The infant daughter of Jack the Ripper is witness to the brutal murder of her mother by her father. Fifteen years later she is a troubled young woman who is seemingly possessed by the spirit of her father. She continues his murderous killing spree subconsciously but has no recollection of the events afterwards as they are triggered by either bright lights or certain physical movements. A sympathetic psychiatrist is convinced he can cure her condition & takes her in. He soon begins to regret his decision.
Just released by Synapse films in a feature packed Blu Ray disc, “Hands Of The Ripper” is one of the more obscure films released by Hammer Studios in the 1970’s but it’s a hidden gem that deserves to be seen by a new audience who would seriously appreciate a film that not only features a story that some consider to be the first true slasher film of the decade but some really gory murder scenes that had to have audiences covering their eyes in fright when it originally hit the silver screen.
Directed by Hammer stalwart Peter Sasdy, Hands Of The Ripper tells the story of young Anna (Angharad Rees), who just so happens to be the daughter of Jack The Ripper and witnesses her dad kill her mom right in front of her eyes (All of this takes place in the opening sequence of the film). Cut to fifteen years later and although we never find out what happened to her dad, Anna is living with Mrs. Golding (Dora Bryan), a “Medium” who is a fake & also uses Anna for paid trysts with older men. During one such tryst with a member of parliament named Dysart (Derek Godfrey) in which he gives her a glittery piece of jewelry she falls into a trance and murders Golding with a fireplace poker through her chest. Anna has no memory of the incident immediately afterwards & is rescued from prison by Dr. John Pritchard (Eric Porter), who believes that Anna is suffering from Schizophrenia and takes her into his home ostensibly to get her off of the streets but in actuality to study her & her problems.
Although Dysart is seen running from the building after Mrs. Golding’s murder by Dr. Pritchard, He’s let off the hook in a police investigation so that he can provide Pritchard with as much information he can scrounge up regarding Anne. As Dysart is a member of Parliament, he has access to files & folders that might shed some light on Anna’a condition. Pritchard warns Dysart that if he fails to keep his end of the bargain he’ll let the police know that he indeed see Dysart running from the home directly after Mrs. Golding was murdered. Dysart complies…for the time being.
Meanwhile Pritchard’s son Michael (Keith Bell) is anxiouslkt awaiting the arrival of his fiance Laura (Jane Merrow) so that they can be married. Laura is blind but hardly incapable of taking care of herself and the couple plan to be married a few days after her arrival. Michael seems a bit puzzled as to why his father has taken in Anna but as he’s far too busy getting ready for his wedding he hasn’t the time to properly vet both his dad and Anna’s relationship. Initially Anna charms everyone she comes across with her winsome smile & gratitude but Anna keeps getting triggered to kill by some innocent gesture or bright light that reminds her of the night her dad murdered her mother. And when that happens, people die!
Hands Of The Ripper is one of the strongest films ever released by Hammer if you’re judging it on it’s violence. Anna slashes throats, impales bodies and stabs eyes out of heads with a vigor rarely seen by an actress in a horror film from any studio. The beautiful Rees gives Anna a near childlike quality (When she’s not murdering anyone) that makes her eventual fate all the more tragic. Her eyes glaze over most convincingly as she hears her father’s voice urging her to kill again & again & again! Porter, who appeared in one of my favorite Hammer films of all time (“The Lost Continent” 1968) gives an extremely measured performance as Dr. Pritchard in which the relationship between himself and Anna begins as a professional one (He’s just heard of a doctor named Freud (!) who’s done some groundbreaking work on the human psyche) but the lines begin to fade etween the two of them as the film continues with Pritchard actually enabling Anna in her murderous ways by not admitting to the police that she’s the killer.
It seemed to me that the relationship between the two felt a lot like the relationship between Dr. Frankenstein and his monster, at least towards the end of the film. Although Pritchard didn’t “Create” Anna he certainly didn’t really try to stop her and began to look at her as a father would his daughter. And in doing so, Pritchard also protected her much as a father would his daughter as well (At least until the end when he makes his feelings quite clear to Anna and the audience).
The film is more of a psychological thriller than an out and out slasher film but the extreme violence portrayed within makes it hard to classify it as anything but a slasher film. But it’s executed so well that no matter how one looks at it, you can’t come away as anything less than pleased! The moody cinematography (By Kenneth Talbot) makes the streets of London both inviting & revolting at the same time & the acting from all involved is of the highest caliber ever to be featured in a Hammer film. Especially wonderful are the exchanges between Pritchard & Dysart with both Porter and Godfrey going at each other like a pair of fighters in the ring, slowly circling around each other waiting for the other to drop his hands for just a second to land a crushing blow. It’s obvious that they were having a grand time playing off of each other in such a broad yet understated way.
Synapse films did a wonderful job in bringing the film to blu ray for the first time as well! Te picture quality is of the highest order with sharp picture detail and little to no film grain marring the imagery. There is also a really informative featurette called “The Devil’s Bloody Plaything: Possessed by Hands of the Ripper” in which Hammer historians like Kim Newman and Richard Clemenson wax nostalgic about what Hammer studios was like back then and the production of this film. Director Joe Dante and the editor of Video Watchdog magazine Tim Lucas also lend a helping hand with some tidbits about the production. For instance, no one knows who the actor that played Jack The Ripper is! He’s not credited in the film and no one seems to recognize his face today!
If you’re not a fan of any of the films in the Hammer canon then firstly I have to ask what the hell is wrong with you? Secondly, I have to tell you that although it doesn’t feature either Peter Cushing or Christopher Lee, Hands Of The Ripper would be a damn fine film for you to start educating yourself on the films from the groundbreaking British studio. It features everything one would want from both a good psychological mystery and a slasher film: A great plot, fine acting and gore galore! What more could you ask for?
Hands of the Ripper is now available per Synapse Films on bluray
Hands Of The Ripper – 4 out of 5 shrouds.
Hands Of The Ripper (1971)