Plot: A series of brutal murders has officials baffled and concerned for the safety of the public, though to this point, the killer has chosen prostitutes as his victims. The murders are vicious and gruesome, even some body parts have been removed and with a certain level of anatomical precision, no less. In order to narrow down the search and bring in the killer, Inspector Abberline (Michael Caine) is released from his jail cell and assigned to the case. He has a brilliant mind, but has issues with alcohol, which make him less than reliable at times. But he is driven to put the puzzle of these murders together and has some viable suspects at hand, as the killer is assumed to be a brothel regular and of a certain intelligence. As Abberline runs down leads and looks into suspects, the murders continue and panic begins to set in, as the streets are haunted by the presence of the killer, known as Jack the Ripper. As victims pile up and pressure mounts, can Abberline solve this seemingly impossible case?
Entertainment Value: This 1988 television adaptation is easily one of the best Jack the Ripper productions around, a skilled and well crafted piece that has all you could want from this kind of material. I found the visuals to be remarkable, with effective framing and composition, capturing the Victorian era so well, while ensuring the ripper’s kill scenes have that eerie atmosphere. So while this is a made for tv production, it is well funded and boasts great production values. This means the locations, costumes, and set design all conjure up the period and it all combines to really reel you in, as if you’re in that era alongside the characters. The narrative is close to the real life events, but tries to produce a solution to the mystery of the killer, but of course, there are endless theories about that. But a plausible case is made and while some liberties have been taken, I do think this piece offers a competent, fairly accurate vision of the events, by movie & tv standards. Of course violence is limited here, but the atmosphere is tense and the killer’s attacks are effective, just not blood soaked. The focus is on the hunt, rather than the kills though, so it is never an issue.
Just as impressive as the production values is the cast, headed up by Michael Caine as Inspector Abberline. Caine dials up his performance a little here, in a charismatic, sometimes odd turn. The small eccentric touches help his performance stand out, but never dive into camp or distract from the serious tone. Caine’s involvement adds so much to Jack the Ripper, as he brings not just name value, but a dynamic, believable, and interesting performance. Armand Assante has an interesting role as well, as oddball stage performer Richard Mansfield, who engineers a Jekyll and Hyde transformation for terrified audiences between brothel visits. The transformation is quite cool, with some gross bladder effects that make his skull and face pulse in freakish ways, which is of course great fun to watch. The supporting cast also includes Jane Seymour, Susan George, Ray McAnally, Lewis Collins, Lysette Anthony, and Ken Bones, as well as numerous others. I think this take on Jack the Ripper is one of the best, a well staged and often eerie look inside these infamous murders. For fans of serial killers, murder mysteries, or true crime, this one deserves a look.