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For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Jan. 22, 2016

Editor’s Note: Before he became a middle-aged TV star (on ‘Boston Legal’ and ‘The Blacklist’), James Spader starred and co-starred in myriad movies, many of them pretty bad but some pretty good. This title, which marks his first starring role, is better than most, although it failed to ignite his box-office potential at the time. There was a VHS release in 1998 but a new Blu-ray/DVD combo from the Shout! Factory marks its first time on a disc. This review ran in the Deseret News on July 1, 1988.

James Spader, an underrated actor who has flourished in supporting roles in recent years (“Less Than Zero,” “Bright Lights, Big City,” “Baby Boom”) has finally gotten his first starring role — and he runs with it.

You may expect “Jack’s Back” to be a run-of-the-mill sleazeball slasher picture, but it is actually much better than that.

The story has a copycat series of Jack the Ripper murders taking place in a Los Angeles slum area where idealistic medical student John Wesford (Spader) is working in a free clinic. The killings are taking place 100 years to the day after the murders attributed to the Ripper in 1888 London, and they are also being repeated in precisely the same manner.


           James Spader, 'Jack's Back'

That means that on this night the final murder, of a pregnant prostitute in her own room, will take place — and the police are working overtime to prevent it.

John, unfortunately, stumbles upon that murder, and — in a shocking turn of events — becomes the chief suspect.

At this point the focus shifts to John’s twin brother Rick (also played by Spader), the black sheep of the family. He hasn’t seen his brother in a couple of years but he becomes obsessed with clearing his name — and the film really begins to take off.

To say too much more about the events portrayed here would give far too much away, and it is the twists and turns that build the suspense in this picture.


            James Spader, Cynthia Gibb, 'Jack's Back'

However, it is James Spader’s fine performances in both roles, as decidedly different characters, that gives the film its anchor. This movie should bring him to the attention of producers who will showcase him in bigger films in the future.

The supporting cast is also good, and writer-director Rowdy Herrington shows a good feeling for rounding out characters, even in a low-budget exploitation effort like this one. His script has some nice shifts (though the resolution in the final scenes is a bit disappointing) and his direction is generally sharp, especially for an excruciating scene where a man is strangled, then hanged so that his death looks like a suicide.

That scene has a Hitchcockian tension to it, and the blood and violence in general is rather restrained. “Jack’s Back” still deserves its R rating, however, in particular for a lot of profanity.