Slash your way into 13 terrifying Jack the Ripper film classics

With the mutilated bodies of prostitutes left behind as his calling card, Jack the Ripper remains one of the most nightmare-inducing criminals to ever stain a city with blood. His cunning helped him slip into the shadows of Whitechapel night and out of the morning unknown. His knowledge of anatomy could rival that of any surgeon. His hands had the precision of a medical examiner in the postmortem mutilation of his victims. Even long after he was assumed dead, forensic investigators have followed the Ripper’s phantom footprints everywhere from the foggy, red-light districts of London to the grim back alleys of New York City. HIs diabolical mind has also been dissected as the subject of countless books, films, TV episodes and even comics and graphic novels.

Whoever the specter with the knife and scalpel really was, his pseudonym and legend (not to mention the iconic image of a cloaked silhouette in a top hat stalking the gas-lit streets) have become so iconic that later murderers using his modus operandi are now headlined in the news as rippers. Not that #ripper is the kind of fame you want following you around the internet!

Since there is no better time for serial killer movies than Halloween, turn all the lights off if you dare and marathon these 13 Jack the Ripper-inspired horrors that might end up giving you insomnia and that constant urge to look over your shoulder — especially after dark.

Waxworks (1924)

As if a wax museum isn’t already terrifying enough, you can virtually hear the screams in this German silent film when a poet who is hired to write the stories of the murderers behind the museum’s more sinister wax statues encounters Jack the Ripper in the flesh. What was thought to be the Ripper’s doppelganger turns out to be the diabolical Springheel Jack of Victorian urban legends. Not that it matters because he certainly stabs like his mistaken identity. While this isn’t so much a Ripper film as a horror anthology, the killers that stalk in the hazy vintage shadows and exaggerated faces of wide-eyed terror have suspense value for days (and nights). Watch this and you will never go to Madame Tussauds again.

The Lodger (1927)

This is why you never break up with a policeman for someone whose arrival seems to herald the disappearance of blonde girls in London. If you’re blonde and you see he has a bizarre habit of turning around all the portraits of blonde girls in the room he’s renting, run. Director Alfred Hitchcock originally wanted to keep the potential Ripper’s innocence or guilt shrouded in ambiguity, but the studio pressured him to put a halo on Ivor Novello after he was cast as the suspect. They feared villainizing Novello would spatter blood all over his public image—kind of like how none of Justin Bieber’s fangirls could possibly imagine him brandishing a knife in a slasher film. 

Pandora’s Box (1929)

Beauty may be dangerous enough to provoke a killer. Already popular in Germany at the time, the cautionary tale about a young girl who drives men to madness and even murder was adapted to the silver screen by Georg Wilhelm Pabst, who actually turned down Marlene Dietrich for the role because he felt she was “too knowing” to project the sort of demonic innocence he was looking for. He found it in Louise Brooks, whose seductive character runs from one scandal to another only to end up as a prostitute with Jack the Ripper as her client. While the movie elicited gasps of horror at its immorality, it went on to make Brooks a star.

Monster of London City (1964)

The spooky ambience in which the contrast of light and shadow, not to mention glimpses of a Zorro-esque cloaked figure flying ghostlike through London, are more than enough to project your worst fears onto the screen even without subtitles. Edwin Zbonek’s German Krimi film raised eyebrows with more than just its whodunit factor. The depiction of a Ripper figure stalking the city of London, while an actor coincidentally played the infamous slayer onstage, has flashes of graphic violence and nudity that were pretty risqué for the 60s. Even scarier: an actress is almost stabbed by what she though to be a rubber prop knife until she realizes it’s very real.

The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh (1971)

Also known as Blade of the Ripper, this giallo thriller has a trio of diabolical suspects out for the blood (and fortune) of a socialite who has a thing for erotic encounters on a mattress full of broken glass. It was scandalous enough at the time that an Italian woman named Mrs. Ward demanded the “h” be added to the title character’s name to save her reputation. You aren’t hallucinating if you notice anything stylistically familiar. The conspiracy between Julie Wardh’s husband, lover and ex, which will keep you gasping and guessing until one final shock pulls over in a vintage convertible, was ripped straight from Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train

Dr. Jekyll & Sister Hyde (1971)

If you thought the story of Jekyll & Hyde couldn’t get any more gruesome, it just did. This is what you get when you mutate the stories of Jack the Ripper and the Burke and Hare murders (whose perpetrators sold the corpses to an anatomy professor for dissection) into a whole new monster. Jekyll’s morally questionable search for the elixir of life leads him to extract female hormones from cadavers delivered by Burke and Hare. Supposedly there is something almost supernatural in the XX chromosome that is supposed to extend his time on this mortal coil. His resulting Hyde alter ego is a woman—and this was way before genderswap cosplay. 

