Question: I've read about a movie called Black the Ripper that was supposedly made in 1975 and is on the "10 most wanted" lists of all kinds of collectors. But some people say it doesn't even exist: Can you shed any light on this perplexing situation? Dana
Flickchick: This is a fascinating question. Black the Ripper is supposed to have been written and directed by the late Frank R. Saletri (1928-82) and released near the end of a mini-cycle of blaxploitation movies that started with Blacula (1972) and includes Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde (1976); Black Werewolf (1974, actually The Beast Must Die, retitled); Abby (1974), a nearly scene-for-scene remake of The Exorcist with an African-American cast; Sugar Hill and her Zombie Hitmen (1974); J.D.'s Revenge (1976); the jaw-droppingly peculiar horror-comedy Petey Wheatstraw, the Devil's Son-in-Law (1977), starring chitlin-circuit comedian Rudy Ray Moore; Black Voodoo (1977, actually Nurse Sherri with a new title); and Blackenstein (1972), which Saletri wrote and produced. It appears that Saletri actually placed a Variety ad announcing that Black the Ripper was in pre-production; I say "it appears" because although I haven't been able to track down a copy, a good friend swears he remembers seeing it around the same time he saw an ad for Ilsa Meets Bruce Lee in the Devil's Triangle, and I have seen that ad (probably needless to say, that insane project was never made). Several actors' names are associated with reports of Black the Ripper, and I was able to speak with one, Liz Renay, who had a small but memorable role in Blackenstein. Renay ran away from home as a teenager and became a WWII-era showgirl, dated gangster Mickey Cohen and was incarcerated from 1959 to '63 for perjuring herself at his tax-evasion trial. She wrote her autobiography, My Face for the World to See, while in jail and upon her release she reinvented herself as a stripper and cult actress; Renay's roles include the lead in John Waters' Desperate Living. Renay said cheerfully, "I know nothing about Black the Ripper, but I could see Frank wanting to do something like that. He was into that kind of scary stuff and he always had a pile-up of projects he never got to." Renay would have been game to be in Black the Ripper if Saletri had asked. "He was such a nice man," she recalls, "and I had a wonderful time making Blackenstein. I played a murder victim; I was in bed and I heard a noise, so I went investigating in my little negligee... it was transparent and very sexy. Anyway, I went looking and then Blackenstein got me. I had my throat torn out and they put a piece of raw liver across my neck to look like a gaping wound. The bad part was lying dead on the floor with my eyes open. I managed not to blink, but I was so happy when they called 'Cut.' I was dying to blink!" At least one of Saletri's ideas made it to the script stage: I recently bought a copy of his screenplay for Sherlock Holmes in the Adventure of the Golden Vampire, which Saletri reportedly wanted to make with shock rocker Alice Cooper playing Dracula. Renay also shared some details about Saletri's death in 1982. "He was murdered and they never solved the mystery; they said he was killed 'gangland' style and that it must have been someone he knew, because his little guard dog never barked. He had a little dog and a .45 because in addition to his movies and other projects he wanted to branch out into publishing and was doing a coffee-table book about me he was a big criminal lawyer and had to be careful. I called his house and instead of him answering the phone, someone said, 'Homicide.' I couldn't believe it, but he said Frank had been killed and the house was a crime scene; it was a terrible shock. Frank was killed in Bela Lugosi's mansion, which he bought because he loved spooky stuff."