-out whites that could not have been avoided without completely changing the intended look of the film. Colors are more consistent than previous releases, including blue (rather than white) skies and natural skin tones. Speaking of sharp edges, there has been a little overcompensation in that regard and, coupled with slight compression, it leads to some halo effects.


Audio

The original stereo soundtrack has also been restored and is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. It’s not the liveliest track, but it’s very clean and precise with natural dialogue tracks and simple effects work. Danny Di Paola’s original score is a strange mix of typical ‘80s horror synth keyboards, Herrmann-esque suspense cues, and sultry, noir-themed sax melodies. The music is more or less the only aural element that has any impact in the stereo channels and is given a decent LFE support.



Extras

  • Commentary with Rowdy Herrington – This new commentary with the writer/director is very down-to-business. Herrington comes prepared with an extensive history of the production, which he intersperses between more screen-specific descriptions of technical achievements. The anecdotes and side notes fill the time efficiently with only a bit of a slowdown as the film passes its middle act.

  • The Making Of Jack’s Back (23:50, HD) – This relatively extensive retrospective featurette covers the film from inception through production, shooting, casting, and release. It includes interviews with Herrington, producer Tim Moore, actress Cynthia Gibb, and cinematographer Shelly Johnson.

  • Trailer

The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray's image quality.


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