“One day, men will look back and say that I gave birth to the 20th century.” – Terror at London Bridge (1985)
This extremely weird made-for-TV movie about Jack the Ripper with an incredibly made-for-TV cast including Adrienne Barbeau, Clu Gulager, and David Hasselfhoff takes as its jumping-off point the true fact that the whole-ass London Bridge was relocated to Lake Havasu City, Arizona at the end of the 1960s.
For those (like myself) to whom this is Brand New Information, a little history lesson is in order. In 1831, a new bridge was built in London over the River Thames to replace the medieval one. This new London Bridge was designed by John Rennie and completed by his son of the same name. It served its purpose for more than a century, but by 1962 it was beginning to show its age. (There’s a traditional song about London Bridge falling down, after all, though it massively predates the bridge’s 1962 problems or, indeed, Rennie’s bridge itself.)
The City of London needed to replace the bridge with a newer model. Enter Robert P. McCulloch, an entrepreneur who was having trouble attracting buyers to the more than 3,000 acres of land he had acquired as part of the planned community of Lake Havasu City. McCulloch bought the London Bridge off the City of London for the equivalent of $2.46 million and arranged to have the whole thing shipped over and reconstructed in the middle of the Arizona desert.
This new/old London Bridge in Arizona was made of concrete underneath, with the original bridge stones used as cladding. Around it was built an “English Village,” essentially an open-air mall and tourist trap designed to look like, well, England. This unlikely but very real place provides the setting for our film, which also goes by such titles as Bridge Across Time and Arizona Ripper.
According to the movie, Jack the Ripper was slain in 1888 during a fall off the London Bridge. In the course of it, he took one piece of the bridge’s masonry with him to the bottom of the Thames. When the missing piece is recovered and replaced on the bridge in Arizona, a bit of blood gets on it and brings Saucy Jack back to life, where he resumes his killing spree, and it’s up to David Hasselhoff to stop him.
(For the purposes of the film, the missing piece of masonry isn’t recovered and installed until 1985, when the movie takes place. This is creative license, as the actual bridge was completed in 1971 and, thus far, no cursed piece of additional masonry has been appended.)
This delightfully off-kilter idea comes to us from prolific genre scribe William F. Nolan. A Kansas City native who may be best known for co-writing the novel Logan’s Run, Nolan also contributed to innumerable other projects, including the screenplay for Burnt Offerings and the teleplay for a much better-known TV movie, Trilogy of Terror.
The result is one of those slow-moving TV movies that feels like a tourist ad for Lake Havasu City, in spite of all the murders and the ripped-from-Jaws subplot about the city council trying to downplay everything in order to keep the tourist business booming. We are treated to lots of loving shots of the English Village and the beautiful, if stark, landscape around Lake Havasu.
Among the various attractions around the newly restored London Bridge, the one we spend the most time with is a wax museum Chamber of Horrors, continuing the long and fruitful symbiotic connection between Jack the Ripper and wax museums. This one is nicely Halloween-y, and makes me wish that the place was still open today, so that I could go visit. Since it probably isn’t, however, and even if it was, it would no longer look like this, long sequences set in it, with proper TV movie lighting, will have to do.
The cumulative outcome of Terror at London Bridge is perhaps more interesting than good, but it has that TV movie quality that I find very comfortable, and some nice moments of atmosphere, often existing around that wax museum, or the eponymous bridge itself. And while the quote that I used to anchor this post is obviously from Alan Moore’s From Hell, rather than Terror at London Bridge, there is a moment in the movie when David Hasselhoff and Stepfanie Kramer go to a nightclub and dance to a song whose only lyric appears to be “just a modern man,” repeated over and over again.