‘Warning! When the Ripper slashes – grab your throats and pray!’
Knife for the Ladies is a 1974 horror western mystery film directed by Larry G. Spangler from a screenplay by George Arthur Bloom and Seton I. Miller.
A mutilating knife wielding killer haunts the small Southwest desert town of Mescal. Though most victims have been prostitutes, the first was Travis Mescal, the only son of the town’s first family.
When the Sheriff proves unable to solve the case, the town leaders invite Investigator Burns to unravel the mystery. Along the way, he confronts tension with the Sheriff, trouble with some citizens, and finally a killer whose motive we’ve heard before in Ripper-lore…
Nineteen-seventy-four was a pivotal year in the development of the slasher film. But enough about Black Christmas and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Also released, to a clamour of indifference, was this torpid murder mystery, also known as Silent Sentence, for no apparent reason, and Jack the Ripper Goes West, which is no less misleading.
So poorly paced that it sags even at 86 minutes (for a later release it was chopped down to under an hour), the plot follows a chain of stabbings in the Old West town of Mescal, where the grouchy sheriff reluctantly aids a hotshot detective to crack the case.
The western setting is elementary – it was shot on the Old Tucson lot, there are actors and extras milling about, flatly intoning clunky dialogue (“This has got to be the work of a madman”), but no sense of time or place. It is difficult to convey a period feel when lead actor Jeff Cooper looks as if he would rather be surfing or singing soft-rock ballads.
The kill scenes are similarly perfunctory, as well as tame, and the central mystery is not exactly taxing, although the revelation of the killer’s identity and motive belatedly injects some manic energy into proceedings. The overall impression is of people going through the motions, from Larry G. Spangler’s sluggish direction, to the indifferent acting – the exceptions being Jack Elam’s typically eccentric turn as the aggrieved sheriff, and Richard Schaal’s mannered portrayal of the town’s mortician, the one red herring of note.
Even the soundtrack suggests a production pieced together without much thought – the film opens with synthesized whines that echo the period’s experimental electronica, and closes with a full-throated psychedelic rock song. In between, the music is recycled from Dominic Frontiere’s bombastic score to the 1968 Clint Eastwood western Hang ’Em High.
For a western with slasher/giallo tropes, a far superior offering is the 1972 Italian film The Price of Death, with Gianni Garko as a Sartana-like sleuth and Klaus Kinski as a scornful murder suspect.
Kevin Grant, HORRORPEDIA – read more horror western movie reviews here
Other reviews [may contain spoilers]:
“With a little more weirdo sleaze, Jack the Ripper Goes West could’ve been a mindless delight. The concept was there. Instead, we get a mundane jog through the utmost minimum in horror and western clichés, but without any trash distinction. If the talk doesn’t kill you, the horn section will.” Joseph A. Ziemba, Bleeding Skull!
“It’s obvious the filmmakers are trying for something different with its multi-genre machinations, but fails at satisfying a single one of them. There’s not enough sleaze for the drive-in lovers nor enough shootouts for western fans; and the dramatic moments that dominate the talky mid-section will serve only the most tolerant fan of drive-in fare.” Brian Bankston, Cool Ass Cinema
” …it’s certainly unpredictable, though it does have the problem that there aren’t many suspects to choose from after a bit because they keep dying off. Besides, there’s something I’ve always found likeable about Jack Elam’s ugly mug wherever it appears, and he adds a good deal of fun to the movie.” Dave Sindelar, Fantastic Movie Musings and Ramblings
” …undecided if it should go whole-hog mystery or horror or whathaveyou. No amount of eye candy from Diana Ewing (Play It as It Lays) or glee gained from the bonkers performance of Ruth Roman (The Baby) can make up for Spangler’s cattle-drive pacing, which is why the funny ending isn’t worth the sit to get there.” Rod Lott, Flick Attack
“The writing here is solid and we don’t have many goofy lines, though Elam and Roman are so colorful a good deal of their dialogue stands out in some way. This is a straight up murder mystery that never veers into crazy parameters, though the finale is likely a shock to most viewers.” Marc Fusion
” …this often talky and very strange film will definitely appeal most to ’70s pop culture junkies. However, if you’re looking for sleaze there’s a bit to be found here thanks to some bloody knifings and a truly unhinged climax that swerves violently into Andy Milligan territory.” Nathaniel Thompson, Mondo Digital
“Generic and unremarkable, but not awful. The look of the production, the dialogue, and the acting all resemble a TV western show; Gene Evans (Devil Times Five) even turns up for a scene. It’s an odd mix of Western and whodunit that doesn’t really jibe…” Watching Horror
Ainsley: “Travis was horribly mutilated”
Cast and characters:
- Jack Elam … Sheriff Jarrod Garret – Creature from Black Lake
- Ruth Roman … Elizabeth – The Baby; The Killing Kind
- Jeff Cooper … Burns
- John Kellogg … Hollyfield
- Gene Evans … Virgil Hooker – Devil Times Five; The Giant Behemoth; Donovan’s Brain
- Richard Schaal – Ainslie, the mortician
- Diana Ewing … Jenny
- Derek Sanderson … Lute
- Jon Spangler … Seth
- Fred Biletnikoff … Horace
- Pater Athas … Travis
- Hank Kendrick … Fairchild
- Pat Herrera … Nina
- Phil Avenetti … Ramon
- Brooke Tucker … Myra
- Bob Lien … J.B. Mullin
- Kit Kendrick … Cora
- Al Hassan … Riley
- Jean Wall … Lettie
- Greg Little … Amos
- Norm Tempas … First Rider
- Dene Pettinger … 2nd Rider
- Bud Stout … Driver
Death Rides a Horse: Horror Westerns – article
From Hell to the Wild West (2018)