Hands of the Ripper (1971)

The notorious serial killer who terrorized London in 1888 has been the subject of countless movies not least in adaptations of Marie Belloc Lowndes’ book The Lodger which has had five interpretations alone, with the most notable by Alfred Hitchcock in 1927. Other diverse talents have attempted the tale too such as Jess Franco in 1976 with Kinski in the role of Jack, while the Hughes Brothers adapted Alan Moore’s graphic novel in 2001 and cast Johnny Depp as Abberline – a prominent police figure in the case.

Hammer too have a history with the Whitechapel Murderer with their first foray into horror being Room to Let (Godfrey Grayson, 1950), a working of Margery Allingham’s radio play where a lodger escapes from an asylum where he has resided for 16 years following the well documented series of murders. Even in the same year that Hands of the Ripper was released, Hammer released Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde (Roy Ward Baker, 1971) which although set within the parameters of Robert Louis Stevenson’s story, it incorporated into the plot aspects of the Jack the Ripper case.

As far as Hands of the Ripper is concerned, we could easily file it into the bulging suspension file of overlooked early 70s output from the studio, which is a shame as it deserves some recognition, and thanks to Network this Blu-Ray release is the perfect time for which to bestow it with praise. Missing from the film, most Hammer aficionados will notice a lack of studio pedigree – both contributors to the script and story were working on their first (and last) movie, while lead actor Eric Porter had only been seen in the Hammer fold as Capt. Lansen in The Lost Continent (1968). For Angharad Rees who played Anna it was her debut for the legendary British studio, while Jane Merrow and Keith Bell were also in their inaugural roles for the company.

One area where this certainly wasn’t the case was in the director’s chair where we would find Peter Sasdy. The 46 year old Hungarian cut his teeth on a plethora of TV shows like Emergency-Ward 10 (1959) and Ghost Squad (1963) before entering the Hammer fold with Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970) which was swiftly followed by Countess Dracula (1971). Hands of the Ripper would be his third and final Hammer picture before going on to shoot such iconic stuff as The Stone Tape (1972), before returning to the company in the early 80s for episodes of Hammer House of Horror and Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense.

The story itself concerns itself with a young girl called Anna (Rees) who is the actual daughter of the notorious Jack the Ripper. Some years after the killers demise she finds herself living with a spiritualist medium (Dora Bryan) who uses her during the séances she does to, shall we say – add a bit of credibility. The psychiatrist Dr. Pritchard (Porter) attends one of these séances, but tragically it ends with the death of the medium at Anna’s hands. The doctor, intrigued by Anna’s cause for such destruction is compelled to discover her psychological motivations. To do so, he takes her into his home where she becomes susceptible to continuing her murderous spree whenever the memory of her father is drawn from her subconscious.

The beginning of the 70s was a transitional phase for horror. Audiences were demanding more on-screen gore, and Hammer complied with Hands of the Ripper and it’s plethora of throat slashings and other horrific set pieces. Importantly though, none of this bloodletting gets in the way of Davidson’s sharp screenplay and excellent performances from both Porter and Merrow. Rees is the star though, exhibiting a naivety and an innocence that brings so much to her characterisation of Anna. Despite prominent roles in Under Milk Wood (Andrew Sinclair, 1972) and Poldark (1975-77), Hands of the Ripper was undoubtedly the defining role of her career. In a much maligned period of Hammer output, Sasdy’s film is undoubtedly the shining light. How it’s been so overlooked in the 40-odd years that have passed is genuinely surprising, but hopefully now thanks to this Blu-ray release from Network, it will take its rightful place in the upper echelons of Hammer’s filmography – a place for which it’s very much deserving.

The main extra for this Blu-ray release comes from 2006 – and that’s the commentary from Kim Newman, Stephen Jones and the late Angharad Rees. Despite its appearance on another edition it’s still a fascinating listen with Rees very forthcoming with regards to the production, while both Jones and particularly Newman offer an expected high level of analysis and history.

Elsewhere on the Blu-ray there’s an episode of Brian Clemens’ Thriller called Once the Killing Starts (1974) which sees married college professor Michael Lane (Patrick O’Neal) engaging in an affair with student Stella (Angharad Rees) which leads to sinister goings on. It’s an odd inclusion and presumably only here due to the appearance of Rees, but nevertheless Thriller was a phenomenal series and it’s always a pleasure to catch an episode of this hallowed series. Finally on this disc there’s a multitude of galleries be it production, behind the scenes, portrait and promotional, with an original theatrical trailer to complete the package.

The image quality of this release from Network is solid without being exceptional, though it’s undoubtedly the best transfer you’ll have seen for this film. There is good detail on the Blu-ray – colours are subtle and the image is sharp while the film in general manages to stay true to the look of Hammer pictures from that era. The first of three forthcoming Hammer releases on Blu-ray from Network, Hands of the Ripper is a recommended purchase. It may not contain the bells and whistles that came with other companies Hammer releases, but it’s sensibly priced and provides you with an opportunity to re-examine a classic British horror that deserves some contemporary recognition.

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