Monday, March 02, 2015

Cult-TV Theme Watch: Jack the Ripper

Jack the Ripper is the name given to a serial killer of unknown identity who stalked the streets of London (particularly the Whitechapel District) in 1888. Typically, Jack the Ripper murdered prostitutes, and the bodies of his victims suggested knowledge of anatomy and surgery. Thus, the legend grew that Jack was likely a surgeon, a member of the upper class stalking the lower class. 

Because of extensive coverage in the press at the time, Jack the Ripper became a kind of notorious or legendary figure.  The murders ascribed to him have never been conclusively solved, though the science of his crimes is known as “Ripperology.”

Cult-television has, for over fifty years, crafted stories about Jack the Ripper. Late in its first season, Boris Karloff’s Thriller (1960 – 1962) featured a tale from Robert Bloch (adapted by Barre Lyndon) called “Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper.” The premise of the tale, directed by Ray Milland, was that Jack the Ripper was alive and well…and killing in the Big Apple, more than half-a-century after his crimes in the late 1800s.

The Star Trek (1966 – 1969) second season story “Wolf in the Fold” by Bloch was a continuation, after a fashion of this idea. Here, Jack the Ripper -- or Redjac -- was an immortal, amorphous killer who had existed for centuries, on different worlds, always committing murder, always sowing terror.  The story was set on the planet Argelius and saw kindly Mr. Scott (Jimmy Doohan) fingered as a murderer of women. Before the story ended, the Enterprise’s main computer became possessed by Redjac.

In the short-lived paranormal series The Sixth Sense (1972 – 1973) starring Gary Collins as ESP researcher Dr. Rhodes, one episode of the second season, “With Affection, Jack the Ripper” (October 14, 1972), involved a paranormal happenstance in which a man named Adam (Robert Foxworth) apparently inhabited the body of the Ripper.

Both The Twilight Zone’s (1959 – 1964) “New Exhibit” and Get Smart’s “House of Max” involved a wax figure of the evil Jack the Ripper, who came to life, possessed of the original’s malevolent spirit and intentions.

On ABC’s Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974 – 1974), starring Darren McGavin, one episode was titled “The Ripper” and involved a series of Ripper-like crimes in Kolchak’s Chicago. The killer was eventually destroyed by Kolchak’s quick thinking, and a timely electrocution.

Fantasy Island (1978) featured an episode by Don Ingalls (author of “With Affection…”) in which a Ripper researcher played by Lynda Day George sought to validate her beliefs about the Ripper’s identity, and ended up being endangered by him. Victor Buono played the Ripper in this episode.

Jack the Ripper has also appeared on Babylon 5 (1993 – 1999), and recently a series called Ripper Street involved detective work in the five years following the Whitechapel murders.

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