Review: Jack’s Back (Scream Factory Blu-Ray)

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Jack’s Back‘s title refers to Jack the Ripper – the father of the modern sex crime – whose presence has returned in the form of a new serial killer copying all of his tricks on the 100th anniversary of the prostitute murders. It’s a catchy name that indicates some fun’s afoot, as though the film will follow this new Jack throughout his exploits. But surprisingly, Rowdy Herrington goes a different direction, opting to show almost no murders at all and leaving four killings to the imagination. Jack’s Back incorporates quite a few unexpected elements, including the connection between twins and a twisty jump from one protagonist to another. What could have been another cliched bloodbath about a Jack the Ripper copycat becomes an intriguing, if slowly-paced, thriller.

The most enticing aspect of Herrington’s plot is the double use of James Spader in leading roles. Spader plays twins John and Rick Wesford; the former’s a doctor-in-training, the latter’s a punky shoe store manager, and Spader gets a lot of room to explore two very different styles of character. John’s a baby-faced gentleman who feels strongly about his ailing community; Rick wears a leather jacket and isn’t averse to buying a gun from a strip club owner. Jack’s Back opens with John, who cares for his patients at a local free clinic and becomes attached to a pregnant prostitute who is later murdered by the copycat killer. In a shocking turn of events, John is killed and Herrington deftly switches over to follow Rick as he tries to find his brother’s killer using twin connection and hypnosis.

The fact that Herrington skips over most of the murders allows Jack’s Back to explore both characters in detail, and it also incorporates police detective work. Rick’s a completely different person despite his connection to John, and his interactions with John’s friend Chris (Cynthia Gibb) provide exposition without it feeling like an info dump. The viewer also knows John’s killer from the start, adding dramatic irony to Rick’s search; there’s a nice tension as he searches for the killer, especially in the moments when he sees flashes of what John experienced before he died.

It would seem as though Jack’s Back reveals the answer to the mystery within the first fifteen minutes of the film, but Herrington gets around this by providing multiple suspects and two different killers. The film has a tendency to shift its direction on a dime, which is actually beneficial to this subgenre offering; it would have been easy for Jack’s Back to slide into common slasher movie tropes, but it circumvents them often with new twists. It still relies on a detective subplot which is mostly an unnecessary addition to the film, but its main focus is on the intriguing twin connection between Rick and John.

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However, Herrington’s pacing is rather slow, and Jack’s Back often plods along in its middle portion as Rick attempts to uncover his brother’s killer. Part of that is probably due to budgetary restrictions; the other is an intentional adherence to noir stylings, especially with the soundtrack’s saxophone elements. Jack’s Back is a little uneven, but it often makes up for that with a nicely tense atmosphere and a strong showing from Spader.

Another small issue comes from Jack’s Back‘s initial explanation of events. Police tell the audience that the killings have been committed to coincide with Jack the Ripper’s murders, and the fifth one should be the last. But Jack’s Back‘s killer goes after Chris in the final moments of the film with no motive, an event that goes against how the killer has operated thus far. And Jack’s Back doesn’t give any backstory to its killer either despite his surgical background; his connection to Jack the Ripper is simply assumed rather than documented, and it’s a small misstep for a film that often provides a good look at character development.

But Jack’s Back is a lesser-known thriller that is probably one of the better offerings based on Jack the Ripper. Its supernatural twin element adds depth to the usual serial killer motifs, and coupled with Spader’s acting in two distinct roles, it succeeds in presenting a modernized version of the prostitute killings. The off-kilter approach to its direction doesn’t give the viewer a chance to figure out the real killer before the end. It’s a little on the slow side, but the twisty nature of the film is worth the wait.

Special Features

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Scream Factory has released Jack’s Back in a Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack. For this review, I watched the Blu-Ray, which has had a nice transfer. There is some noticeable grain in darker shots, and a few flaws and scratches (especially in the opening minutes), but ultimately nothing that would affect the viewer. Audio is presented in DTS mono track, which sounds really good (especially Paul Saax’s “Red Harvest”!) despite some drops in dialogue volume at times.

For bonus features, Scream Factory includes an audio commentary from director Rowdy Herrington as well as a making-of featurette including interviews from Herrington, director of photography Shelly Johnson, producer Tim Moore, and actress Cynthia Gibb. A theatrical trailer is also included.

This is a nice presentation of Jack’s Black with the added bonus of the making-of video, and this is the best way to own Jack’s Back on Blu-Ray. Pick it up.

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