Hands of the Ripper (1971)

Jack the Ripper never spawned (at least we hope not)—though it’s sort of physically impossible when all your mistresses of the night are corpses by morning. This is a hypothetical dive into the “what if” of him having a daughter, who witnesses her mother’s murder at his hands when most of us are just learning to walk. Cue one of the creepiest kid scenes ever. She blossoms into a homicidal teenager, tortured by schizophrenic voices driving her to kill. Vintage horror house Hammer Films slashed its way into the Me Decade by upping the ante on sex and splatter to evolve with the more liberated post-hippie thinking of the 70s.  

The Ruling Class (1972)

There once was an earl named Jack. There once was a paranoid schizophrenic earl named Jack who thought he was the Messiah until electro-shock therapy left him convinced he was the second coming of Jack the Ripper. Trippy as the decade that dreamed it, this British black comedy didn’t even come close to slaying the box office. It has since become a cult classic for Peter O’Toole’s frighteningly hilarious faux Ripper, who murders women trying to seduce him and sees his colleagues in the House of Lords as rotting corpses. Scariest of all is that his psychiatrist actually thinks the lunatic repetition of “I’m Jack, I’m Jack” actually mean he’s sane.

Murder by Decree (1979)

Of the many Sherlock Holmes movies that arose from the gnawing curiosity to unmask Jack the Ripper, Murder by Decree is arguably the most unnerving. What may not be as obvious as the bodies scattered all over London is that the film rounded up its suspects from Stephen Knight’s book Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution. Knight’s book presumes the perpetrators of the brutal murders were hiding behind the Masonic shroud of secrecy. While the names of the suspects were changed, it hasn’t exactly done much to dispel many sinister (and mostly ignorant) assumptions about the Freemasons. Ghosts of this film can be seen in the later graphic-novel-turned-movie From Hell. 

Time After Time (1979)

The only Jack the Ripper film to have a Top 40 pop song named after it follows H.G. Wells as he chases his suspect through the future in a time machine he himself invented. The Ripper character here is, appropriately, a surgeon, which parallels the anatomical knowledge suggested by the almost surgically mutilated bodies of his female victims. Time After Time unintentionally became a timeless Cyndi Lauper single in 1984 when the singer needed a temporary title and came across a TV Guide listing for the movie. Writer and director Nicholas Meyer also had more time travel in his future. He later co-wrote the 1986 Star Trek movie The Voyage Home.  

The New York Ripper (1982)

Drugs, bondage, disemboweled bodies, live triple-X theaters and a murderer who talks like a deranged Donald Duck—it’s easy to see why Lucio Fulci’s graphic giallo film was banned in many countries and remains heavily censored this many years later. The quacking killer actually calls the police dedicating murders to people much in the same way most of us non-psychopaths dedicate songs on the radio. Warped Disney characters aside, there might be a shred of truth to this movie. Rumors that still maintain Jack the Ripper was never caught because he fled London for New York City—and left a trail of blood which no one has ever been able to trace.

From Hell (2001)

The Ripper murders have become an infamous-enough gouge in history to be endlessly theorized in film, books and now an Alan Moore graphic novel ,which was adapted into the atmospheric Johnny Depp movie, From Hell. Depp’s opium-addicted police officer Frederick Abberline has an edge over the other investigator characters (even Sherlock Holmes): prophetic dreams. As in Murder By Decree, there are strong suspected connections between the killer and the Freemasons. The fear-mongering is amplified by his victims, which could have only been autopsied so expertly by someone educated and anatomy-savvy. The cast of actual historical characters that haunt the movie includes Abberline and Mary Kelly, the prostitute assumed to be Jack the Ripper’s final victim.

A Rogue in Londinium (2010)

Dating an artist suspected of being Jack the Ripper may or may not be a good idea depending on whether his art is painting or methodical disembowlment. In this case it seems that all Richard Rhys is wielding is a paintbrush—or is he? Married socialite Victoria Thornton could use a clairvoyant cop like From Hell’s Abberline to make sense of the bloody haze of flashbacks tormenting the man she is entangled in a torrid affair with. Their story continues in Whitney Hamilton’s book The Great White Storm, which takes Rhys and Victoria through a labyrinth of ghosts and paranormal phenomena almost as strange as the psychopathic mind of the Ripper himself.

More from around the web