Jack the Ripper Retelling #357

from hell 2001


3.5 Stars  2001/18/117m

“Only the legend will survive.”

Directors: Albert Hughes & Allen Hughes / Writers: Alan Moore, Eddie Campbell, Terry Hayes & Rafael Yglesias / Cast: Johnny Depp, Heather Graham, Ian Holm, Robbie Coltrane, Ian Richardson, Jason Flemyng, Katrin Cartlidge, Terence Harvey, Susan Lynch, Paul Rhys, Lesley Sharp.

Body Count: 8

If there is any sort of afterlife where the dead can observe the goings-on on Earth, I imagine whoever Jack the Ripper was, he’s chuckling at the sheer number of books, films, and documentaries about him. This time, the tale is grafted into a bleak slasher-cum-mystery box office hit, courtesy of twin-bro directors Albert and Allen Hughes, from the novel by Moore and Campbell.

Johnny Depp – along way from his humble Elm Street victim beginnings – is Abberline, an East End inspector with psychic abilities, who is assigned to find out who killed a local prostitute. True to the events of 1888, the murders continue and Abberline is drawn into the potentially dangerous possibility that the killer is part of a larger conspiracy that could harm the face of the Monarchy.

With a little help from final victim-to-be Mary Kelly (Graham) and the Queen’s ageing surgeon, Abberline begins piecing together the puzzle against the wishes of his pompous superiors, who frown at the theory that a ‘well-bred’ individual might be responsible. Meanwhile, gruesome slayings continue and the reality of the brutal dissections is rammed home – a ferocious throat-slashing sticks out – and the final notoriously stomach-churning act of evil is mercifully hardly shown.

from hell 2001 heather graham

The outcome is satisfying in terms of the world the film operates in, considering it’s unlikely the identity of the real Ripper will ever be 100% certain. The downbeat conclusion suits the grimy backdrop of Whitechapel and the observations of class differences in the era, but the almost I Know What You Did Last Summer-ness of the secret that the victims share requires some stretching of the imagination, that makes this “not just a slasher movie” movie feel more like a slasher movie.

Written out like this, the plot sounds quite stupid, but high-brow big screen slasher films, no matter how opaque they attempt to be, makes From Hell one of the more interesting variables on the genre conventions. Do not confuse with other JTR-pillaging slasher of 2001 Ripper: Letter from Hell.

Blurbs-of-interest: Depp appeared in another period-set slash-a-like Sleepy Hollow; Heather Graham played Casey in Stab in Scream 2; Jason Flemyng was in Seed of Chucky; Terence Harvey was in the 1989 slasher take on The Phantom of the Opera.

The Dolls of Death

tourist trap 1979


3 Stars  1979/15/90m

“Every year young people disappear…”

Director/Writer: David Schmoeller / Writer: J. Larry Carroll / Cast: Chuck Connors, Jocelyn Jones, Jon Van Ness, Tanya Roberts, Robin Sherwood, Keith McDermott, Dawn Jeffory.

Body Count: 6

Technically one of the very first post-Halloween teen horror pics to emerge, Tourist Trap was actually shot shortly before John Carpenter started rolling on his genre-confirming film, but was released in March of 1979, by which point Halloween had happened.

Co-produced by Irwin Yablans, TT draws a significant amount of inspiration from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre instead, with five youngsters (including a future Charlie’s Angel) diverted from a backroad to Slausen’s Lost Oasis due to car trouble. They’re welcomed by the happy-go-lucky owner, who shows them his brother’s mechanical mannequins and allows them to hang around while one of their number drives off to town in a borrowed truck to find assistance.

The three girls let curiosity get the better of them and individually wander off to explore the big house out back. They soon discover that it’s inhabited by a masked loon who also has psychic powers, which he uses to kill them, until nice-girl Molly is left to save the day.

The absence of Friday the 13th-styled influences is interesting in Tourist Trap, especially as certain sequences would feel right at home on the shores of Camp Crystal Lake, with characters rambling around in the dark telling their friends to quit trying to scare them. An obvious lack of significant budget sometimes gets in the way and the film has a fair whack of padding to reach the 90-minute finish line, but ultimately its surreal embellishments outweigh the negatives, utilising the creepiness of the dummies in the shadows to the maximum effect.

