Hands of the Ripper (1971) – By Duane L. Martin

When she was a child, little Anna’s (Angharad Rees) father came into their home with blood on his hands after having been chased there by torch wielding townsfolk. When his wife sees the blood on his hands, she realizes that he’s the notorious Jack the Ripper. As soon as she makes the mistake of saying that allowed, he stabs her with a knife, killing her right in front of Anna. Then he goes over to her crib, picks her up and kisses her. This incident had a severely traumatic effect on her.

Dr. John Pritchard, a noted Psychiatrist, attends a seance along with his son Michael (Keith Bell) and several others at the home of Mrs. Golding, a fake medium. Mrs. Golding had adopted Anna from an orphanage and was using her to do the fake ghost voice at her seances. She was also selling her sexually after the seances to make extra money. After this particular seance, a somewhat creepy parliamentarian named Dysard had arranged to sleep with her, but when he gives her a nice, jeweled brooch, the light reflecting from the center jewel triggers her trauma and sends her into a murderous trance in which she spears Mrs. Golding through the abdomen and through a door with a fireplace poker when she comes to see what’s going on. Dysart gets away, but is seen leaving the home by Dr. Pritchard. When he goes in to investigate, he finds Mrs. Golding speared to the door and Anna still in her trance. The police are called and Anna is taken into jail and held.

Ultimately Dr. Pritchard basically adopts her and takes her into his home because he wants to study her and understand what’s causing her to do what she does. He wants to understand the mind of a murderer in hopes of one day being able to treat them rather than just executing them without ever trying to fix them first. Unfortunately, he doesn’t know what her triggers are (shiny objects reflecting light in her face or when someone kisses her on the cheek), so she ends up killing…several people, and each time, Dr. Pritchard does what he can to get her away from the scene and cover it up. Will he find out and be able to help her before it’s too late, or will Anna face the same dreadful fate as her father? You’ll have to watch the film to find out.

Hands of the Ripper was made by the ever famous Hammer Studios, and as such, has that very definitive look that Hammer films of this era typically had. It also has that very particular style of acting, and the style of the story story is very typical of their films from this era as well. It’s a Hammer film. If you’ve seen Hammer films, you know what to expect. If you haven’t, then you don’t know what the hell I’m talking about, so suffice it to say, this is a very well made classic horror film with a lot of style and vibrant colors.

The acting is good in this film, and it has good characters, but there’s something with the story that I think could have been done quite a bit better. It’s obvious from the beginning that Anna is killing these people. They make no secret of that. I think the story would have worked better if they had kept that closer to the vest and made the viewer wonder if it was actually her or not that was committing the murders. This would have built up a lot more suspense throughout, and made it a much more effective horror film.

As for the killings themselves, they’re sufficiently gruesome, with some being more gruesome than others. As stated already, Mrs. Golding was speared through the abdomen with such force that the fireplace poker went all the way through the other side of the door. Another gets it with a broken hand mirror, while yet another gets it in the face with some rather long hat pins that first go through her hand and into her eye and the surrounding area. Creative stuff, and that last one actually made me cringe.

Despite the lack of mystery in the story, it all plays out well and in a very coherent way. Dr. Pritchard really wants to help Anna. It goes deeper than just wanting to study her. He actually does want to help her and keep her safe. Unfortunately, some people are just too damaged to save. When Anna’s not in her killing trance, she’s a perfectly pleasant and very polite young girl, which would encourage anyone to think there might be a way to help her, so the doctor can’t be blamed for wanting to believe he could make some sort of a discovery or breakthrough with her. I just think it would have played better if there had been more of a mystery to it. There were some very suspenseful scenes though, and that was more than enough to add to the macabre atmosphere of the film.

This new release from Synapse features the same stunning restoration and visual quality that is typical of their releases. The sound is great, the colors pop and the visuals are clean. For special features, it includes a featurette called The Devil’s Bloody Plaything: Possessed by the Hands of the Ripper, a motion still gallery called Slaughter of Innocence: The Evolution of Hammer Gore, the U.S. theatrical television introduction, the original theatrical trailer and TV spots, a Hands of the Ripper motion still gallery and an isolated music and effects track (blu-ray only).

This is another excellent release from Synapse, and another great film from Hammer that you’ll want to have in your collection. Be sure to check out Synapse’s other great Hammer releases as well. They just do a phenomenal job with everything they release under the Synapse label.

If you’d like to find out more about this film, you can check out it’s page on the Synapse Films website here. If you’d like to pick up a copy for yourself, you can get the blu-ray + DVD combo pack from Amazon, or from any of the other usual outlets.