Hands of the Ripper (1971) – By Baron Craze


Hammer Films Studio had their notable director Peter Sasdy take the helm of Hands of the Ripper, and turned it into a lasting quality made horror film, however his talents also extended to other films for this legendary studio, such as Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970) and Countess Dracula (1971). This studio took many famous monsters from the larger studios, and presented each in rich crisp glory on the screens around the world, and their work in the horror genre, still garnishes them with a legion of ever growing fans and followers. Although the film bases the route of itself on the original story by Edward Spencer Shew, the screenwriter L.W. Davidson presented a script that left very little of the story in place for the final film.

The world of cinema, especially regarding the horror genre, by the 60s and early 70s changed the nature of how production scaled itself from making and updating psychological thrillers and horror stories, learning the lessons from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) and The Birds (1963) and understanding what the audience craved from the industry. This particular movie, centers itself on a young and fragile woman named Anna (Angharad Rees) who witnesses her mother’s murder and which brings the human monster Jack the Ripper’s bloodline, it is this real life killer’s connection to an attributing factor of why the movie lasts in the annuals of horror history. Even though the movie uses stylized murder and wonderful set pieces and sells a convincing story that over the course of several viewings in theaters and the smaller screens of television, computers, and tablets gains more from hardcore horror to the average cinema fans each year. The film picks up at the fake spiritualist, Mrs. Golding who employs a now grown Anna to provide false voices during the séances, which includes Dr. John Pritchard (Eric Porter), his son Michael (Keith Bell) and politician Dysart (Derek Godfrey) among others.  After the silliness ends, Dysart hires Anna for some special learning lessons of debauchery. But quickly enough the jollies don’t go well, and sparkling jewel that captures the light, triggers an explosion of rage and Dysart flees in panic but caught in the eye-sight of Pritchard. The good doctor returns to the establishment and finds the spiritualist leaning motionless and fear stricken face against a door, and Anna cowering in the room, as the door slowly closes the audience sees a  new point in the story clearly. Herein lies a bit of a story twist, the disbelieving of the scene in exchange for a power play with a crafty politician, after all the violence in the room appears quite manly in disgust. Now one must understand it is 1971 and the movie set in 19th century women find themselves in a secondary position, a bit of “there-there dear, don’t fret” mentality. Insulting yes, but the imposed sexism, fits the era, and must endure after all the Hammer Studio in general mainly portrayed women with carnal lusts to entice men and excessive cleavage to every teenage boy to thorough fantasize about often.  Pritchard takes Anna home and seeks to understand the horror in her mind and the grandiose concept of curing the sinister murderous natural of the human kind, instead of the futile aspect of death penalty. The movie balances the spiritual possession with psychological trauma hinted to Freudian teachings, but doesn’t’ travel too far down the path, rather staying close the horror footings.

Sasdy had a wonderful crew and a talented cast, even though a minor role actor Bell (Island of Terror (1966)) shows his interest away from his father’s new case of Anna, and his passion for his fiancée Laura (Jane Merrow) who is blind, and this attribute plays factor near the end of the movie. Both actors handle the performance nicely and yet Merrow’s role still leaves a lasting impression. Meanwhile, though the story focuses on the two lead roles of Dr. Pritchard and Anna, and their genuine chemistry, as a doctor probing the human psychic and a young woman unsure of herself. Porter takes on a magnificent performance, and at times feels as a father figure to the Anna’s character, with elements of sexual charge to added measures, but never acts on the indulgence rather focusing on the situation boiling in her. In addition Porter’s exchange with Godfrey, gives another level of intrigue, as the two play a careful chess match trying to assert more provoking alpha-man superiority. Rees, gives a demure performance, the shyness expounding nicely in every scene, the abuses her character has endure simmering at the surface. This element of shyness though not entirely faked in the role, For example, a bathing scene involving Porter’s character entering into the room, and Anna sitting in tub, the director took the necessary time to calm fears and work with the situation, only elevated her control of the character. One must not overlook the minor characters of the spiritualists Mrs. Golding (Dora Bryan, who passed in 2014) a crafty con-artist with multiple facets of imperfection in character’s deceit and Madame Bullard (Margaret Rawlings, passed on May 19, 1996) gives an aristocratic superiority complex of righteous and wherewithal to comprehend the past lives of others. The reasoning for noting the dates of death, in the horror genre often numerology plays interesting, hand in the game of life Eric Porter, died at the early age of 67, on May 15, 1995, one year and four days earlier.

The production values of the movie still hold well, even compared too many productions today, along with well-dress nobleman and equally fine set design give believable sets for the characters to surround themselves in and provide the viewers incredible richness. However, listening to worthy extras on the DVD, the Hammer Historians agree on one pivotal mystery , the man who portrayed the dangerous killer Jack the Ripper, has no name, no data recalled on him, a ghost, with a speaking role should of credit and none exists, not even on the screen.

Synapse Films delivers a quality DVD, capturing hearts of horror fans, and shows the triumphant display of Hammer’s power to this day, and accomplishes a masterful print for all viewers to enjoy. This thrilling period piece never ventures too far into exploitative gore and yet delivers an eyeful of needles that one needs to see even using just one eye. Hands of the Ripper, grips the attention of horror fans, and those fascinated with cinematic quality performance, from experience actors all for the enjoyment of the craft and art.