Given the cult-like status of this, I’m surprised it wasn’t immediately snatched up during the remake craze of the 2000s (possible because House of Wax got there first) but never say never!

Blurb-of-interest: Jon Van Ness was later in X-Ray.

Daddy Issues

trauma 1993TRAUMA

3 Stars  1993/18/102m

“Some nightmare haunt you. Some can kill you.”

Director/Writer: Dario Argento / Writers: T.E.D. Klein, Franco Ferrrini & Gianni Romoli / Cast: Asia Argento, Christopher Rydell, Piper Laurie, Frederic Forrest, James Russo, Brad Dourif, Hope Alexander-Willis, Cory Garvin.

Body Count: 11

Disclaimer: Giallo is not a horror sub-genre I’m that familiar with. I spin the more slasher-esque films and generally like them, but don’t get all angry if I don’t fall over myself screaming their praises. I can hear my Italian grandmother rolling in her grave.

The archetypal Argento excesses of gore and sex are somewhat played down in this later venture, a confusing flick shot in Minneapolis and starring his daughter, Asia, as an anorexic teenager named Aura, who escapes from the clinic where she’s being treated and returns home on the night her parents are beheaded by a loon known oh-so-subtley as the Headhunter.

Aura is taken in by TV crewmember David, and together they embark on solving the cases ahead of the cops (a-head of. LOL. LOL. LOLLYMCLOLLOL). The killer – who uses a retracting wire device that nearly squeezes the heads off of his quarry – is after the group of nurses and doctor who are hiding a bad secret. As usual, sexy long-haired women are the chief victims of the killer’s fury and most of the unlucky victims who get in his way are also female.

trauma 1993

The eventual revelation of who it is and why wraps up some of the hanging questions, but Trauma changes its mind several times and doesn’t bother dropping any hints or building of its backstory until it’s absolutely necessary, because the killer is now unmasked and, well, people wanna know, yo.

All the same, Argento’s signature directorial approach is played to the hilt, with flawlessly engaging photography throughout (yeah, that head down the shaft is… well… you’ll see), although why he chooses to shoot his own daughter topless is a curiosity best not speculated upon ’round these parts.

The same highs of Tenebrae and Opera aren’t hit, but definitely an engaging flick and one of the few high-end 90s body count films that came before Scream.

Blurbs-of-interest: Argento’s other slasher-esque films include OperaPhenomena (a.k.a. Creepers), Sleepless, and Tenebrae; Brad Dourif was the voice of Chucky in all Child’s Play films to date, and is also in Chain LetterColor of NightDead ScaredUrban Legend, and both of Rob Zombie’s Halloween movies.

Remember where you came from

mindhunters 2004


3 Stars  2004/15/102m

“For seven elite profilers, finding a serial killer is a process of elimination. Their own.”

Director: Renny Harlin / Writers: Wayne Kramer & Kevin Brodbin / Cast: Kathryn Morris, LL Cool J [as James Todd Smith], Jonny Lee Miller, Christian Slater, Clifton Collins Jr., Patricia Velasquez, Eion Bailey, Will Kemp, Val Kilmer.

Body Count: 9

Laughter Lines: “Eeny-meeny-miney-mo – who’s the next motherfucker to go?”

Spoilers follow. Senior FBI bod Kilmer wants to sharpen the profiling techniques of a group of his charges, so flies them off to an abandoned island used for military manoeuvres for a weekend, where he has plotted a few tests for them. However, one of their number believes they are a lot smarter than the rest and begins doing them all in with a series of elaborate traps at pre-determined times throughout the day. Can the depleting numbers overcome their paranoia and put their skills to the ultimate test before they become the next casualty?

