By definition, a serial killer is a person who commits at least three murders, often following the same pattern, called modus operandi. Besides their lack of empathy, their motivation can range from anger, to past trauma, thrill-seeking, or just plain financial gain, and they often select their victims based on demographic profile, race, genre, or age. Those who have been caught have rarely shown remorse, and some left a trail of over 200 victims.
One such infamous criminal, who was active in the autumn of 1888 in Whitechapel, London, was never identified and apprehended. Following a signed, red-inked letter sent to the Central New Agency, he (or she!) became known as Jack the Ripper, the mysterious figure who murdered at least five prostitutes, inflecting a slash wound to their throat, as well as mutilating their abdomen and genitals. Countless police reports, articles, and books have been written on the subject, and suspects ranged from a Polish immigrant, to a Russian con-man, a lawyer, a strong-built woman, and even members of noble and royal birth. TV series and films have also reimagined the events, often glamorizing his persona.
Here is a list of movies with diverse plots focusing one way or another on the notorious Jack the Ripper, ranked by release year. Maybe clues to the real perpetrator is in one of them.
15 The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927)
Woolf & Freedman Film Service
Based on the 1913 novel by Marie Belloc Lowndes about the Ripper murders, this British silent-era thriller was the third picture directed by the iconic Alfred Hitchcock, and it starred Marie Ault as the landlady Mrs. Bunting, Arthur Chesney as Mr. Bunting, June Tripp as their daughter Daisy, Malcolm Keen as the police officer Joe Chandler, and Ivor Novello as the reclusive Jonathan Drew AKA The Lodger. Joe, who happens to be Daisy’s sweetheart, suspects that Jonathan is the so-called Avenger killer, who has been targeting young blonde women every Tuesday. Or maybe he is just jealous that she is so smitten with her mysterious and handsome tenant.
14 Room to Let (1950)
Adapted from a 1947 BBC radio play by Margery Allingham, Room to Let is a Hammer Films historical thriller directed by Godfrey Grayson and starring Jimmy Hanley as Curly Minter, Valentine Dyall as Doctor Fell, Christine Silver as Mrs. Musgrave, Merle Tottenham as Alice, Anthony La Penna as JJ, and Reginald Dyson as Sergeant Cranbourne. The plot follows Hanley, a relentless crime reporter who suspects that the Musgraves’ new lodger, who calls himself Dr. Fell, is in fact Jack the Ripper, and that he escaped from an asylum that caught fire a while back. Per an IMDB reviewer, the movie is “An extremely interesting take on the Jack the Ripper case. Dyall is incredibly menacing, unsettling in the extreme,” while another finds it “combines the story of The Lodger with the locked-room mystery.”
13 Man in the Attic (1953)
20th Century Fox
“The Life…The Loves…The Crimes of Jack the Ripper!”
Also based on the Belloc novel, Man in the Attic is directed by Hugo Fergonese and starts on the third night of the Ripper murders. In this iteration, the mysterious tenant is Mr. Slade (Jack Palance), a pathologist who rents the Harleys’ attic for his “experiments.” Mrs. Helen Harley (Frances Bavier) suspects he may very well be the infamous killer, while her niece, the beautiful stage performer Lily (Constance Smith), finds herself irresistibly attracted to him.
Slade confides in her that his own mother was an actress, but that she was unfaithful to his father and ended on the streets, recalling, “She was one of the most angelically beautiful women who ever lived, exquisitely graceful, talented, and captivating. I loved her deeply… deeply. She had the face of heaven and the wretched heart of Jezebel. For every aspect of beauty she possessed, she contained a double portion of evil.” The police later discover that the mother was, in fact, Anne Lawrence, the very first victim. But is Slade the killer?
12 Jack the Ripper (1959)
Regal Film Distributors
“The most diabolical murderer who ever baffled Scotland Yard! Why were his victims always ladies of the night?”
