Ripper Man (1995): Trance and Mental Vivisection

Dave bears witness to the shortcomings of Mike Norris and the scene-chewing of Timothy Bottoms in a trippy spin on the Ripper legend.

From the box office beastliness of The Hughes Brothers’ From Hell (2001), to the video store thrills of Christopher Lewis’ The Ripper (1985) and John Eyres’ similarly titled Ripper (2001) – the lurid exploits Jack the Ripper have always been ripe for genre cinema.

Phil Sears’ RIPPER MAN has a fair bit in common with that last pair, skirting around themes like possession, copycat killing, and erm – reincarnation. Just when you thought that the concept of an ex-cop pursuing a new vocation couldn’t get any nuttier, let me introduce you to Mike Lazo (Mike Norris): a former deputy in the San Diego Sheriff’s Department, who spends his evenings being heckled (by ‘Buck’ Flower no less) while doing his hypnotist act on the stage of a low-rent backstreet club.

More mailman than shaman, Lazo’s crumpled sports jacket and grey slacks mean he’s hardly the mid-‘90s embodiment of a dapper Paul McKenna – though when he pulls in a cool $1K for a private session with the foreboding Charles Walkan (Timothy Bottoms), he’s at least heading in the right direction. Walkan boasts a magnificent head of hair and likes to accessorize with a velvet cravat. He’s also convinced that he’s the reincarnation of Jack the Ripper – a suspicion that Lazo is about to witness first-hand when he puts him into a trance. However, with organ-stripped victims turning up dead all over the city, is this mysterious man telling the truth, or is he just a psycho with a shaky alibi?

We can eulogize the legacy of Chuck until the cows come home, but, in regards to his son, Mike, the Norris acting chops seem a little grislier now that they’ve been passed down a generation. Fine as part of an ensemble (see: Delta Force 3: The Killing Game (1991) and Death Ring (1992)), and watchable when he’s got his martial arts skills to hide behind (Survival Game (1987)), it’s the junior Norris’ rare stints in leading man territory that consistently fail to light up the screen. “You’re just not cut out for this nightclub business,” laments cabaret owner Harry (Charles Napier) – a perfect allegory for Norris’ dramatic abilities.

That’s not to say Ripper Man doesn’t exist without a cautious recommendation. Bottoms brings a level of camp to the Victorian-era butcher that needs to be experienced, and, for his sole directing gig, Sears is able to incorporate some grisly body dissections, and an excellent water cooler car crash which momentarily lifts this Aaron Norris-produced picture from the doldrums of sparse production design and head-scratching implausibility [1].

Released on video by Warner Bros. in late February 1995,  Mike Norris would go on to do a handful more minor roles before launching 2nd Fiddle Entertainment with his wife, Valerie, where they specialise in the production of faith-based motion pictures.

USA ● 1995 ● Thriller ● 89mins

Mike Norris, Timothy Bottoms, Robert F. Lyons, Charles Napier ● Dir./Wri. Phil Sears

[1] Sears would later pen the script for the James Franco led box office flop Flyboys (2006). He wrote the film with Blake T. Evans, who served as his director of photography on Ripper Man.

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