Saturday, July 14, 2012

Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper

Anthology series were big in the late 1950s, early 1960s. The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits are probably the two best remembered by fans of the macabre. But there was another series, one said to be edgier and scarier than the other two, called Thriller. Hosted by former Frankenstein monster, Boris Karloff, Thriller featured episodes based on the works of such noted writers of the weird and scary as Richard Matheson, Cornell Woolrich, and even Robert E. Howard. Stephen King has called Thriller "the best horror series ever put on TV." I've seen very few episodes of the series, but what I have seen has been impressive. The other day Cliff recomended the episode YOURS TRULY, JACK THE RIPPER, based on the short story of the same name by Robert Bloch, author of the book that became the movie Psycho. I sat down and gave it a watch last night and I have to say, half a century after it was first broadcast, it still carries considerable punch. There's one scene that takes place in a graveyard that I just about guarantee will give you a jolt. It did me. Of course after watching the show I wanted to re-read the short story. I figured I had it somewhere but I had to do some digging. Turned up in the excellent collection THE DARK DESCENT, a volume recommended to me last fall by John Hocking. Thanks, John. I knew I had read the story years ago, but remembered little about it. Rereading it, I saw that the TV show had done a pretty decent job of adapting the story, adding a few scenes, but keeping the basic story, and using much of the dialog from Bloch's original. The main idea is that Jack the Ripper wasn't a madman or really even a serial killer. Instead he was a sorcerer or necromancer, who used blood sacrifices, committed at certain times of the year, when the stars were right, to recieve eternal youth from the dark gods. So Jack is still alive and well in 1943 when the story originally appeared in Weird Tales magazine, and in 1961, when the television adaptation was aired on Thriller. Presumably he could live idefinitely, which brings me to my next thought. Any of you who are fans of the original Star Trek probably remember an episode called WOLF IN THE FOLD, where Scotty was accused of a series of Jack the Ripper style murders on the planet Argelius II. The real murderer turns out to be an immortal being comprised of energy, that feeds on violent emotions such as fear. The entity is known at the time as Redjac, and the narrative strongly implies that Redjac was originally Jack the Ripper. this episode was written by Robert Bloch and is basically a SF retelling of YOURS TRULY, JACK THE RIPPER. Bloch wrote a sort of sequel to YOURS TRULY years later called A TOY FOR JULIETTE, and Harlan Ellison wrote sort of a sequel to that called THE PROWLER IN THE CITY AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD. However neither of these stories is a direct sequel, and neither of them provide a specific link between YOURS TRULY and WOLF. Plotting machine that I am, I immediately extrapolated an idea for a story explaining how the necromancer is transformed into a being of pure energy, and thus becomes the entity known as Redjac. (I do not have time to write fan fiction. I do not have time to...) Anyway, I very much enjoyed the short story and the episode of Thriller. In something of an odd coincidence, I received one of Robert Block's books in the mail today, the Lovecraftian novel, STRANGE EONS. More on that later.

4 comments:

Keith said...

When it came to short fiction, Bloch had few equals. I'm going to have to get my hands on episodes of THRILLER. I love the anthology format.

Charles R. Rutledge said...

Agreed, Keith. Bloch's short fiction was top notch. I need to watch more thriller too.

Riju said...

All these fiction penned by Bloch concerning Jack The Ripper have now been compiled by Subterranean Press. I am enclosing a alink for ready reference: http://subterraneanpress.com/store/product_detail/yours_truly_jack_the_ripper

Charles R. Rutledge said...

Very cool, Riju. Thanks for the link!