Release Date(s)1971 (July 9, 2013)
Studio(s)Hammer Films (Synapse)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: B
Hammer Films made their reputation with a groundbreaking mix of sex and violence. So it’s kind of surprising that it took them so long to make a Jack the Ripper movie. Seriously, a mysterious serial killer targeting prostitutes in 1880s London? It’s almost as if Jack began his killing spree just so that Hammer would eventually have something to do.
Technically, Hands of the Ripper isn’t even about Jack. The focus is on his daughter Anna (Angharad Rees), orphaned (thanks to her dad) at a young age and adopted by a phony medium who uses her in séances. But when she tries to turn her into a prostitute, hiring her out to a sleazy member of Parliament (Derek Godfrey), she discovers that a kiss triggers her repressed childhood memories and she becomes possessed by the murderous spirit of her father. Dr. John Pritchard (Eric Porter), a disciple of a radical new theorist named Freud, happens onto the scene and is fascinated by Anna. He brings her into his home, determined to discover what drives this innocent young girl to kill.
Hands of the Ripper is often dismissed as a lesser Hammer effort, perhaps because it doesn’t feature any Hammer regulars like Christopher Lee or Peter Cushing. But it’s an extremely entertaining movie with fine period atmosphere and excellent performances across the board. I wasn’t familiar with Eric Porter prior to this, which isn’t all that surprising since he seems to have primarily worked on stage and British television. But he’s great in this, convincingly playing a character whose motivations and actions often seem sketchy at best. The cast and director Peter Sasdy do their best with an admittedly rather flimsy script. Dr. Pritchard’s psychoanalysis doesn’t really yield any results and the police are strangely unconcerned by a new rash of Ripper-like slayings. But the movie’s style and surprisingly high production values outweigh its shortcomings.
Synapse Films set a high standard with earlier entries in their Hammer Horror Collection, including Vampire Circus and Twins of Evil. Hands of the Ripper is a worthy addition, boasting a top-notch HD transfer and very good mono sound. The best extra is a thorough, 28-minute documentary entitled The Devil’s Bloody Plaything. It’s an excellent look at the making of the film and its context featuring interviews with Sasdy, Kim Newman, Tim Lucas, Joe Dante and many others. Slaughter of Innocence: The Evolution of Hammer Gore sounds like it should be a documentary but really it’s just a still gallery featuring images from the entire Hammer filmography. They look nice in HD but you’ve probably seen these pictures before. The disc also includes the audio from the introduction especially created for the film’s US television premiere (the video is believed to be lost, unfortunately), a Hands of the Ripper still gallery, the US trailer, TV spots and an isolated music/effects track. The combo pack’s DVD includes all the same extras except for the music/effects track.
Hands of the Ripper isn’t top-drawer Hammer horror. But it’s a fun variation on the Ripper story and entertaining enough to make it worth checking out. The Blu-ray release is another outstanding title from Synapse, one of the very best distributors in the business.
- Dr. Adam Jahnke
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