Wednesday, April 05, 2023

Slasher: Ripper, on Shudder

Thanks to the mysterious “Widow,” the Progressive Era comes early to late Nineteenth Century Toronto. She intends to reform the city’s rich and depraved one severed head or eviscerated body at a time. Nobody is richer or more corrupt than Basil Garvey, the town’s society patron and not-so-secret power-broker, but she will have plenty of guilty parties to work through before she gets to him. It is Det. Kenneth Rijkers’ job to stop her, but the incompetence of his ethically-compromised colleagues will not be helpful in creator-writer Adam MacDonald’s eight-episode Slasher: Ripper, which premieres tomorrow on Shudder.

This is not the first time a serial killer has stalked the streets of Toronto. Twelve years earlier, a maniac dubbed “The Ripper” due to his similarities with Jack the Ripper terrorized the sex workers of the redlight district. Supposedly, he was caught and executed—or so the police and city fathers claimed, so everyone would get back to business as usual. However, Rijkers is not so sure—and The Widow would certainly beg to differ, judging from some of the notes she leaves behind.

In addition to the obvious exploiters of women, she has it in for everyone involved in the frame-up job. She will start by picking-off the lower hanging fruit, assuming she really is a she. Soon, suspicion focuses on Georges Rondeau, a flamboyant magician, who happened to be playing Toronto during the time of the original Ripper (copycat) murders. Meanwhile, Rondeau becomes somewhat obsessed, in a professional way, with Regina Simcoe, the widow of the Widow’s victim from the first episode’s prologue, who apparently displayed genuine spiritual sensitivity during the ostensibly phony séance Rondeau arranged for her.

continues to be a seasonal anthology, in the mold of American Horror Story, but the appearance of Gabriel Darku as Rijkers, who shares a surname with his character in season four, “Solstice,” suggests a distant continuity for fans who might be interested. Nevertheless, the whole point is to allow new viewers to come in without any prior knowledge required.

Based on the first four episodes provided for review, the horror and procedural stuff all really works well. The veiled Widow costume is creepy looking, even if it is not particularly practical for sprinting through back alleys. The problem is the subplot involving Verdi Botticelli, an unfortunate orphan forced to live with her abusive and exploitative half-sisters, regularly kills the momentum.

Fortunately, the seances, magical trappings, and crude forensic autopsies are totally atmospheric and macabrely intriguing. Frankly, Darku does not look very Victorian, but he is terrific conveying Rijkers’ righteous drive. Eric McCormack is credibly smarmy playing against type as the crooked Garvey. Yet, the real standout star is Thom Allison, preening with devilish charm as the mysterious Rondeau.

still has its fair share of slashing, but the tone of the violence feels somewhat less brutal than that of Slasher: Flesh & Blood. It also has a clever homage to Sweeney Todd. The change of eras definitely freshens-up the series, even allowing for hints of other horror genres to creep into the mix. So far, it is better than the previous season. Recommended for fans of Jack-inspired horror, Slasher: Ripper starts streaming tomorrow (4/6) on Shudder.