In a modern society where serial killers are treated as celebrity, no other murderer has caught the attention of the world as much as Jack the Ripper. His brief, unsolved spree has spawned dozens of theories, just as many books and films even today, over 100 years later, still fascinates a blood thirsty public. Prolific genre scribe William F. Nolan (Logan’s Run) must have shared the same captivation when he spun this time traveling horror tale about the Ripper moving from merry old 1880s England to stifling hot 1980s Arizona. The outcome is a nifty little thriller with a little more bloodshed than you’d expect from a made for television movie.
True story: The infamous London Bridge was sold in the 1970s to an entrepreneur who moved it brick by brick and built a period piece shopping mall (!) next to it! This turned out to have been a great purchase as the Bridge is the 2nd largest tourist attraction in Arizona, after the Grand Canyon.
The bridge has been used in several films, but I am only aware of one film that actually centers on the bridge and its history. Terror at the London Bridge (aka Bridge Across Time) starts with a cloaked madman being chased on the overpass. He is shot and falls into the river… along with one brick from the bridge. Cut to modern day (well, 1985) where the final piece has been sent to Lake Havasu to complete the reconstruction. This brick apparently holds the essence of the maniac who spilled into the river with it. One random accident with a tourist bleeding on the rock occurs, and said crazed killer is released. Big-city-cop-gone-small-town-cop Don Gregory (David Hasselhoff in a great performance) is assigned to find a missing woman, who is quickly found floating in the lake with a slit throat by Angie (Stepfanie Kramer). Being an off-the-cuff kind of cop, Gregory does is best to think outside the box when his boss Chief Dawson (the awesomest Clu Gulager) tries to mark the murder as a one off transient killing. Soon after, an intrepid reporter named Elaine (Lindsay Bloom) goes missing and then hot to trot librarian Lynn (Adrienne Barbeau in huge shoulder padded dresses) also winds up in the river. Meanwhile, two Brits have shown up in town. One acts creepy and wears a dark suit. The other is sweet and kind and has a fabulous ascot. Which one is the Ripper? Well, if you ever taken Red Herring 101, then surely you know.
Terror originally aired on NBC on November 22nd, 1985, making it a fairly late entry into the made for television horror genre. It’s a pretty good addition with swift dialog, fine acting and a little bit of the red stuff to keep its audience interested. The story is a bit wild, but delivered with straight faced aplomb from a cast who seem genuine enough that it makes the fantasy elements a bit easier to swallow. Director E.W. Swackhamer (Night Terror) & cinematographer Gil Hubbs (Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones) paint a fairly epic looking picture, giving it a feel of a theatrical. Nolan, who was an incredible force in the 70s also penned the underrated TVM The Norliss Tapes & the big screen creepfest Burnt Offerings. I interviewed Nolan a few years ago, and I recall how pleased he was with Hasselhoff’s portrayal of Don Gregory. I am inclined to concur, Hasselhoff is very good here and a lot of fun to watch. He’s helped out by a wonderful supporting cast including Kramer, Gulager & Barbeau as well as Randolph Mantooth (how I love that man!), Ken Swofford (who also appeared with Gulager in the awesome Hunter’s Blood), Rose Marie (!) and Lane Smith.
Terror was released on vhs in 1990 and sadly, remains one of only a handful of television horror movies to get a home video release. TV movies always get the short end of the stick and often go unappreciated (or are only held at kitsch value) and that’s a sad state. Sure, there are other TVMs that deserve a release more than this, but as it stands, it remains one of the shining examples of a sub-genre long since passed.