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Hands of the Ripper

Hands of the Ripper (1971) starring Angharad Rees, Eric Porter

Hammers Hands of the Ripper deals with the fictional story of the daughter of Jack the Ripper.  Orphaned at a young age, at the age of 17 starts to be influenced by the spirit of her dead father.  While a kindly psychiatrist tries to help her with tragic results for his household.

In short, Hands of the Ripper deals with the story of Anna (Angharad Rees), who watched her father Jack the Ripper murder her own mother at the age of two or three, and was orphaned shortly afterward. She is taken in by a fake psychic, who uses Anna as the voice of the spirits.  The “psychic” is about to sell her as a prostitute at the age of 17.   When the Rippers rage asserts itself for the first time.

Well-meaning member of Parliment and psychiatrist, Dr. John Pritchard (Eric Porter), takes her into his own home, hoping to discover the root of her problem and cure her. At the same time, the doctors adult son Michael (Keith Bell) is preparing to marry his fiancee, the blind Laura (Jane Merrow). Predictably, the doctor’s efforts fail, and there’s a string of gory, violent murders throughout the movie.

One question that kept leaping out to me is what is the doctor’s motivation? He’s not only attempting to help the young woman, but hiding her trail of corpses and covering up her murders.  Up to the point that he’s assaulted by Anna.  While bleeding to death from internal injuries turns to Michael to help rescue Laura from the insane Anna.

Hands of the Ripper (1971) starring Angharad Rees, Eric PorterAlthough the sets, the costumes, and the cinematography are lovely, I don’t recommend Hands of the Ripper. It is very gory and violent, and although the acting is fine, the pace is slow. Even worse, the central character Anna goes through the bulk of the movie like a mannequin in a trance. Had her character been given some personality, the audience would feel sorry for her, and the tragic ending would have had a greater impact.

Product Description of Hands of the Ripper courtesy of Amazon.com

Released in the waning years of Hammer Films two-decade reign as one of the top producers of horror films, Peter Sasdys Hands of the Ripper (1971) is the studios last successful attempt at bringing its trademark blend of lush Gothic atmosphere and graphic violence to a suspenseful and mature thriller hinged on the Jack the Ripper case. UK TV and stage vets Angharad Rees (Poldark) and Eric Porter (Moriarty to Jeremy Bretts Sherlock Holmes) are top-billed as, respectively, a young woman plagued by murderous impulses and the Freudian psychiatrist determined to root out the cause of her homicidal urges.

The killings spurred by the stabbing of Rees’s mother by her father, the notorious Ripper himself are quite gruesome, even by latter-day Hammer standards, but the most lasting impression left by the picture is the doom-laden relationship between Rees and Porter, which perversely twists the traditional arc of Hammers previous efforts, with the forces of reason and science not only failing to overcome superstition, but also falling victim to them.

The result is a distinctly downbeat but still rewarding Hammer effort that benefits greatly from its professional cast, Sasdys muscular direction (Ripper was his third project for the studio after the equally intriguing Taste the Blood of Dracula and Countess Dracula), and some opulent sets at Pinewood Studios. It’s unfortunate that few viewers on either side of the Atlantic got to see the film, which flitted through theaters in a truncated edit on a double bill with Hammers Twins of Evil.

Synapses Blu-ray/DVD combo presentation compares favorably to its home video presentations of the equally obscure Twins and Vampire Circus, offering not only an uncut edition of the film but also a wealth of new and archival extras. The Devils Bloody Plaything is a lengthy making-of featurette from Ballyhoo Motion Pictures that covers a wide range of subjects within the orbit of Ripper, from the state of Hammer at the dawn of the 1970s to the work of producer Aida Young and Sasdys corner-cutting measures for providing maximum screen value (using M’s office from the James Bond franchise and still photos from St. Peters Cathedral as rear-projection backdrop for the finale) through interviews with the director himself and costar Jane Merrow (The Lion in Winter), as well as filmmaker Joe Dante and author Kim Newman. Slaughter of Innocence is a slide show of production photos focusing on the grisliest moments from Hammer horror.

Said gore set pieces forced Universal to substantially trim Ripper for broadcast on American television during the mid-1970s; the new scenes, featuring actor Severn Darden as a psychologist spouting vast amounts of expositional psycho-babble, are presented in audio-only format (the video master was apparently lost in the 2008 fire at Universal). An appropriately overwrought theatrical trailer and TV spots round out this terrific set. Paul Gaita


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