Tuesday, January 12, 2016

JACK'S BACK (1988) (Blu-ray Review)

JACK'S BACK (1988) 
Label: Scream Factory
Release Date: January 26th 2016
Region Code: A
Duration: 97 Minutes
Audio: English DTS-HD MA Mono 2.0 with Optional English SDH Subtitles
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.78:1) 
Director: Rowdy Herrington
Cast: Chris Mulkey, Cynthia Gibb, James Spader, Jim Haynie, Robert Picardo, Rowdy Herringto

I only vaguely recall this movie from cable TV viewings in my teens and I am pretty sure I never watched the whole things, so I was pleasantly surprised to see it appear on Blu-ray from Scream Factory. I confess that I love pretty much anything James Spader appears in for better or worse, he was one of the penultimate assholes of '80s cinema, in everything from The New Kids (1985) to Less Than Zero (1987), so it was nice to see him stretch his acting-muscle with this one which offered him the chance to play the dual-role of twins Jack and Rick Wesford, playing opposite sides of the same coin so to speak, one brother is an altruistic medical student with a promising future, the other is a shoe store manager with a shady past.  

As the movie begins it has been one-hundred years since Jack the Ripper carved a bloody swath through the red-light district of London, now in the modern age someone is re enacting the Ripper murders in downtown Los Angeles. One night Rick is plagued by a nightmare of his brother being attacked and murdered, and it turns out what he saw in his nightmare actually happened, he somehow experiences his twins death through dreams. The L.A.P.D. believe his brother may have been the Ripper killer, which he knows not to be true. Rick teams-up with his late brother's lady friend Chris (Cynthia Gibb, Youngblood) to help clear his brother's name, but the local cops think that Rick might be a suspect in both his brother's murder and the string of Jack the Ripper slayings, which could prove problematic.  

Right from the start of the movie you know in which decade this is set, the score has a very late-eighties sound that is heavy on saxophone, a bit too much for my taste. Thankfully it also begins with a brief but effective scene of a prostitute murdered in an alleyway, but then things begin to slow down, though it is never dull. I have to credit Spader who turns in his usual magnetic performance, the guy oozes a dark coolness in every movie, and we have more of the same here. Cynthia Gibb is decent as the wide-eyed pseudo love interest, I sort of liked how she didn't jump right into bed with this guy, who is the spitting image of her former best friend who was murdered. They have a decent chemistry, you sort of feel like they have a budding love connection, but you have to remember that this is whodunit murder movie, can she really trust this guy? 

The movie has a few familiar faces popping up, beginning with character actor Robert Picardo (The Howling), who is actually the first face you see onscreen after the opening murder. appearing as psychiatrist Dr. Carlos Battera who is working with the L.A.P.D to develop a criminal profile of the killer. The guy seems shady, and this movie has not shortage of could-be killer types to choose from, it that respect is has a certain Italian whodunit feel about it, minus the black gloved killer and stylish kills.  

For a scrappy eighties whodunit this one is pretty decent, but I didn't love it. I had issues with the lack of decent kills, which is what separates this dramatic thriller from the eighties slashers which were winding down about this time. We are given an effective strangling that is made to look like a suicide by hanging, which worked wonderfully, but otherwise this is pretty anemic and blood and creative kills. Additionally there's a huge gap in logic when one of the characters is caught in a compromising position and goes to the extreme to cover it up, it just didn't make sense to me and stretched credibility a tad too far. 

Audio/Video: Jack's Back arrives on Blu-ray with an AVC encode from Scream Factory from a brand-new HD transfer from the original negative with restoration done at Pinewood Studios. The new transfer looks nice, skin tones and colors are a bit on the cool side and seem to favor greens, I am not sure how accurate that is to the original presentation but I enjoyed it. Grain is nicely managed and looks natural, carrying with it some impressive fine detail. Some soft focus cinematography and smokey-atmosphere don't make for the crispest image you've ever seen on Blu-ray, but this seems accurate, and the clarity is quite nice. The English audio is capably managed by a DTS-HD MA Mono 2.0 track with well-balanced audio and score, optional English subtitles are provided. Audio elements are crisp and clear, no issues with distortion of any kind. 

Onto the extras we have an audio commentary with Writer/Director Rowdy Herrington, which can be a bit on the dry side, leaning more towards the technical stuff. There's also a new twenty-four minute making-of doc with interviews from Writer/Director Rowdy Herrington, Producer Tim Moore, Actress Cynthia Gibb And Director Of Photography Shelly Johnson, a highlight for me was Herrington speaking about how Spader was actually choked out during the hanging scene! Finishing up the bonus content we have a brief theatrical trailer for the movie. This is one of Scream Factory's Blu-ray and DVD Combo releases with a standard definition DVD featuring the movie and the same set of extras as the Blu-ray.

Special Features
- NEW High-Definition Transfer From The Original Negative
- NEW Audio Commentary With Writer/Director Rowdy Herrington
- NEW The Making Of JACK'S BACK - Interviews With Writer/Director Rowdy Herrington, Producer Tim Moore, Actress Cynthia Gibb And Director Of Photography Shelly Johnson (24 Mins) HD 
- Theatrical Trailer (1 Mins) HD 

Jack's Back is a solid eighties thriller with a fine dual-role performance from James Spader, with the benefit of some stylish low-budget cinematography. I liked the Jack the Ripper copycat aspect of the story but it drops off way too early and does not go anywhere, which was a missed opportunity as that was one of the more interesting plot threads. 2.5/5