Exploring the theory that the killer was a medical professional, hence the precision of the mutilations and stabs, Jack the Ripper reveals that a doctor from the nobility seeks to avenge the death of his son, who perished from a venereal disease, by selecting and murdering prostitutes. The film is produced and directed by Monty Berman and Robert S. Baker, and features Lee Patterson as Sam Lowry, Eddie Byrne as Inspector O’Neill, Betty McDowall as Anne Ford, and Ewen Solon as Sir David Rogers.
11 Hands of the Ripper (1971)
What if the Ripper’s gruesome inclinations were genetically transferred to his now-orphaned daughter? Or what if his spirit were possessing her? Why else would she be having episodic blackouts and not be aware that she, too, was leaving a trail of victims behind?
In this refreshing take directed by Peter Sasdy for Hammer Film Productions, the ingenue-looking Angharad Rees plays Anna, who witnessed her father brutally kill her mother 15 years ago. Now prone to bouts of murderous trance, she is closely followed by the gentle and patient psychiatrist Dr. John Pritchard (Eric Porter). Look out for the poignant score by Christopher Gunning, especially the soft and haunting Anna’s Theme.
“Christopher Gunning’s score was an outstanding example of the use of thematic interaction and the contrast between very lyrical, romantic melodies, and harsher, more dramatic and dissonant motifs, to create complementary senses of compassion and horror.”
– Randall D. Larson, Film Score Monthly/The CinemaScore & Soundtrack Archives
10 Seven Murders for Scotland Yard (1971)
Seven Murders for Scotland Yard AKA Jack the Ripper of London is an Italian-Spanish giallo film directed by José Luis Madrid and featuring Paul Naschy as the disillusioned, limping ex-acrobat and main suspect Bruno Doriani, Patricia Loran as Lulu, and Renzo Marignano as Inspector Henry Campbell. In this contemporary version, ‘Jack’ isn’t just a killer of prostitutes, but also a cannibal who keeps their body parts and organs in jars in his underground dungeon.
9 Tickled Pink (1975)
Directed by Vernon P. Becker, Tickled Pink AKA My Favorite Butler is an erotic Victorian comedy inspired by the anonymous 1908 novel The Way of a Man with a Maid. A young aristocrat, Jack Armstrong (Ole Søltoft), moves with his butler into a former madhouse, where he attempts to seduce the maiden Alice (Sue Longhurst). Little does he know that Jack the Ripper (Martin Ljung) lives in the nearby secret passageways.
8 Murder by Decree (1979)
AVCO Embassy Pictures
Helmed by Bob Clark (A Christmas Story) and written by playwright John Hopkins (Thunderball), Murder by Decree features the prolific Christopher Plummer as Sherlock Holmes, James Mason as Dr. Watson, and Donald Sutherland as the medium Robert Lees. It is inspired by the 1976 book Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution by British journalist and author Stephen Knight, which proposed that the Whitechapel killings weren’t perpetrated by a vengeful individual, but by a Masonic lodge tied to the Royal family.
7 Time After Time (1979)
What if the only reason the Ripper evaded justice was because he used a time machine to escape into another century? This is the premise proposed by the science-fiction film Time After Time, written and directed by Nicholas Meyer, and featuring Malcolm McDowell as the writer Herbert George Wells, David Warner as the surgeon John Leslie Stevenson/Jack the Ripper, Charles Cioffi as Lieutenant Mitchell, and Mary Steenburgen as Amy Robbins. The story starts in 1893, when Wells shows his friends, including John, his latest invention: a time machine. To escape the police, John steals the machine and disappears, but it materializes back without him, because he hasn’t taken the “non-return” key. Wells then travels to 1979 San Francisco, where Jack is hiding _and still killing.
6 Jack’s Back (1988)
Serial killers sometimes inspire copycats, even a century later. In the crime thriller Jack’s Black, written and directed by Rowdy Herrington, and featuring Blacklist‘s James Spader as John/Rick Wesford, Rex Ryon as Jack Pendler, and Cynthia Gibb as Dr. Chris Moscari, contemporary Los Angeles is plagued by murders of prostitutes with Jack the Ripper’s M.O. The police suspects John, then his twin Rick. But when the former is found hanged, the latter gets help from Dr. Moscari to get to the real culprit.
