The oeuvre of Jes(u)s Franco, comprising a mind-blowing number of films that easily hits three figures (exact numbers are hard to judge among all the re-edits and pseudonyms), lurches from the excellent (Vampiros Lesbos ) to the dire (the howlingly inept El Conde Dracula ), to the deliriously deranged (Kiss Me Monster  – receiving notoriety the world over and making him one of the most banned film-makers in the UK. At the heart of his films there often lies a sadistic streak that can make his films uncomfortable to watch, but at the same time there is a cinematic honesty to his nefarious obsessions.
Apparently out of the blue comes the first batch in "The Official Jess Franco Collection" of lovingly re-mastered films. For those familiar with Franco’s work by reputation alone, it might come as some surprise to learn that he is a highly capable director – and Jack the Ripper is a case in point. Franco paces events well, never shying from shocking mutilation but not dwelling on it either, he builds up the tension steadily giving the events a more personal impact than merely parading the next corpse. It’s the macabre details that stick in the mind, particularly Jack’s quirky mannerisms. This quirkiness can be put squarely down to one thing – Jack is played by Klaus Kinski with characteristic intensity and droop-eyed aplomb. Franco is in some ways a "second mentor" to Kinski (his collaborations with Herzog are well documented) but for some reason the Franco films remain hidden in the depths of Kinski’s eclectic CV.
In many ways Jack the Ripper doesn’t play as a normal slasher film. It’s far more like a less grainy version of Ulli Lommel’s arthouse shocker The Tenderness of Wolves (1973). Countering this are all manner of Franco oddities; specialist prostitutes, a blind man with a nose for sausages as a way of gauging the Ripper’s mental state, and deranged judges. Naturally there’s a trip to a burlesque show too, but these elements are far less an intrinsic part of the proceedings than is normal in a Franco film. Instead he relies on some subtle slow tracking shots (no whip-zooms here) to convey a sense of menace, and in the film’s pivotal murder just lets Kinski act in static long shot as he strips, kills and then rapes a girl in the forest. This scene is particularly effective for being unflinching but discreetly distanced, at once voyeuristic but also reflecting earlier shots of "through the keyhole" sexual discovery. The soundtrack is suitably odd with fairground music giving way to chirpy music-hall piano even when Jack is in the height of introspection.
The DVD edition seems dubbed whatever language it plays in, but the original German soundtrack is definitely the superior option, being clearer and somehow more fitting – despite the Whitechapel setting. And for a relatively obscure title full credit must be given to the effort put in the extra features, there’s even an audio commentary from the cinematographer who also supervised the impressive anamorphic transfer. Time to re-evaluate Franco’s long, prolific and occasionally rocky career…