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Jack’s Back

***
1988

‘…an odd, amusingly hokey film that offers a few points of interest, namely the lead performance by James Spader as identical twins…’

Jack’s Back is a terrible title for any film; it’s even worse that the Jack involved is Jack the Ripper, one of the most infamous serial killers of all time. What makes it even stranger is that this horror/thriller hybrid isn’t even about Jack the Ripper, and is set in the 1980’s; inviting the audience to salivate over a real life murderer isn’t a great look, but further disappointing them leaves no-one satisfied. Writer/director Rowdy Herrington wrote this script as Red Rain, after the Peter Gabriel song he planned to open the film, but when that song proved prohibitive to licence, it got dumped and Jack’s Back was the replacement.

Having got all that out of the way, this is an odd, amusingly hokey film that offers a few points of interest, namely the lead performance by James Spader as identical twins, neither of whom are Jack the Ripper. Confused? You will be, as this film sets up a conventional policier, then delivers something…else. John Westford (Spader) is a goody two-shoes LA doctor, given to televised activism and helping out his fellow man. Meanwhile, a surgeon is re-creating the crimes of Jack the Ripper, murdering in a similar fashion to the Victorian killing spree. John Westford gets murdered; his brother Rick Westford (Spader with sunglasses) takes up the investigation, having experienced telekinetic visions of his brother’s last moments, and potentially knowing the possible identity of the murderer.

Ok, so that doesn’t make much sense, and it’s not the only issue here. It seems remarkable that the LAPD find a serial killer imitating Jack the Ripper to be such a boring affair; they see the investigation as a waste of manpower. The film-makers seem to think that the serial killer story should be relegated to a sub-plot, and that the focus should instead be on the Westford’s telekinetic link. This makes for a baffling, confusing but kind of original film, with Spader doing a decent if sub-Dead Ringers job of differentiating between the twins.

Barely released on DVD, Jack’s Back isn’t exactly a good movie, but it’s got a strong original idea and a strong lead; perhaps due to so much else going on, the final revelation of the killer at the end floored this critic. The 18 certificate trailers created expectations that Spader’s Rick Westford was the culprit, but…well, you’ll have to find out for yourself, but for hardened mystery addicts, there’s something engagingly off-centre about this over-cooked, under-seen thriller.

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  1. This is not bad. I started watching the full movie thinking it was a trailer with 2 minutes of credits on a grey background. It almost got canceled by my personal cancel department, but the video time gage told me otherwise. Good catch.

  2. Goody, more Ripper flashbacks. The premise was reasonable—a paean to 100 year anniversary of the crimes, plus revenge noir with psychothriller/suspense vibe. I admire Spader though this isn’t a fav. You’re right, title is lame, and some of writing/story sloppy, e.g., twins don’t have identical fingerprints, med student drove $40K BMW, not determined Mary Kelly was pregnant… I was impressed Hypnotist used Azadian method. Since they couldn’t use the Gabriel song, they used music from Halloween??? (Worst Ripper remake has to be the Hasselhoff London Bridge/Lake Havasu travesity.) I would have liked the killer/writer to include more Ripper elements; did use 6-8 scalpel as weapon. The LA killer was left handed, wore gloves, careful (no witnesses), safe sex, smokes, strong… My alt title: Why Jack?

    • Or indeed, Where’s Jack? although that’s another thing entirely. There’s a Hallmark card in this, but yes, it was our previous conversation that led me to this particular movie, so the card would say ‘I saw this Jack the Ripper film and it reminded me of you!’ More accurate to say that I was keen to get a more expert eye than my own over this admittedly nonsensical film. I think Fincher-era serial killer movies would have gone to town on the details, I get the impression that the researcher here took most of his workday off…if we’re going to this particular market, Time After Time and Murder by Degree are the key texts for me, but I kind of admire the trashy/sloppiness of this, and Spader would go on to indule his dark side with more sturdy projects than this. Azadian is now a rabbit-hole for me to investigate, thanks as always!

  3. I liked James Spader in his younger years, then his middle years weren’t so interesting but The Black List got me interested again. He’s had quite the career.

    The cover definitely makes it seem that Spader is the new jack the ripper. Not a fan of covers being so deceptive.

    • I saw the trailer for this when I was 17, and it never crossed my mind that he was not the killer. Very misleading. Didn’t think Spader would last the course, but Blacklist gave him a great showcase for his abilities…

  4. Will check this out. I like these serial killer flicks. Some good ones out there on Jack the Ripper, Zodiac, Son of Sam, the Mad Blogger of Blanefield . . .

    • Not too familiar with that last one, any details on that? Quite a small village, not much goes on here…

      • Think he’s another one of those split personality types. Can maintain the mask of sanity while online, at least for a while, but then goes on these murderous sprees when the dark side takes over.

        • I’m not happy with the idea that I’m maintaining a mask of sanity online. Not for some time….

          Since you know where I am, can you clarify which continent you live on for our many curious readers?

          • Well, there is therapy available. Also drugs. You can keep the beast under control.

            As has been covered many times, I live on the great North American continent, specifically Canada. But I also visit other lands.

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