Jack's Back Blu-ray Review
Written by Robert Gold
Blu-ray released by Scream Factory
Written and directed by Rowdy Herrington
1988, 97 minutes, Rated R
Blu-ray released on January 26th, 2016
James Spader as John / Rick Wesford
Cynthia Gibb as Chris Moscari
Rex Ryon as Jack Pendler
Robert Picardo as Dr. Carlos Battera
Rod Loomis as Dr. Sidney Tannerson
Jim Haynie as Sgt. Gabriel
Chris Mulkey as Scott Morofsky
As the centennial of the infamous White Chapel murders arrives, a copy-cat murderer is stalking the streets of modern day (1988) Los Angeles, painstakingly recreating the Jack the Ripper murders in extreme detail. Tonight marks the night of the final murder and police are under pressure to catch this contemporary killer despite the lack of any solid leads. Ripper historian Dr. Carlos Battera has been brought in for insight, but can only tell investigators the victim will be a pregnant prostitute who dies alone in her bedroom.
While the city is on edge, the daily grind continues at the free clinic near Echo Park, where the affable Dr. John Wesford does everything he can to raise awareness of the problems facing the local homeless population. His fellow doctors are proud of his efforts, particularly the beautiful and smitten Chris Moscari, but their hot-tempered boss Dr. Sidney Tannerson demands John focus more energy on his work at the clinic. When the good doctor stumbles upon the latest Ripper crime scene, he becomes the primary suspect and it is up to his brother Rick to clear the family name. The killer is not satisfied with just the five historic murders and is determined to continue the spree, now targeting Rick, Chris and anyone else that gets in the way.
Jack’s Back marks the directorial debut of Rowdy Herrington (Road House), and is the first leading role for actor James Spader (Supernova). Herrington pulls double duty as the film’s screenwriter, and injects quite a few notable twists and turns that will keep newcomers guessing until the final reveal. Not to be outdone, Spader plays two parts and offers distinct character differences between John and Rick Wesford. He excels in both roles and it is easy to see how he has enjoyed such a long-lasting career. The third essential element in this production is cinematographer Shelly Johnson (Jurassic Park III), whose signature lighting style layers the picture with a rich atmosphere. He also enhances many sequences with an artistic blend of smoke and mirrors that plays to the film’s central themes of duality.
As much as I enjoy this movie, it is easy to poke holes in the story. One of my biggest complaints is that the Ripper murders feel like an afterthought, despite being the central premise of the movie. The police become a comedic subplot of their own investigation and the heavy-handed introduction of several red herrings is often laughable. Once the plot reaches its logical conclusion, a last minute twist threatens to drag the finale in the wrong direction. As a credit to their talent, Herrington and Spader manage to prevent the whole thing from going off the rails and deliver an enjoyable picture that still works after nearly thirty years. I had not watched this film in some time, and was surprised to find that it is still a lot of fun. Despite a decent theatrical release and frequent late-night cable screenings, Jack’s Back has managed to stay off the radar. Genre fans looking for an intelligent thriller will find much to like here, even with the problems listed above.
Video and Audio:
There is a title card that appears before the movie crediting Pinewood for their restoration work. Yes, our friends at Scream Factory have sprung for a new transfer and the film has never looked better. Previous releases have all carried an excessive red coloration and a hefty amount of grain. Longtime fans will be happy to know these issues have been corrected and while still not perfect, this release is a nice step up in clarity. Presented in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, the picture is free of any significant issues of print damage or debris and offers strong colors and plenty of small object detail.
The DTS-HD MA 1.0 mono track is surprisingly effective. Music cues are particularly impressive and dialogue remains clean and free from distortion.
English subtitles are provided for anyone in need.
I have always had a soft spot for this film and was excited to learn that Scream Factory was going to give it a proper release, complete with special features. The disc does not disappoint and while the number of extras may initially appear a bit light, they are actually quite satisfying.
Rowdy Herrington’s audio commentary is a nicely-paced reflection on his first time sitting in the director’s chair. The information flows without too many gaps and he has a lot to say about the production and the people that helped make it happen. This track is definitely worth checking out, for the man knows how to tell an entertaining story.
The main video-based supplement is an untitled “making-of” featurette (24 minutes) that offers interviews with members of the cast and crew, including Herrington, producer Tim Moore, cinematographer Shelly Johnson and actress Cynthia Gibb. This welcome retrospective covers a lot of ground and though some is repeated in the audio commentary, fans will be happy to finally see the picture get some overdue attention.
The theatrical trailer offers a decent amount of material without spoiling the fun.
A DVD copy of the film is also included in the packaging.
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