Ripper Untold is writer/director Steve Lawson’s fourth consecutive film with a historical setting after Bram Stoker’s Van Helsing, Saltwater: The Battle for Ramree Island and The Haunting of Alcatraz. And like them, it was filmed on a very limited budget. Can Lawson manage to make it work this time and not end up with another boring talkfest?
Whitechapel 1888. The body of a young woman is found, her throat slashed and body mutilated. Inspector Rees (Phil Molloy, Outlawed) goes to work trying to track down the killer. He’s aided by the coroner, Thomas Locque (Jonathan Hansler, Vampire Virus, The Devil’s Machine), a man who’s battling his own demons. And who seems to have known the victim, and several of her fellow working girls.
As the bodies begin to pile up so do the suspects. Apart from Locque, there’s Stubb (Chris Bell, Dragon Kingdom, The Heiress), a reporter who seems to be at the scene of the crimes before the police. Or Dodd (Jacob Anderton, I Am Vengeance: Retaliation, 13 Graves) the rather perverse morgue attendant. Or Locque’s wife Elizabeth (Sylvia Robson, The Stone), a jealous shrew of a woman with her own interest in anatomy.
Shot mostly indoors with a very small cast, Ripper Untold frequently feels like a filmed stage play. And, since the budget didn’t allow for recreating the streets of Victorian London for murder scenes, the emphasis is on the suspects and motives. The result is that the film is structured more like a mystery or drama than a horror story.
And, on that level, it actually isn’t bad. The dialogue, while not exactly Shakespearian, gets the point across without being tedious and moves the plot along nicely. It helps that the mostly unfamiliar cast do a good job of delivering it and selling their roles. Apart from the main cast, Dawn Butler and Barry Shannon both have small but important roles as the Madam of a brothel and a doctor who seems suspiciously obsessed with blaming the killings on “a Persian or an Oriental” as quickly as possible.
There are a few scenes of the bloody corpses of the victims and the practical effects mostly work. The one exception being a scene where Locque is examining a victim and it looks like a fatty piece of steak covered with fake blood. Unfortunately, there are no actual murder scenes which I admit is a disappointment. I knew that Ripper Untold wasn’t going to be another Murder By Decree, but a total lack of on-screen killings in a Ripper film is inexcusable.
Those who are interested in the actual Ripper killings will instantly notice that while Ripper Untold takes the subject seriously it takes a lot of liberties with the facts. The characters are still interesting but don’t expect the names you’re familiar with from the historical accounts of the killings.
Taken as a character-driven mystery, Ripper Untold is interesting enough to hold one’s interest. Just don’t expect a slasher. Or much horror of any kind. High Fliers released Ripper Untold on UK digital platforms and DVD on June 28th. You can check their website or Facebook page for more information.