In real life, authorities never captured Jack the Ripper — the infamous, even legendary, serial slasher known to have murdered prostitutes and terrorized the hardscrabble Whitechapel section of London in the late 19th century.
The movies, though, have never given up the chase.
The gruesome crimes, eerie setting, and unsolved mystery of Jack the Ripper has inspired literally dozens upon dozens of cinematic adaptations of the saga that range from documentaries and heavy dramas to gory horror and sensational exploitation.
With such a bloody bounty to choose from, here are 10 largely different but each uniquely worthwhile Jack the Ripper movies that showcase the vast hold this case continues to exert on the public’s consciousness.
Any one or various combinations of the following flicks would also make for some screamingly fine Halloween night viewing.
The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927)
Director Alfred Hitchcock considered this silent stunner his first true work of suspense — and that it is.
Ivor Novello stars as the title character, a secretive figure whose landlady (Marie Ault) suspects he may be the Jack the Ripper–esque murderer soaking the streets red with blood each night. She has good reason.
The Lodger was remade using sound in 1932 with Novello reprising his lead role; in 1944 with Merle Oberon as the landlady; in 1953 as The Man in the Attic with Jack Palance as the ominous stranger; and again in 2009, updated to take place in contemporary Los Angeles.
Pandora’s Box (1929)
Pandora’s Box is German director G.W. Pabst’s silent masterpiece of shocking power about the rise and fall of Lulu, a fearless, bisexual hedonist whose disregard for consequences ultimately leads her to work as a prostitute and to an unfortunate date with Jack the Ripper.
Louise Brooks became a cinematic icon as Lulu and while numerous other versions of the story have been filmed since, they don’t all feature Jack the Ripper — and only this one has a leading lady of this supernova caliber.
Jack the Ripper (1959)
Our traditional conception of Jack the Ripper stalking the cobblestones of Whitechapel with a walking stick, black top hat, and long, black cape come from this British-made thriller that effectively imitates the then-recent horror hits from England’s Hammer Films studio.
This version of Jack the Ripper posits that the killer is a doctor of royal nobility who murders prostitutes to avenge the death of his son after junior commits suicide upon discovering his sweetheart is a streetwalker.
A Study in Terror (1965)
John Neville and Donald Houston costar in A Study in Terror, respectively, as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson as they pursue Jack the Ripper. The case takes them from the gutters of East London’s slum districts to the heights of the British aristocracy and, as always, Sherlock Holmes gets his man.
Hands of the Ripper (1971)
With Hands of the Ripper, Hammer Films puts a gory, sexy spin on the slasher legend, and it’s weird — but it works.
Anghard Ree stars as Anna, the daughter of Jack the Ripper who, as a very young child, witnessed her father hack up her mother. Now an adult, Anna seems to occasionally get possessed by the homicidal spirit of Old Jack, just as mangled prostitutes start cropping up on London street corners.
Murder by Decree (1979)
Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, these time portrayed by Hollywood giants Christopher Plummer and James Mason, once again pursue Jack the Ripper in Murder by Decree.
It’s a thoroughly engaging, lightly comic mystery made by Bob Clark who — even more mysteriously — would later go on to direct both Porky’s (1982) and A Christmas Story (1983).
Time After Time (1979)
Time After Time is a beguiling cult favorite in which real-life science fiction author H.G. Wells (Malcolm McDowell) uses the device of his famous novel The Time Machine to beam himself from 1893 London to 1979 San Francisco. Unfortunately, Jack the Ripper (David Warner) also comes along for the ride. Virtually every moment of Time After Time is a charmer.
Jack the Ripper (1988)
In 1988, the sprawling, two-part, four-hour TV movie Jack the Ripper — which aired on the 100th anniversary of the some of the key killings — purported to “reveal,” at long the last, the actual identity of the murderer.
Michael Caine is typically top-notch as Scotland Yard’s lead inspector and Armand Assante is quite fun as an actor starring in a stage production of Jekyll and Hyde who gets caught up in the pursuit.
Ultimately, the movie claims that the Ripper was Sir William Gull (Ray McAnally), physician-in-residence to Queen Victoria. In real life, the jury is still out.
Edge of Sanity (1989)
Anthony Perkins, of course, will always be one of horror cinema’s most important figures for portraying matricidal motel keeper Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960).
Toward the end of his career, though, Perkins knocked out one last fright film of genuinely freaky impact: Edge of Sanity.
Perkins stars here as Dr. Henry Jekyll, the infamous scientist who, when he consumes his own dangerous elixir, transforms into the diabolical Mr. Hyde. This time, though, Mr. Hyde is also Jack the Ripper — and not only does he slash up the streets, he is also seriously obsessed with women’s posteriors.
From Hell (2001)
Adapted from the award-winning graphic novel by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell, Johnny Depp stars in From Hell as an opium-addicted Whitechapel police inspector who is subject to psychic visions. Both conditions figure prominently into his hunting down of Jack the Ripper.
As in other versions of the Ripper story, From Hell proposes that royal physician Sir William Gull (Ian Holm) is behind the crimes, but his involvement here is just one small part of a massive conspiracy involving the worldwide society of Freemasons.
As such, From Hell is one take on Jack the Ripper that turns out to be a legitimate mind-ripper.
Main photo: From Hell (2001), poster artwork