Jack the Ripper, ‘Definitive’ reviewed
Jack the Ripper: The Definitive Story reviewed.
Aug 29th Destination America aired a special 2 hour Jack the Ripper event. 127 years after the “Autumn of Terror,” in London’s seedy Whitechapel District… horror fans and ripper enthusiasts haven’t allowed the unsolved killings (Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes, and Mary Jane Kelly) fade into the annals of time. For a damned good reason too…
…I know a little about the nightmare that happened in 1888. My connection to the Jack the Ripper murder mystery is fairly well documented with a quick Google. As a reader, it’s easy to see why I would be interested in this ‘definitive special,’ and you might be too.
Jack the Ripper wasn’t the first serial killer in history. The long story of the human race is rich with shitheads stepping over the civilized line, willing to kill repeatedly to quench their thirst for blood. Normal people can’t comprehend this but folklore is filled with killers. Saucy Jack, as he was called, was a true monster. But the Ripper was a new breed… a cause for a media sensation partly through the magnitude of the mutilations of his victims and partly because of the letters taunting the press as the spree unfolded. If you’ve never heard mention of this awful string of unsolved murders you’ve been living in a box with no internet, no windows, and no pop-culture.
This being said, I’m going to take a look at why it’s a great addition to the line-up of horror TV this time of year (which also is a bit of down-time for the big sweeps shows coming soon).
Whitechapel was (at the time of the murders) a slum, jam packed with way too many people and far too few basic amenities. Squalor, infestation, filth… yet home to multitudes of immigrants and less-fortunates. Among them, a bustling population of sex workers. Today, we’re well aware that there are predators swarming these Hellholes, like great white sharks do islands of seals. It’s another piece of the most dangerous line of work old as time itself. The killings affected these women but it also changed the world of police. Jack’s crime wave changed crime-fighting the way modern day terrorism has changed ours.
I got the sense early on that ‘JtR the Definitive’ aims at Ripper enthusiasts. Having a bit of knowledge of the Autumn of Terror going into the show makes for fascinating treatment of a subject done to death. For the casual TV viewer, the computer generated reconstructions of places such as Buck’s Row and Miller’s Court may seem a touch amateur. It was done well enough but could have used a little polish (which no doubt was a budgetary item). For folks with a bit of Ripper knowledge ahead of time, there are excellent scenes featuring bull’s eye lanterns, accurate police beats, a solid eye witness raising a possible theory of multiple killers working together, and down to the second statements and timing from law enforcement and those people closest to the areas just before each slaying. Expert commentary from well-known Ripperologists such as Neil Bell and Robert Anderson add a genuine razor edge that cuts fiction apart from fact.
It touches on a few major suspects, honing in on one in particular man that top Scotland Yard inspectors agreed was most likely the Ripper. Overall, it does a good job of separating bullshit out of the equation. It’s unsolved, remember. That means it’s speculation about an awful event in Victorian England a long time ago. I give the special 4 out of 5 Cthulhus (which is a very high score) and I think any person fascinated by crime and/or history needs to start with the Ripper. I give particular kudos to the collective knowledge tapped (from those in the know) in this two-hour look at the birth of the modern day serial killer.
JtR The Definitive Story also avoids the more sensational (and unrealistic) suspects. It may not appeal to wider audiences (such as ‘From Hell’ or the slew of other TV specials) as much as it could… but for enthusiasts that’s a good thing. The only drawback I found is that the title is as confusing as the Ripper letters. Since it aired on Aug 29th, it looks like the special went straight to Amazon here.
Anyway, big Horror TV is pending… See you soon with the return of some of your favorites.
Until then don’t forget your Elder Gods and remember it’s only Horror TV as you walk through the dark, damp corridors of life.