Review #2 in Holen’s Halloween Extravaganza for 2019!
JACK’S BACK (1988 Palisades)
Jack’s Back is the little thriller that couldn’t. It never had a chance with the shoddy distribution that it received. This is the feature film debut of Rowdy Herrington, who was also responsible for a film called Road House. Unfortunately, his debut didn’t receive a fraction of the recognition that Road House did. It got two thumbs up from Siskel & Ebert, and that’s about all the attention that it garnered in its original theatrical run. Nowadays, its status has hardly risen, but I believe that this has the quality to rise to cult status. As a matter of fact, I believe it’s quite a bit better than most thriller/horror films that have gained such distinction, and much more intelligent as well.
Despite sounding like an exploitation film, being shot on a shoestring budget, and a shitty trailer, Jack’s Back succeeds as an intelligent crime caper with enough twists and turns to keep the audience from ever completely solving the mystery or losing interest. The most invaluable asset to this movie may be leading man James Spader, one of America’s best, brightest, and eccentric actors. The man is so well-spoken that you find yourself clinging on to every single word, a true silver-tongued devil. It makes sense that one of his most memorable turns (as Alan Shore on the fantastic Boston Legal opposite William Shatner) was as a lawyer. Here, he has a dual role as twin brothers, and he turns in an impressive performance in each instance. Even more impressive is how the two are so different. The first is a sensitive, caring, hospital worker. He’s a goody two shoes social activist, too good for this world it seems. The second is a tense, rebellious rapscallion, not afraid to break the rules, or get his hands dirty to get the job done. He’s not particularly selfless, and he doesn’t particularly give a shit.
The premise of this film is that it is one hundred years after the original Jack the Ripper murders, something fucky is going on. A copycat killer is recreating these killings, down to every minute detail. The gentle and measured brother (John Wesford) is suspected of being the killer posthumously. The cops are determined to pin it on somebody to calm public fears, so they jump the gun in declaring the culprit. They suspect John because he has the medical know-how to recreate the killings, and because of that fact that he mysteriously ends up hanged at his place of employment one night. They assume the guilt was too much to bear, and he took his own life. The only person that doesn’t believe John is Jack Jr. is his twin brother Ricky. Ricky saw his brother’s death in a clairvoyant dream, and it was not suicide at all in that vision. John was murdered. Ricky races to the scene of the crime minutes after it happens and finds his dead brother, leading the cops to view Ricky with suspicion. They believe that he may have killed his brother. Ricky then has to clear his name, and the name of his deceased brother. He knows that his brother’s killer will surely be the real Jack copycat. Or will he? Who knows? I do, I’ve seen the movie. You probably don’t, because you probably haven’t. Hardly anyone has.
What ensues is a wildly engrossing mystery that keeps you on your toes until the very end. There are moments of cheese of course, this film was released in 1988, but not once does this movie feel like the novelty that its title and tagline would suggest. For its modest budget, Jack’s Back hardly ever feels cheap, tacky, or undercooked. It’s suspenseful, charming, occasionally funny, and unlike many films today, it breathes. There’s life in this picture, and it’s clear that the participants are having a blast making it. Due to the modest budget and its incredibly fast shooting schedule, there was no time to mess around with this picture. That brisk controlled chaos contributes to the manic energy of the film, underscoring the tension of the second act. As of right now I believe it’s free to watch on Amazon Prime, so if you wanted to venture out to something spooky you haven’t seen this year, I’d highly recommend this one. Also the whole thing is on YouTube in HD.
But if you’re a physical media guy like me, and you have a Region A player, you can pick this one up to hold in your hands. The first time this film made it to disc in North America was a Blu-ray/DVD combo release a few years back done by Scream Factory. Surprisingly, I have nothing but praise for this disc. The special features are a little bare, but that’s to be expected for such a minor entry (commercially) in the careers of all involved. The video was meticulously restored in HD from the original negatives in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, and the picture looks better than anyone had any right to expect. It’s a low budget film from 1988, so temper your expectations, but I don’t see any evidence of print damage, excessive DNR, or shitty compression artifacts. I said surprisingly given that Shout! Factory has been very spotty in my opinion with regards to video quality. I appreciate everything that they do to bring us films that wouldn’t see a release by any other means, but some of their discs have been rather disappointing when it comes to their HD sources (here’s looking at you Wild at Heart, desperately in need of an updated 4K restoration).
Fortunately Jack’s Back had no HD transfer prior to this, so they had no choice but to do it with modern tech, and it’s clear that Pinewood (the dudes that restored this) handled this task with care and attention. The audio track is the film’s original mono mix rendered as a DTS-HD 2.0 track, and it’s as good as you’re gonna get out of such an old low budget film. It’s presented here accurately without any dropouts, pops, or clicks, and that’s all you could really ask for. Overall, I give major props to Scream Factory for this one, it’s a great disc, and well worth the $14.99 they’re asking for it.
4/5 Clairvoyant Spader Visions
And if you don’t trust me, take their word on it. They’re professionals, eh?