Tuesday, October 25, 2011

AN AFTERNOON OF RIPPING YARNS! This fine autumnal afternoon while I was roasting some acorn squash and butternut squash in the oven as the orange and yellow leaves were tumbling down, I thought I'd rustle myself up a little Jack the Ripper marathon for Halloween.
I kicked things off with the second season STAR TREK episode "WOLF IN THE FOLD" written by Robert Bloch himself. Leave it to the man himself to feature the "psycho-tricorder" prominently in the episode! Kirk, Bones and Scotty are on shore leave on a peaceful planet when suddenly a woman is discovered murdered in the fog -- with Scotty found over her holding a bloody knife! As everybody surely knows, our delightful (faux)Scottish engineer is not responsible, but it's the evil entity we know as Jack the Ripper. It's been a long time since I watched me some STAR TREK and this episode seemed to fit perfectly into the Halloween season AND my topic of the day nicely. This one also features one of my favourite character actors of yesteryear: the diminutive little mouse called John Fiedler.
I next programmed yet another tale by Robert Bloch entitled "YOURS TRULY, JACK THE RIPPER" adapted from his classic short story for the THRILLER series hosted by Boris Karloff. One tends to forget how once closely associated with Jack the Ripper was Robert Bloch. Hitchcock favourite John Williams (DIAL M FOR MURDER) and the annoying Donald Woods (13 GHOSTS) star as well as stripper Miss Beverly Hills (of THE COMEDY OF TERRORS and BRIDES OF BLOOD) as it seems that Saucy Jack has survived up until the present day (read: 1961 anyway). It seems the noik we know as Saucy Jack has stayed alive all these years because his murders are actually blood sacrifices to infernal gods which keep him immortal. This episode of the series is directed by Ray Milland in rather a sedate, dignified manner but its still diverting as such.
It's off to the sensational seventies with KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STALKER! Who doesn't love Kolchak and Darren McGavin. If you don't, I break with thee I break with thee I break with thee and then throw dog poopee on your shoe! After the two monumentally successful TV movies (the first NIGHT STALKER film was the highest rated TV movie of all-time), the first episode of the ongoing (at least briefly) weekly series was entitled "THE RIPPER" and features the return of our malicious malcontent this time to early 70s Chicago. This Jack is almost super-powered; leaping off a four storey building, tossing police around like rag dolls, busting down maximum security prison doors with his bare hands and taking bullets to the chest without ill effect. Sadly for those of us who saw the original NIGHT STALKER movie, this episode is rather a note for note "rewrite" of it right down to Kolchak sneaking into the monster's creepy old house and hiding in the closet! Despite this, Darren McGavin's charm and watchability and the interesting cast surrounding him with interesting performances makes this still worth seeing.
Next up is the 1980 trashy-feeling tabloid documentary JACK THE RIPPER: THE FINAL SOLUTION. Host/narrator Ray McGregor (with the sleaziest voice) takes us through author Stephen Knight's book proposing to solve the Ripper case side by side with the author himself on camera. This is the famous "Royal conspiracy" theory involving Prince "Eddy" and Sir William Gull which was the basis not only for the comic book series "BLOOD OF THE INNOCENT" (people seem to forget that one in deference to), the FROM HELL comic book and subsequent Hollywood film. Not wanting to speak ill of the dead but Stephen Knight's theory is almost certainly dead wrong and it has unfortunately now firmly ensconced itself in mainstream thought. I still have rather a soft spot for this documentary though as well as a strong association with Halloween because of the first time I saw it. It was in the mid-1980s on my local PBS station during an evening of Halloween programming on October 31st. Among a great deal of other spooky programmes (culminating in an airing of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and FREAKS), this documentary was sandwiched in. I now can never watch it without thinking of Halloween or NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD! This documentary can actually be found as an Easter egg on the FROM HELL 2-disc DVD. Once you get to the menu which has "MORE" on it, press the right button on your remote, then the down button, then the right button again until a scalpel appears highlighted on the menu; then press OK/Enter to play the entire documentary.
Speaking of which, FROM HELL was my next watch -- my main feature presentation as it were --of my Jack the Ripper Halloween marathon. This Johnny Depp starrer isn't the best of movies and, as mentioned, suffers from the fact that the entire premise of the film based on Stephen Knight's theories, has been pretty much discredited. Be that as it may, the film looks quite nice and is fairly entertaining. One might ask why I chose to watch this one instead of the countless other Ripper movies available; the plain fact is that the others (including MURDER BY DECREE) I had already watched in the last couple years but FROM HELL I hadn't watched in close to a decade. So there you go.
As a sort of palette-cleanser and a winding down of the Jack the Ripper marathon, I next ended with two silly entries. The first being the FUTURAMA episode "KIF GETS KNOCKED UP A NOTCH" from the 4th season. In this one, Jack the Ripper appears rather briefly as a construct of the "holodeck" malfunctioning and creating real rogue versions of Saucy Jack, Attila the Hun and the Evil Lincoln! The rest of the show doesn't really concern Jack so there's not much to say about it other than Kif gets pregnant and gives squishy birth.
Following this and bringing the marathon to a close is the 1945 THREE STOOGES short "THREE PESTS IN A MESS" which concerns the boys being mistakenly thought to have inherited a vast sum of money. This plotline is quickly dropped by the second half of the film and we then find Moe, Larry & Curly hiding in a spooky pet cemetery trying to bury a mannikin (long story). The proprietor of the cemetery and two of his associates receive a call that somebody's up to something in the cemetery and go there to investigate; naturally, they are coming from a costume party in which they are dressed as the Devil, a skeleton and. . .wait for it . . . Jack the Ripper! The usual Stooges mayhem ensues. This is another of those Three Stooges shorts which have a nice Halloween theme (at least in the second half) and make for great October viewing.
So there you have it: The Halloween Jack the Ripper marathon. You'll pardon me now as the acorn squash and butternut squash are done and have been slathered with melted butter. What's that, Jack? Oh, yes. Of course you may have a slice!
Today's Halloween Comic Book Cover of the Day #25 is DEAD OF NIGHT #4 from 1974.

1 comment:

ernest said...

Having an almost personal connection to Saucy Jack and having recently revisited some of the murder sites the idea of a Ripper Marathon is appealing. I think the great Ripper film is yet to made but for now I'd have to vote for MURDER BY DECREE (Although I don't agree with the solution of course)or STUDY IN TERROR.