Originally released in 1971 Hammer’s Hands of the Ripper put a new spin on the Jack the Ripper legend. When Anna (Angharad Rees) is the only suspect of the grisly murder of her guardian, a fake medium (guest star Dora Bryan) Dr John Pritchard (Eric Porter) takes her into his home hoping to unlock the secrets of her mind using the newly fashionable science of Freudian psychoanalysis.
What Pritchard hadn’t bargained for was that Anna is the daughter of the Whitechapel serial killer and that it only takes a quick dazzle of light and a kiss to set her off on a bloody murder. Before long a trail of murders with some remarkably inventive weapons leads to a thrilling conclusion as Pritchard tracks Anna down to the Whispering Gallery at St Paul’s Cathedral.
Daubed in buckets of Kensington Gore, Hands of the Ripper is a different kind of 1970’s Hammer Gothic. We have the traditional gorgeous 19th century sets and costumes, but instead of the expected supernatural villain we are faced with a choice, is Anna criminally insane or is she possessed by her father’s spirit? Perhaps closer in spirit to the studio’s strand of psychological thrillers, like Fear in the Night (1971) or Crescendo (1969), Hands of the Ripper could also be judged to be a kind of proto-slasher movie.
Directed by Peter Sasdy, who also helmed one of the best Dracula sequels in Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970) as well as Countess Dracula (1971) for Hammer, TV spinoff Doomwatch (1972) for Tigon and The Stone Tape (1972) for the BBC, the film is beautifully lit and photographed and has, like many Hammer chillers, a very effective and atmospheric musical score, in this case by Christopher Gunning.
Porter, a fine Shakespearean actor who had risen to fame as Soames Forsyte in the BBC’s Sunday evening potboiler The Forsyte Saga (1967), puts on a commanding performance as Pritchard (a role that I suspect had been written with Christopher Lee or Peter Cushing in mind) and Rees manages that fine balance between seeming innocence and psycho fury with aplomb. There’s also a nice performance by Lynda Baron, perhaps best known as Ronnie Barker’s long suffering squeeze Nurse Gladys Emanuel in Open all Hours, as Whitechapel prostitute Long Liz (one of the few characters lifted from the actual Ripper case).
Trivia fans, keep an eye out for a brief appearance by Molly Weir, best known as Hazel the McWitch from BBC’s Rentaghost.
A different kind of Hammer Horror I give Hands of the Ripper 555/666.
Hands of the Ripper was reissued on Blu-Ray as part of Network Distributing’s ‘The British Film ‘ collection on 18 August , price £14.99.
BLU-Ray extras include:
- Audio commentary with Angharad Rees, Stephen Jones and Hothouse pal Kim Newman.
- Theatrical Trailer
- Image Galleries
- Once the Killing Starts: An episode of the 1974 Saturday night twist in the tail series Thriller staring Angharad Rees as the student who turns the head of an Oxford Professor (Patrick O’Neal, the compulsory American star of this 1970s Brit drama) causing him to murder his wife and set up an intriguing alibi.
- Once the Killing Starts was written by Brian Clemens, who also wrote many of the scripts for The Avengers as well as the screenplay for Hammer’s gender busting Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971), where Jekyll (Ralph Bates transforms into Sister Hyde (Martine Beswick), intriguingly Jekyll/Hyde becomes Jack the Ripper in order to procure the female hormones for his/her elixir in a film that also relocates infamous Edinburgh murderers Burke and Hare to late Victorian London.
Review by Simon Ball
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