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Is Jack the Ripper Dead Again and Fatally Attractive?

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From Ripper Lady

The first time I saw the Direct-to-Video horror saga Hell’s Gate (a.k.a. Bad Karma), I found it to be an interesting take on the Jack the Ripper story. I guess it’s just that, well, you know, when you’ve seen as many Ripper movies as I have, you’re ready for something that’s a little bit different. So the first time around, I really enjoyed the ride. Now that the novelty has worn off, though, I think I can measure the movie more accurately.

THE BASIC PLOT: A young girl is abducted and electrocuted into remembering her previous life as “Agnes”–Jack the Ripper’s lover/accomplice. Assuming the “Agnes” persona, she seeks to reunite herself with the man she believes is the current incarnation of her former love–i.e. her psychiatrist in the High Security wing of a mental institution where she’s been incarcerated since murdering four prostitutes. When the psychiatrist, Trey Campbell, goes on an island vacation with his family, she escapes, horrifically murders a bunch of people, and shows up at the island to terrorize/abduct Trey’s wife and daughter. In the ruins of the “Capilla Blanca” (“White Chapel”) monastery, she finally convinces Trey of his former identity as Jack, but he doesn’t respond in quite the way she had hoped. But with his former identity revealed to him, the audience is still left to wonder whether he, too, will assume that old identity in his new life.

THE GOOD: Interesting concept for a Jack the Ripper film, even though it rather transparently blends the reincarnation drama of Dead Again with Fatal Attraction. Here, we’ve got a a former mistress–from a former life(!)–terrorizing the family of the man she is obsessed with (with the man of her obsession, naturally, not sharing the obsession).

Despite the plot similarities to Fatal Attraction, though, the chills here are more intense because this woman… well… she’s a slasher. She may not boil any bunnies, but she does have a penchant for removing people’s internal organs. Consequently, she’s just a whole lot scarier than Fatal Attraction’s Alex. And you can put that on the plus side for this film.

Hell’s Gate also features some good lighting, sets, and camera work (thanks, largely, to the expertise of veteran horror director John Hough). And Patsy Kensit acquits herself quite nicely in her portrayal of this psychotic female slasher.

THE BAD: Okay… There’s just a lot of bad acting in this film. Not the worst I’ve ever seen, but pretty bad nonetheless. Amy Locane is just dreadful as Trey’s wife Carly, except when she plays anger (an emotion that Amy does pretty well). The rest of the time, though, her acting is about on par with an understudy in the High School play! The police investigator–who actually gets a good bit of screen time–is even more poorly portrayed (which makes you kind of wonder if that’s why his name doesn’t show up in the credits… and can’t be found even on the Internet Movie Database!).

Hand-in-hand with the lousy acting is a good bit of sloppy scripting–much of it centering around the detective. He’s a mainland cop, but for some reason he also has a desk (with nameplate) on the island, which is presumably out of his jurisdiction. And when he asks for a DNA test on a burn victim suspected of being the escaped psychotic, he gets the results back within hours!!! Of course, none of that is as blatantly ridiculous as having the New England island that the family is vacationing on just happen to be the site for a ruined Spanish monastery with a name that translates “Whitechapel.” I mean, seriously???

Still, on the less-than-bad end of things, the ruined monastery does look pretty cool…

THE UGLY: Nearly every minor male character in the film is portrayed as a sex-starved sleazeball just dying to get into Agnes’ pants. Given how many guys seem incapable of keeping their hands off “Agnes” (before she whacks them), Hell’s Gate looks like it just couldn’t decide whether it wanted to restrain itself to the t&a slasher/gore gig, or go all the way into porn. It didn’t, but the atmosphere of sleaze permeates practically every scene containing a minor male character in proximity to “Agnes.”

In addition to the bad acting, there’s some “ugly” acting. As Trey’s daughter, Aimee O’Sullivan isn’t half as bad as her screen mother, but of her three moods (hyper-perky, sad, and terrified), hyper-perky is the one turned on throughout most of the movie. Still, she’s a child actor. She has room to grow.

But, then, we’re supposed to take Patrick Muldoon seriously as a psychiatrist? I mean, this guy has one of those “Just waiting to drink some beer and watch the football game” voices. It’s hard to translate that into a character with years and years of post-graduate education… and have the audience buy into it. Still, when he’s in Victorian costume and sporting a Brit accent, Muldoon is actually not bad as Jack the Ripper.

Despite all these criticisms, I’m not trying to pan the film. It’s a Direct-to-Video low budget B-movie. And (in that context), well, it’s not exactly good, but it’s still far far far away from the lower end of the DTV spectrum.

For a DTV movie, it gets about 2.5 out of 5 stars. But if it were a theatrical release, it would lose at least one of those stars.

(Footnote: For a good low-budget DTV movie, see Fred Olen Ray’s Invisible Mom).

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