In 1988 director Rowdy Herrington made his debut with Jack’s Back, a sleek thriller starring James Spader in dual roles. 1988 was the 100th anniversary of the Jack the Ripper slayings and Herrington was able to use those killings and turn them into a clever modern day mystery. Well, modern for the 80’s at least.
Spader stars as twin brothers John and Rick Wesford. John is a doctor working in a clinic in the neighborhood he grew up in. It’s a poor neighborhood were people struggle to get by. John wants to give back to the community and is pushing for affordable healthcare. Near the clinic someone is committing murders that closely resemble the murders committed by Jack the Ripper one hundred years earlier in London. When John turns up dead everything points to him being the prime suspect and the police think he committed suicide. That’s when John’s brother Rick comes into the scene.
Rick is basically the opposite of John in many regards. Whereas John was the good kid, Rick is the bad boy and had a more troubled upbringing. Rick eventually joined the military where he served as a medical doctor. Rick has a vision of John’s death and it wasn’t any suicide. Rick sets out on a mission to clear John’s name and find the real killer.
The synopsis and title of Jack’s Back read like a slasher but that’s not the case at all. Yes, it’s about a serial killer, but there’s less violence and gore than your average episode of Criminal Minds, which isn’t a bad thing at all, mind you. This is a film that succeeds on the superb writing from Herrington and a standout performance from Spader.
This is an early performance from Spader and he nails it. It’s not easy to portray two characters in one film. There are two different mindsets one must get in and the preparation is twice the work. And that’s especially true when the characters are as different as these two. Yet Spader makes it all look so effortless.
Herrington’s script and story is fantastic. It’s inspired by Jack the Ripper but manages Herrington manages to transport it to 80’s Los Angeles and turn it into an actual mystery. This isn’t one of those cheat mysteries either where you can tell you’re purposely being lead down a path that won’t end with the actual killer. There’s none of that here. This is a really well thought out and developed mystery that works.
Jack’s Back is now available on Blu-ray from Scream Factory. It’s a nice high-definition presentation of the film. The majority of the film takes place at night which can be difficult at times but everything looks very solid here. It’s not a stunning looking film, but it looks very nice. As far as special features there’s a commentary with Herrington and a making of feature with interviews with various cast and crew members.
Jack’s Back is a solid little gem of a thriller from the 80’s. It’s not a groundbreaking piece of work that will change how you view murder mysteries, but it is highly entertaining and worth your time.
Jack’s Back is now available on Blu-ray from Scream Factory.