Director: Peter Sasdy
Cast: Eric Porter, Angharad Rees, Jane Merrow, Derek Godfrey, Marjorie Rhodes, Keith Bell
Length: 85 min
Rating: FSK: 16
Label: Anolis Entertainment
Release Date: October 31, 2014
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1,66:1
Audio: German, English DTS HD-MA 2.0 Mono
Subtitles: German (optional)
- Audio Commentary with Dr. Rolf Giesen (in German)
- Audio commentary with actress Angharad Rees, Stephen Jones and Kim Newman (in English)
- Documentary, The Devil’s Bloody Plaything: Possessed by the ‘Hands of the Ripper (28:20 min)
- Exclusive Interview with Peter Sasdy (led by Marcus Hearn – 19:40 min)
- ABC TV Audio Introduction (8 min)
- German and US Trailers
- TV Spots
- German press book
- Press Release
- PR Rank Sheet
- Stills gallery
- 24-page booklet written by Dr. Rolf Giesen and Uwe Sommerlad (included exclusively in the Media Book)
German company, Anolis Entertainment continues its excellent Hammer Horror BD series with this uncut UK release of Peter Sasdy’s Hands of the Ripper (1971), which was previously released on BD in the US and UK. Owing as much to the Jack the Ripper myth as to Freudian psychoanalysis, Hands of the Ripper can be described as a variation on the theme of Shaw’s Pygmalion; only instead of trying to transform a flower girl into a duchess, Dr. Pritchard (Eric Porter) attempts to cure Jack the Ripper’s daughter (Angharad Rees) of her inherited murderous urges which are aroused whenever she is kissed.
One of the more interesting and underrated efforts from Hammer’s final years, Hands of the Ripper comes from a period when many of Hammer’s in-house producers and staff had left the company, and independent producers and production companies were approaching Hammer to get their horror projects made. This created an atmosphere in which directors could take greater liberties with Hammer’s established Gothic horror formula, mixing up and joining together disparate myths, and turning various tropes over on their heads.
The plot of Hands of the Ripper concerns a teenage girl (Rees), who survives in the squalor of Victorian London by working for a phony psychic and is eventually forced into prostitution. Whenever the girl sees a flickering light and is kissed, her mind regresses to a traumatic moment she experienced as a little girl at the hands of her father, Jack the Ripper, and is compelled to brutally murder whoever happens to be nearby. When Dr. Pritchard (Porter), a noted psychiatrist, takes her under his wing and attempts to cure her schizophrenia, he finds himself unable to control the bloody murder spree that ensues.Having a curse, or a monster from a remote past return to haunt the present is a traditional Gothic storytelling device. What’s less traditional is the fact that the “monster” in this case is completely internal—living inside the mind of the protagonist. Silver bullets, wooden stakes, crucifixes, and other weapons of the monster-hunter are replaced with hypnosis and psychoanalysis. This may, in principal, be less visually cinematic than, say, Hammer’s kinetically-physical Dracula (1958), but director Peter Sasdy makes it work by generating much empathy for the doctor, and genuine pathos for his young patient. This culminates in an appropriately tragic ending at St. Paul’s Cathedral which also serves as the final departure from the traditional Hammer formula. Instead of the usual fiery conflagration done to thunderous music, we are treated to a quietly moving conclusion, done to the plaintive strains of Verdi’s Requiem—a memorable touch and a nice foil to the very gory murders that pepper the rest of the film.
While Hands of the Ripper may lack the sheer star power of Peter Cushing or Christopher Lee in the title role, Eric Porter, (who had previously made a name for himself on British TV in The Forsyte Saga), rises admirably to the occasion as the determined Dr. Pritchard—his character steeped in Hammer’s long tradition of similar Churchillian, no-nonsense men of action, such as Prof. Quatermass, Father Sandor, and Capt. Lansen from The Lost Continent (also played by Porter). Angharad Rees as Anna is a wonderfully delicate creature—a perfect foil to her own inner demon, and the rest of the cast is made up of top British character actors of the period.
Anolis Entertainment uses the same 1080p transfer of Hands of the Ripper that Synapse in the US and Network in the UK used for their releases and, visually, the results are just as superb. Any restoration work is entirely unobtrusive and the film retains a natural, filmic look. The print itself is naturally grainy, especially in darker interior scenes, and all this texture is left intact. There are no signs of edge sharpening, either. Colors look stable and beautifully earthy. There are many shots of flickering light which plays upon the film stock in a lovely way, producing a glowing aura. This can look a little messy, at times (especially compared with the clean, sterile look of digital video), but that is the effect the cinematographer wanted. Overall, this is a well-done high-def presentation and is far preferable to many other high-def releases where DNR smooths out the film grain and the image is sharpened within an inch of its life.
As expected, both the English and German DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono tracks sound clear, clean, and natural across the entire spectrum. Dialogue is clearly audible and Christopher Gunning’s excellent, mostly pastoral, music track has a nice body and clarity.
Anolis gives us not one, but two full length audio commentaries: one in German with Dr. Rolf Giesen, and one in English with actress Angharad Rees, Stephen Jones and Kim Newman. The English commentary has its own set of optional German subtitles. Next, we have a making-of featurette called, The Devil’s Bloody Plaything: Possessed by Hands of the Ripper, which features a wealth of genre experts including Richard Klemensen, Tim Lucas, and Kim Newman. Next is a 20-minute interview with Peter Sasdy (led by Marcus Hearn), which is exclusive to this release. There is also a still gallery with images from the film; original US and German theatrical trailers and TV spots; an audio introduction to the film for its television release by a renowned psychiatrist; a traversal through the German press book; and a 24-page booklet written by Dr. Rolf Giesen and Uwe Sommerlad, available exclusively in the Media Book edition.
The new Hands of the Ripper blu-ray release from Anolis Entertainment uses the same HD master previously utilized by Synapse for their US release, and by Network for their UK release, but Anolis always gives their fans something extra, beyond the expected German subtitles and audio track. As this release offers a few exclusive extra features, readers may want to purchase it just for that.
Hands of the Ripper is very much in Hammer’s Gothic horror tradition, yet also takes a few interesting departures from the norm, thus making it a more thoughtful viewing experience than some in Hammer’s oeuvre. It is also a well written and directed film, and, as has been noted by others, is also one of the goriest of all Hammer films, featuring some very graphic murder scenes—a precursor perhaps to the slasher films that were soon to dominate the horror genre. I hope Anolis Entertainment continues to release other Hammer titles on BD, especially those that aren’t being released anywhere else.