Serial Killer Double Feature – Jack the Ripper and The Zodiac Killer

This double feature is purely due to serendipitous delivery, but it works. Last year, on black Friday, Severin Films announced a limited edition of the 1959 film of the Jack the Ripper story and I pulled the trigger, somehow forgetting that they will release a standard edition later this year. The Zodiac Killer is an AGFA release which was on my list for a while and was in my cart when I ordered something else. The two arrived on the same day.

Jack the Ripper

Director: Robert S Baker and Monty Berman 

Screenplay: Peter Hammond and Monty Berman

Minutes: 84

Year: 1959

Score: 6.27

Release: Severin Films


In 1959, legendary showman Joseph E. Levine bought this grisly UK thriller to unleash on American moviegoers. But when audiences were horrified by the film’s startling violence, graphic nudity and bloody Technicolor climax, it became one of Levine’s most notorious failures. Today – in its censored UK cut, the American version with a brassy new score, and the ooh-la-la French edition – it remains among the most underappreciated and provocative shockers of its time.  Eddie Byrne (THE MUMMY), Lee Patterson (TV’s SURFSIDE 6) and Betty McDowall (FIRST MEN IN THE MOON) star in this lurid classic produced/directed by Robert S. Baker & Monty Berman (THE HELLFIRE CLUB) and written by Hammer Films’ legendary Jimmy Sangster (THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, HORROR OF DRACULA) that calls “the perfect combination of murder mystery and horror film with just the right amount of lovely ladies!”

Early in my adult life I became interested in the case of Jack the Ripper after reading Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s From Hell. Oddly, the Hughes Brothers film of From Hell is the only film version of story which I have seen (EDIT: I guess Pandora’s Box is about the Ripper, too). While Hughes’ film is interesting it feels like this film, from Baker and Berman, is almost like a documentary mixed with an old BBC video stage-play.

I don’t want to lie and say that this is a great film. It isn’t, but it is compelling and interesting, there are a few well shot scenes and I will revisit someday. One of the issues with the film, well, the story, and this goes for Zodiac too, is that with such an famous open ended, unsolved, story you will have writers and producers making up their own solution.

That would not have worked back in the 1950s, to leave something unsolved, this would hardly work today. But, in doing so they did more than just identify who the Ripper is but they also added new victims and new characters. And, I am saying this as someone who enjoyed the film.

I watched the U.S. Version because it was a few minutes longer and, for the most part, the picture quality is pretty high. Severin came through on the release which, I am pretty sure, will be available again in the spring without its pulp novel slipcase.

Special Features:

  • British Version
  • U.S. Version
  • Audio Commentary With Co-Director/Co-Producer/Co-Cinematographer Robert S. Baker, Screenwriter Jimmy Sangster, Assistant Director Peter Manley, Moderated By British Horror Historian Marcus Hearn
  • Alternate Continental Takes
  • Interview With Denis Meikle, Author of “Jack The Ripper: The Murders And The Movies“
  • The Real Jack The Ripper Featurette
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Poster And Still Gallery
  • All Region
  • Continental Version (French language with English subtitles)
  • Ripping Yarn: Interview With French Reissue Distributors Jean Pierre Jackson and Alain Petit

Director: 6 – Cinematography: 6 – Edit: 5 – Parity: 1 – Main performance: 6 – Else performance: 2 – Score: 5 – Sound: 5 – Story: 8 – Script: 7 – Effects: 6 – Design: 8 – Costumes: 8 – Keeps interest: 10 – Lasting: 10

Zodiac Killer

Director: Tom Hanson 

Screenplay: Ray Cantrell and Manny Cardoza

Minutes: 87

Year: 1971

Score: 5.80

Release: AGFA


The inaugural joint release from AGFA and exploitation film hall-of-famers Something Weird Video, in a 4K preservation transfer. 1971’s sanity-defying “tabloid horror” vortex THE ZODIAC KILLER balances the outrageous absurdity of early John Waters with the dark vérité of Barbara Loden’s seminal WANDA. And, in a backstory just as crazed as the film, pizza baron(!)/amateur sleuth/first-time filmmaker Tom Hanson produced it with the intent to catch the Zodiac himself.

In the summer of ’69, a string of bizarre NorCal murders came with an even stranger series of letters written from the perp, sent to both the police and the press. Independent of the official case, Hanson took their contents and quickly lensed THE ZODIAC KILLER with little cash and no limits to his rugged imagination. But this was no headline-chasing cash grab. At its S.F. premiere, Hanson constructed McGuyver-ish traps to lure the killer from hiding — including an ice cream freezer filled with rent-a-cops, and a raffle with entries scrutinized for the Zodiac’s penmanship!

I have sung the praises of AGFA a while ago with their release of Effects, which made my best of 2017 list, and The Zodiac Killer does not disappoint. If this film would get into a fight with Fincher’s Zodiac don’t be surprised if this one pulls a knife, spits in its pretty face and leaves it leaking. It is cheap and dirty, terrible even, but it is the sort of movie in which the provenance is a key to its value.

Director, Tom Hanson had to burn some cash from a failing pizzeria and chose to turn some assets into a movie with the intent of duping the actual Zodiac Killer out of hiding to be caught in a sting operation. Tom Hanson, pizzeria owner, film producer, one of Sherlock’s regulars. Much like Jack the Ripper this is a film which has to punctuate this unsolved crime but unlike Jack, this one sticks the landing. It failed to catch the killer, obviously, but the closing scene seems to invalidate what I think of when I think about serial killers.

It is possible that since it was made during crimes it was easier to pull off personifying the killer, perhaps the fact that it doesn’t romanticize the events is the magic. I don’t know, but it works. While I wouldn’t necessarily recommend doing this I think you might actually be able to have a double feature of this film with Fincher’s because it would give you an inside look at the differences between a no-budget indie films can go toe-to-toe with major Hollywood films. Zodiac is definitely superior, but The Zodiac Killer, surprisingly, is no slouch.

The film is a cleaned up 4k scan of the only print of the film in existence. It is kind of hairy, but that gives the experience a little authentic value and the interview with Hanson adds to the package. I have not listened to the commentary but this is one of the times that I actually want too. Plus you get a second feature, which I haven’t watched, and a compilation film of other AGFA flicks, of which I want to seek out a few.

Special Features:

  • Audio Commentary with director Tom Hanson and producer Manny Nedwick
  • On-camera interview with director Tom Hanson and producer Manny Nedwick
  • Bonus movie: ANOTHER SON OF SAM (1977)
  • Tabloid-horror trailers from the AGFA archive!
  • Liner notes and director Tom Hanson interview by Chris Poggiali of TEMPLE OF SCHLOCK

Director: 8 – Cinematography: 6 – Edit: 5 – Parity: 0 – Main performance: 4 – Else performance: 1 – Score: 4 – Sound: 5 – Story: 10 – Script: 6 – Effects: 7 – Design: 5 – Costumes: 6 – Keeps interest: 10 – Lasting: 10