Reviewed by Patrick Cooper
Produced when Hammer Films was trying to reinvent itself in the face of more successful, subtle Hollywood horror films, Hands of the Ripper was their attempt to rejuvenate the Jack the Ripper mythos with a psychological thriller approach – although Jack has little to do with the story. While the film is in no way subtle, there are long periods in between bright bursts of gruesome violence where characters discuss Freudian psychology. So I guess that’s the “psychological” aspect of the thriller. That’s as deep as she goes though.
Anna (Angharad Rees) was unfortunately born from the seed of Jack the Ripper. When she was but a child, she witnessed Daddy Ripper murder her mother by firelight. Fast forward a decade and Anna is orphaned, under the care of a devilish phony psychic who pimps her out to the local grey-haired well-to-dos. Following a murder in her caretaker’s house, Anna is taken in by the headstrong Dr. Pritchard, a psychoanalyst who wishes to get to the bottom of her homicidal blackouts.
While the film never really delves into the mythology of the Ripper, it does offer up some entertaining thrills and well-acted characters – all very melodramatic, in true Hammer fashion. As Dr. Pritchard, Eric Porter delivers an equal balance of Victorian naivety and scientific gusto – even if he never actually gets around to psychoanalyzing Anna. He talks a big game about analyze this and Freud that, but he never does much of anything but restrain Anna and give her a pretty dress to wear.
The film’s many conventions can be seen as prototypes of the slasher boom that was come – there are even POV cuts during some of the kills. It’s clear that Hungarian director Peter Sasdy was greatly inspired by the giallos and they’re over-the-top penchant for stabbings and stalking. There are some great moments of inspiration on display that hint at a talented director restrained by budget. The finale within St. Paul’s Cathedral in London is particularly well-done and darkly graceful.
While it may not be a Hammer classic, Hands of the Ripper is worthy of another look. And thanks to the Synapse Films, this other look is very kick ass.
Hands of the Ripper is presented in 1080p HD in 1.66:1 widescreen. Synapse has wiped away any obvious blemishes, but has thankfully left the grain intact. The colors are pretty natural and muted, so nothing really pops besides the blood, which contrasts nicely against the shadows.
The original mono soundtrack is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. Dialogue and effects sound fine but there are some deviations in quality. That can only be blamed on the source though, so quit whining.
The Devil’s Bloody Plaything: Possessed by the Hands of the Ripper: in this 28-minute retrospective, Hammer scholars, actors, and some of the crew discuss a variety of topics, including the work of producer Aida Young, who paid her dues at Hammer for a long time as a continuity girl before being allowed to produce, and the themes of the film. Sasdy talks about casting Angharad Rees for Anna and how they worked around not being allowed in St. Paul’s. One interesting note is that no one knows who the hell played Jack the Ripper in the pre-credit sequence. Like how nobody knows who the real Ripper was, weird!
Slaughter of Innocence: The Evolution of Hammer Gore: this slide-show collects various gory images from Hammer’s history.
U.S. Television Introduction: this really bizarre, audio-only track consists of a psychiatrist introducing the film as an adaptation of an academic paper he’s written. In his dry voice, the fictional doctor expresses sympathy for schizophrenics – “a black plague of the mind,” as he calls it.
Trailers, TV Spots