5 Edge of Sanity (1989)
“Anthony Perkins hasn’t been himself lately. Double the terror. Double the fun!”
Anthony Perkins, who is mostly known for portraying Norman Bates in the Psycho movies, plays both the poised and shy Dr. Henry Jekyll and his evil, promiscuous alter ego, ‘Jack’ Hyde, in Edge of Sanity. Directed by Gérard Kikoïne, this grim slasher film borrows elements from the 1886 Robert Louis Stevenson novella Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, as well as the accounts on the notorious killer. Also starring are Glynis Barber as Elisabeth Jekyll and David Lodge as Underwood.
When he was a child, Henry witnessed his father being unfaithful to his mother in a bar. Years later, following his experiments with drugs, this traumatic vision resurfaces to control his mind, as he transforms into an angry monster and goes on a killing spree in London’s whorehouses and opium dens. This film received mixed reviews, but one IMDB reviewer sums it up as, “Sinister, twisted, perverse, and trashy. It’s also lavish, elegant, and beautifully done, and downright intriguing.” Another one writes, “Atmospheric settings, weird situations, and over-the-top performances make this one an eye-opener for anyone looking for something a little different.”
4 Love Lies Bleeding (1999)
A low-budget Australian–American co-production directed by William Tannen, Love Lies Bleeding stars Emily Raymond as the rookie journalist Catherine Winwood, Paul Rhys as her fiancé, a surgeon named Jonathan Stevens, Wayne Rogers as Inspector Abberline, and Faye Dunaway as Josephine Butler. Catherine finds herself in danger when she takes on the assignment of investigating the Whitechapel murders, and starts suspecting Paul.
3 From Hell (2001)
20th Century Fox
Directed by the Hughes Brothers and written by Terry Hayes and Rafael Yglesias, the atmospheric From Hell is inspired by the graphic novel of the same name by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell. Johnny Depp plays chief investigator Frederick Abberline, who uses both logical deduction and opium-induced visions to track the Ripper. Heather Graham co-stars as the prostitute Mary Kelly, who is targeted by the killer. Ian Holm is the Queen’s surgeon Sir William Gull; Robbie Coltrane is the easygoing Sergeant George Godley; and Paul Rhys is Dr. Ferral, a dementia specialist. The premise not only links Jack the Ripper to Freemasons, but also to the concealed illegitimate daughter of Prince Albert.
2 Van Helsing: The London Assignment (2004)
Universal Studios Home Video
The supernatural horror animation Van Helsing: The London Assignment is directed by Sharon Bridgeman. It serves as a prequel to the live-action film Van Helsing, written and directed by Stephen Sommers, and features the voices of Hugh Jackman as the monster hunter Gabriel Van Helsing, Tress MacNeille as Queen Victoria, Tara Strong as Young Victoria, Dwight Schultz as Dr. Jekyll/Jack the Ripper, Robbie Coltrane as Hyde/Jack, and David Wenham as Friar Carl. In this iteration, the killer, who is in love with the Queen, drains his victims in foggy London to make a youth potion for her. Jackman, Coltrane, and Wenham reprised their roles for the movie sequel, but this time going after Count Dracula in Transylvania, to stop him from using a werewolf and Dr. Frankenstein’s research to serve his evil agenda.
1 SoulMate: True Evil Never Dies (2012)
A HellFire Club Studio Pictures
Written and directed by Shawn Anthony Watts, this lesser-known thriller stars Daniel Ross as ‘Jack’, Michael Alban as Dr. Maybrick, and John C. Bailee as Dr. Trace. Suspecting that Jack the Ripper has come back from the dead to go on a killing spree in a small town, the local law enforcers seek help from a psychic, Katie Stephans (Jessica Felice), to help predict his next move. But when her loved ones are targeted, Katie decides to take matters into her own hands.