Friday, 5 September 2014

Hands of the Ripper (1971)

        One of the best films Hammer ever made, and possibly THE best not to star either Peter Cushing or Christopher Lee or both of them together, HANDS OF THE RIPPER finally makes its way onto UK Region B Blu-ray courtesy of Network.

Eric Porter plays Dr John Pritchard, a Victorian psychiatrist who ends up taking in the young, pretty and fragile Anna (Angharad Rees) after her guardian is murdered following a faked seance. More murders occur, including Pritchard’s maid Dolly (Marjie Lawrence) in an infamous, often cut scene that appeared in plenty of horror books and magazines of the period. Never one to ignore something worth repeating, I thought I’d reproduce it here as well. 

        It eventually becomes apparent that Anna is the daughter of Jack the Ripper, and that under certain specific circumstances (echoes and indeed foreshadowings of the Italian giallo subgenre here) she becomes possessed of inhuman strength and the urge to kill. The climax involves one of the most protracted and painful scenes to feature in a Hammer film in which Pritchard, run through with a sword, has to pull the blade from his body by hooking it over a door handle and then throwing himself forwards. Porter makes the scene seem even more agonising than it might otherwise have, and it’s certainly a highlight in a film filled with moments for fans of Victorian gothic to cherish. 

A fascinating, gorgeous, and superbly made mixture of tragic love story and (for its time) gory slasher picture, if you’ve not seen HANDS OF THE RIPPER before then disregard the over the top cover art (reproduced from the original double bill poster) and get stuck in - this one really is an example of the company at their best. 

        Eric Porter is splendid as the movie’s ‘mad scientist’ where in this case the science is psychology rather than surgery or any ‘physical’ discipline. Angharad Rees is tiny, delicate, and yet somehow believable as both the helpless Anna and the spirit of Jack the Ripper. In fact it’s impossible to believe that any other actress could have done a better job. The production design and locations are sumptuous and superb for a low budget film - the result apparently of Peter Sasdy pulling in numerous favours from his television directing days. Christopher Gunning’s music plays up to the film’s emotional core and this could quite possibly be director Peter Sasdy’s best film. All this and Dora Bryan getting skewered with a poker when we’re barely past the credits - what more could you want? 

Network presents HANDS OF THE RIPPER in a transfer that looks just as good as the Synapse Region A Blu-ray release. There's a fair bit of grain in the image compared with many of the other Hammer releases currently available, but presumably that's an issue with the film stock rather than the transfer itself. 
       The extras are all different from the Region A release and there are a lot more of them. The commentary with Angharad Rees, Kim Newman and Stephen Jones has been ported over from the previous Region 2 DVD release. There’s a trailer, a number of galleries (behind the scenes, production, portrait and promotional), and Once the Killing Starts - an episode of Brian Clemens' TV series THRILLER that stars Angharad Rees and Patrick O'Neal. A pdf commemorative booklet tops off a very nice package of a quite splendid slice of early 1970s British horror.

Network released Hammer's HANDS OF THE RIPPER on Region B Blu-ray on 18th August 2014

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