This comparably high-tech outing thinks way about its station and aspires to rival the likes of Se7en and Kiss the Girls, but cannot escape the trashier prerequisites the stalk n’ slash plot commands in order to sustain itself. Extol the calibre of the cast all you like, but Slater, Kilmer, Miller and the rest are still saddled with rather basic characters, especially Morris’ uninteresting 2D heroine, and the fact they fail to realise they’re in a slasher flick. Thus, it was quite a catastrophic box office failure, failing even to break even.

Despite this notion of thinking it’s better than it is, Mindhunters at least feels like it has a fresh perspective in the days before Saw and its squillion sequels and rip-offs, with over indulgent murder set pieces, talky techno-babble, and the fact that it all collapses into PC-pacifying outcome where we’re forced to choose between the only black guy or the only British guy being the killer. Who d’you think it’s going to be? Mhmm.

Worth a once over.

Blurbs-of-interest: LL Cool J was in Halloween H20; Christian Slater appeared in Hollow Man II and Playback; Renny Harlin directed A Nightmare on Elm Street 4.

Valley of the Cheapjack Franchises: JACK FROST

jack frost 1996


2.5 Stars  1997/18/86m

“He’s chillin’ …and killin’!”

Director/Writer: Michael Cooney / Writer: Jeremy Paige / Cast: Chris Allport, Scott MacDonald, Stephen Mendel, F. William Parker, Eileen Seeley, Rob LaBelle, Zack Eginton, Jack Lindine, Chip Heller, Brian Leckner, Marsha Clark, Darren Campbell, Shannon Elizabeth Fabal, Kelly Jean Peters, Todd Conner.

Body Count: 12

Laughter Lines: “Do something!” / “Like what – teach him how to shoot better!?”

Yes, it’s a killer snowman. It’s two films about a killer snowman. Shot in 1993-94 but not completed until 96 and then released in 97, Jack Frost was intended to have a $30m budget and Renny Harlin in the director’s chair.

Whatever stopped that happening is a mystery, but the final product is a trite but sometimes fairly amusing horror comedy slasher, one of the last before Scream came and changed everything.

Mad serial killer Jack Frost (MacDonald) is being driven across Colorado on route to his execution when the prison transport collides with a truck carrying some weird acid, during a snowstorm. Poor Jack is melted by the chemical, which stores his DNA in the snow, turning him into an abominable snowman who feels fit to take revenge on the smalltown sheriff who caught him. Oh look, said town is located right where the accident happened!

Jack can turn to water and morph under doors n’ stuff, and uses a variety of comical methods to off the locals, including decapitation-by-sled, axe handle down the throat, and an icicle in the head. The Sheriff (Allport) and pals take on Frost with an army of hairdryers in an effort to melt him.

Fun once, but prep your eyes to roll at the relentless assault of lame one-liners. And still better than the Michael Keaton film of the same name that came out in 1998.


jack frost 2 revenge of the mutant killer snowman 2000JACK FROST 2: REVENGE OF THE MUTANT KILLER SNOWMAN

1 Stars  2000/15/93m

“He’s icin’ …and slicin’!”

Director/Writer: Michael Cooney / Cast: Chris Allport, Eileen Seeley, Chip Heller, Marsha Clark, Scott MacDonald, David Allen Brooks, Ray Cooney, Tai Bennett, Sean Patrick Murphy.

Body Count: 12

Laughter Lines:”I now pronounce you… totally fucking dead.”

Looking as if it was made on a tenth of the budget of the first, Jack is resurrected as the snowman when scientists spill coffee on his corpse!? He tracks arch nemesis Sam Tiler and wife to a Bahamian island, where it all goes a bit I Still Know What You Did Last Summer with Gremlins-style offspring snowballs thrown in.

Barely a drop of blood and the removal of the brief nudity could probably see the rating dropped to a PG with ease; the gags don’t even hit that so-bad-they’re-good low hanging branch; and the sub-one-dimensional characters are just annoying.

This is one franchise that needed to be microwaved.

Blurbs-of-interest: Chris Allport was in Savage Weekend; Eileen Seeley was in The Baby Doll Murders; Shannon Elizabeth was in Scary Movie; Rob LaBelle was in Wes Craven’s New Nightmare; Stephen Mendel was in Stepfather III.


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