How obscure is Night Ripper!, the 1986 SOV slasher flick from writer, director, and producer Jeff Hathcock? Well, it doesn’t have a Wikipedia page, which is a start. More impressive, however, is the Wikipedia page of featured player Larry Thomas, famous for playing the Soup Nazi on Seinfeld. The filmography section on his Wikipedia page lists every movie he’s been in with the exception of Night Ripper! Here at Missile Test, we consider that a glaring omission. Someone out there is trying to make the internet forget that he was in this dirty dog of a movie. It wasn’t Larry, as his account doesn’t list edits to his filmography. I’d add it to his page myself, but the only unpaid work I do online anymore is for this lovely website. Anyway…
Night Ripper! is not one of those SOV horror flicks that sprung from the mind of some horror fans out in flyover country. No, this is a Hollywood production, with many different departments and many different crew members. What it doesn’t have is a list of cast members in the credits alongside their corresponding character names, and only three have photos on IMDb, so I’ll be making my best guesses as to who played which role.
James Hansen (I think) plays Dave, who, along with Mitch (definitely Larry Thomas), owns a photography lab and studio. Older readers will remember this type of store, where folks could go and have their film developed, or get some glamour shots taken for their significant other.
Business seems to be good. But, a serial killer has been terrorizing the neighborhood, mutilating women with the same ferocity and surgical skill as Jack the Ripper.
When a customer and neighbor of Mitch ends up being one of the victims, suspicion falls on him. He doesn’t help his cause by being extraordinarily creepy. He admits to being fascinated with the case, claiming to be following it closely in the newspapers. Later, it’s revealed that before he went into the photography business, he was a butcher.
I’m going to spoil things. He’s not the killer. His character is a ham-handed attempt at misdirection. Hathcock must have been hoping that setting Mitch up as the prime suspect would cause much surprise and gasping from viewers, but anyone older than eight wouldn’t buy Mitch as the killer for a second. No matter, though. Thomas’s over-the-top performance as a weirdo is the best part of this movie.
There’s a love story, between Dave and another customer named Jill (I have no idea who played her, so let’s just say it was April Anne, as she has second-billing in the cast). The only reason this relationship exists is to put Jill in harm’s way during the final act. There are also a pair of grizzled detectives hunting the killer, but I can’t figure out who played them. Maybe the tougher of the two was Jim Mann. Yeah, that sounds right.
Twists and turns, more killing, denouement, the end. It would be worth the journey if the gore was decent, but it’s not. Or, maybe had there been some gratuitous nudity. Alas, the boys of 1986 would have to have looked elsewhere for their video jollies. A little levity could have helped, as well, but Hathcock instead made a joyless slog of a movie, with the exception of Mitch. His comedy is unintentional, though.
Fans of SOV horror will find Night Ripper! tough going. It had plenty of opportunities to be something outrageous, but Hathcock didn’t seem to have it in him. It might be the only horror film in history, though, where a mannequin, unaltered by anything supernatural or otherwise, gets a kill. So, there’s that.
Night Ripper! stinks. It falls way down into the dark depths of the Watchability Index, into the place where movies have to lure viewers in with a bright light dangling from the end of a lure. It takes over the #389 spot from The Last Exorcism Part II. Stay away.