Director: Jess Franco
Cast: Klaus Kinski, Josephine Chaplin, Andreas Mannkopff, Lina Romay
Length: 92 min
Rating: FSK: 18
Region: Region Free
Label: Ascot Elite Home Entertainment
Release Date: Sep 24, 2013
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
German, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
English, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Italian, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
French, Dolby Digital 2.0
Subtitles: Dutch, Finnish, Greek, Japanese, Chinese
- Audio Commentary with producer Erwin C. Dietrich
- Audio Interview with Jess Franco (Zürich, Hotel Gregory, June 17, 1976)
- Interview with Andreas Mannkopff (Inspektor Selby)
- Deleted Scene
- Erwin C. Dietrich’s Homage to Jess Franco’s JACK THE RIPPER
- Documentary on the Restoration of Jack the Ripper
- Image Gallery
In the era of Blu-Ray, many dedicated genre fans have had to equip themselves with region-free BD players in order to enjoy some of the harder to find titles in HD, many of which are being released in foreign territories. So, it is with some excitement that we recently learned that Ascot Elite Home Entertainment, a German company, is releasing what they call The Jess Franco Golden Goya Collection on Blu-Ray. This is interesting on several levels: not only are the titles different from the ones Kino Lorber and Redemption Films have been releasing in the US, but Ascot’s releases are advertised as being the uncensored director’s cuts. What’s more, these releases are region-free and are friendly to English-speaking viewers. So with that in mind, let’s dive into Jess Franco’s Jack the Ripper (1976).
Undeniably, Jess Franco was one of the world’s most prolific filmmakers. Not just prolific, but compulsive, as he was always filming something, until the very end of his life in April 2013. His career and filmic style spanned the gamut—from Gothic horror and crime thrillers, to nunsploitation, women-in-prison films, and even outright porn. Most of the time, he had to contend with horrendously low budgets, so it’s quite interesting to see what he could do on a film like Jack the Ripper with, what looks like something approaching a Hammer-level production, complete with period settings and lavish costumes representing Victorian England. The results are more colorful, and have a greater visual style than Franco’s typical work, due in no small part to the highly polished cinematography of Peter Baumgartner. For once, Franco even avoids using that awful fish-eyed lens we see in so many of his films, such as Les Démons (1973).Franco’s version of the Jack the Ripper story has little to do with actual facts in the case of the Whitechapel murderer that terrorized London in 1888. His killer is Dr. Dennis Orloff (where have we heard that name before?), played with his usual mad zeal by Klaus Kinski, who specialized in exploitation roles in between his work with Werner Herzog. The good doctor has a problem with women. He feels compelled to rape, murder, then mutilate them and dump their remains in the Thames (or, in this case, the Schanzengraben in Zürich standing in for the Thames). He is assisted in this by his mentally challenged housekeeper who keeps her master’s secret. It’s not long before Scotland Yard is hot on the doctor’s trail.
There are several scenes of extreme gore and violence, even if the actual gore effects look phony. Franco muse, Lina Romay, makes a welcome appearance as a prostitute who falls victim to Orloff, and is brutally killed and dismembered onscreen. The same fate does not await Josephine Chaplin (daughter of Charles), who plays a ballet dancer who goes undercover into London’s seedy nightclub scene to help find the murderer in order to help her boyfriend, Inspektor Selby of Scotland Yard. If this scenario sounds familiar to Franco aficionados, it’s because the director lifted it from his own The Awful Dr. Orlof (1962).
Obviously, a lot of work and expense went into restoring Jack the Ripper… perhaps too much so. Not that the restoration isn’t anything but first rate, but it’s a bit of a jolt to see a Jess Franco film looking so pristine. From an accompanying documentary with producer Erwin C. Dietrich, we learn that the restoration was done from the original negative in 2000 for a DVD release. That same digital master has now been successfully transferred to blu-ray. Personally, I feel that a bit too much film grain has been removed, but others may disagree. In the commentary track, the producer himself admits that the new restoration looks better than the original theatrical release in 1976. Personally, I would have preferred a closer approximation to the original look of the film, but there is no denying, this is the best looking Franco home video release I’ve ever seen. Another benefit of the new restoration is that some of the gorier scenes that originally had to be printed too dark in order to get them past the censors, are here restored to their full glory. The only real problems I detected are an occasional image jitter, and an occasional and strange sort of warping of the image, particularly noticeable in the pre-credit sequence. These anomalies seem to be part of the digital master, and are not terribly distracting.
Ascot Elite Home Entertainment provides original soundtracks in English, German, French, and Italian, plus subtitles in, Greek, Finnish, Dutch, Chinese, and Japanese. Regardless of what track you listen to, everything generally sounds crystal clear, with the words easy to understand. Just like the image, the sound has been cleaned up to such a degree that it becomes hard to place the film in a 1970’s context. Interestingly, the English track on this release is supposed to be the official one recorded for the theatrical English-language release. However, in the commentary, the producer insists that Kinski dubbed both the German and English tracks himself. Listening to the English track on this blu-ray, one can easily tell this definitely not Kinski’s voice. So, either the producer misremembers, or this is not the official English track. And this, by the way, brings up my only real complaint about this release… the absence of English subtitles for the main feature, which would have allowed English speakers to listen to the original German track with Kinski’s own voice.
Ascot Elite Home Entertainment provides a generous selection of extras for Jack the Ripper, most of which are English-friendly. First up is a commentary track, in German with English subtitles, with producer Erwin C. Dietrich. He goes into great detail about the history of the production, the filming, the censorship problems, etc. The subtitles are mostly good, though there are large chunks of speech where the subtitles disappear. Next, we have a 17-minute Restoration Documentary which explains in detail the process of restoring and mastering Jack the Ripper for DVD. Next, we have “Homage to Jess Franco’s Jack the Ripper,” a 22-minute documentary in which producer Erwin C. Dietrich tells of his relationship with Franco, how they made films together, and how Jack the Ripper came to be made. This is probably the most interesting of the supplemental materials. Next, we have an interview with actor Andreas Mannkopff who plays Inspektor Selby. This is in German only, with no subtitles. Next we have a 42-minute audio interview with Jess Franco, conducted in 1976. This too, unfortunately is in French with no English subtitles. Finally, we are given a photo gallery and a collection of quite entertaining German trailers to various Jess Franco films, including Jack the Ripper.
For those uninitiated to Jess Franco’s particular brand of cinematic sleaze, Jack the Ripper may serve as the perfect introduction. It has almost none of his typical visual repetitiveness, where the camera dwells ad nauseum—usually in close-up—on writhing bodies of naked women as they pleasure themselves, or whatnot. On the other hand, the film does possess a certain stylishness reminiscent of his first horror feature, The Awful Dr. Orlof (1962). For me, the only real failing of this release is the absence of English subtitles, relegating English-speakers to watching the English dub. Otherwise, it’s a winner. For established fans of Jess Franco, Ascot’s Jess Franco Golden Goya Collection will be a Godsend, especially since, up to now, we’ve only seen most of these titles on washed-out VHS bootlegs—at least in the English-speaking world. We have already started sampling other blu-ray titles in Ascot’s series, and can safely report that they all seem to be of the same high standard as Jack the Ripper—some of them even offering English subtitles in addition to an English dub. More reviews to follow, but English-speaking readers interested in Jess Franco should snap these up.