A Study in Terror

Starring: John Neville
Fremantle Home Entertainment
RRP: 12.99
Certificate: 15
Available 28 March 2005

The year is 1888, and Jack the Ripper is terrorising London's East End by murdering prostitutes. The one man capable of solving these grisly crimes is the super-sleuth Sherlock Holmes. His only clues are the locations of the killings and a mysterious box containing a selection of surgical instruments and bearing the crest of a well-to-do family...

I like the tagline on the cover of this DVD: "For the first time ever, Sherlock Holmes meets Jack the Ripper". It makes it sound as though the pair of them have since got together on a regular basis! "Morning, Ripper." "Morning, Holmes."

That's an exaggeration, yet writers Derek and Donald Ford and director James Hill would not be the last ones to pit the most famous fictional criminologist of the Victorian age against the most infamous criminal of that same era. In the late 1970s, the movie Murder by Decree (starring Christopher Plummer) and the novel The Last Sherlock Holmes Story (by Michael Dibdin) would do exactly the same thing.

A Study in Terror is a better Sherlock Holmes story than it is a Jack the Ripper story. Though the detective's deductive reasoning is strongly in evidence, and he is well portrayed by John Neville (The X-Files, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen), details of the real-life Ripper case are few and far between. Whereas both Murder by Decree and The Last Sherlock Holmes Story make good use of the notorious letters and graffiti that were allegedly written by the Ripper, Holmes sees only one letter from the killer in this movie.

The rest of the cast includes some real star names of British cinema, such as Anthony Quayle as Dr Murray (he would go on to play a different character in Murder by Decree), Frank Finlay as Inspector Lestrade (he would reprise the role in Murder), Barbara Windsor (no doubt checking out the environs for her future East End role) and Judi Dench. As Dr John Watson, Donald Houston doesn't really get much of a chance to shine, since there is very little for the good doctor to do, with Holmes taking the lion's share of the action. However, Robert Morley is perfect in both appearance and manner as Holmes' cleverer but indolent older brother Mycroft - he and Sherlock exchange some entertainingly snide banter.

The only extra is the original theatrical trailer, but then one doesn't expect many special features on such a cheaply priced DVD. Far less forgivable is the quality of the main feature itself, the film print of which, in the typical style of Fremantle releases, has not been cleaned up or restored in any way at all. There's some particularly bad film damage in evidence in places.

Nevertheless, there's plenty to enjoy if you're a Holmes fan - that is, if you can believe anything that the actor who played Baron Munchausen and The X-Files's Well-manicured Man says!

Richard McGinlay

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