Hands of the Ripper (1971) | Hammer’s ripping yarn is a grisly, stylish affair
THE RIPPER STRIKES AGAIN?
In the autum of 1888 the infant Anna watches as her father, the infamous Jack the Ripper, brutally murders her mother, after which he kisses her and leaves. Years later, the orphaned Anna (Angharad Rees) is now under the care of a fake psychic (Dora Bryan) and has been forced into prostitution. When the psychic is found gorily impaled on a spike, psychiatrist Dr John Pritchard (Eric Porter) suspects Anna killed her.
And he’s right, for whenever light reflections and an embrace coincide, Anna goes into a trance-like state and stabs whoever touches her. Unaware of this trigger and wanting to cure her homicidal impulses using new Freudian techniques, Pritchard takes Anna under his wing and into his home. But as the murders continue, Pritchard unwittingly puts himself and all those under his roof in mortal peril…
A NEW TERROR-FILLED X FILM
In Hands of the Ripper, director Peter Sasdy, who also helmed the excellent Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970) and the troublesome Countess Dracula (1971), gave Hammer his finest feature. Sasdy stages his Freudian-inspired psycho horror with suspenseful precision and lends the proceedings a perversely incestuous aura, which plays out through the paternal Pritchard’s obsessive desire to penetrate Anna’s mind. According to critic Phil Hardy, in his Encyclopedia of Horror Movies, this is also Sasdy’s reply to Michael Powell’s sadistic voyeuristic thriller Peeping Tom (1960), in which he makes Anna the victim of her father’s perversion, who then compulsively turns any expression of love into ‘spectacularly staged lethal penetrations’ (*). It’s a quite a mature, serious offering from Hammer and Sasdy, and grimer than horror fans had expected at the time.
The film’s Victorian sets and décor (left over from Billy Wilder’s The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes) and cinematographer Kenneth Talbot’s muted colour palette gives the film an authentic period look, while each grisly killing is executed in surprisingly stylish fashion, albeit quite shocking. Indeed, the violence is most graphic ever to appear in a Hammer horror with one scene, in which Lynda Baron’s lesbian prostitute gets a handful of hat-pins in her eye, not fit for US censors. The film was also banned in Finland and Norway because of its violence. For the film’s climax, the Whispering Gallery in St Paul’s Cathedral was recreated at Pinewood after the film-makers were refused permission to film there.
In the UK, Hands of the Ripper ended up as the support feature for Twins of Evil, the third entry in Hammer’s Karnstein trilogy, and never really got the praise it deserved. Thankfully, its home entertainment release on Blu-ray and DVD from Network in the UK and Synapse in the US gives newcomers the chance to revisit what is undoubtedly one of the last masterpieces from Hammer. Director Sasdy would go on to helm another classic in its own right, the 1972 TV play, The Stone Tape – now that’s a frightfest indeed.
THE UK BLU-RAY RELEASE
Hands of the Ripper is presented on Blu-ray in a High Definition transfer made from original film elements in its as-exhibited theatrical aspect ratio as part of Network Distributing’s The British Film collection. The extras are the same that appeared on Network’s 2006 Special Edition DVD release: an audio commentary with the late Angharad Rees (who died aged 68 in 2012 from cancer) and horror historians Kim Newman and Stephen Jones, an episode from the Thriller TV series, Once the Killing Starts starring Rees, theatrical trailer, gallery and commemorative booklet.
(*) The Encyclopedia of Horror Movies, Phil Hardy, 1986
The Hammer Vault, Marcus Hearn, 2011
Posted on August 17, 2014, in Cult classic, Hammer-Amicus-Tigon, Horror, Must See, Must-See and tagged 1970s British horror, Angharad Rees, Blu-ray release, British Film, Cult classic, Eric Porter, Hammer horror, Hammer-Amicus-Tigon, Hands of the Ripper, Horror, Jack the Ripper, Must See, Network Distributing, Peter Sasdy, The British Film, The British Film Collection. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.