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Director: Peter Sasdy
Writer: L.W. Davidson and Edward Spencer Shew
Cast: Eric Porter, Angharad Rees, and Jane Merrow
Release Date: August 18, 2014
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1
Audio: English: Mono
- Thriller: Once the Killing Starts TV Show featuring Angharad Rees
- Audio commentary with Angharad Rees and horror historians Kim Newman and Stephen Jones
- Image Galleries
- Original Theatrical Trailer
- Commemorative Booklet by Stephen Jones
When commentators discuss the horror output of Hammer Studios there tends to be a distinction, between their ‘classic’ pre-seventies output, and then their latter ‘experimental’ period that began around the early seventies and lasted until the studio’s hiatus in 1979. There also appears to be some snobbery from those who appreciate the studio heyday, with the later studio offerings being seen as lower in quality, overly gratuitous, and a sign that the studio had lost its edge. There was a reason Hammer changed from its successful traditional horror formula—by the early seventies people wanted more, and relaxed censorship combined with competition from the rising popularity of television forced the studio’s hand. Audiences were no longer satisfied with the constant rehashing of classical themes and, as a result, regardless of the criticism—this reviewer would argue—some really interesting stuff came out of Hammer horror during this later period. 1970 was the year that launched—what was to become—the cult favorite The Karnstein Trilogy, a heady brew of violence and sexuality, with a strong erotic flavor; starting with The Vampire Lovers in 1970, and then followed by Lust for a Vampire, and concluding with Twins of Evil in 1971. The Ingrid Pitt vehicle Countess Dracula was also released in 1971, alongside another cult title Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb, and the wildly inventive Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde. In amongst all this, again in 1971, Hands of the Ripper was released, a title that has been strangely ignored when people talk about ‘the best of Hammer,’ however a film that is nevertheless an underrated gem in the Hammer crown; a film that, although it is not without its violent moments, successfully harks back to the classical pieces of the former decade. Just why this title remains so underrated is not quite clear, but what is important is that now, thanks to Network, Hands of the Ripper hits Blu-Ray release and therefore meets the digital age for former fans and newcomers alike.
Hands of the Ripper is a film that comfortably straddles the change in style between sixties and seventies Hammer horror, possessing all the best facets from both periods, while simultaneously being original enough in pace and flair that it stands on its own two feet as something of an innovative piece. This is a film that bridges both domains to a certain extent and, on that basis, it should have a wide appeal to all fans of the studio’s horror output.
The main story arch focuses on the ‘what if’s’ surrounding the real life case of infamous killer Jack the Ripper. For over a century now furious speculation has surrounded the fascinating case, with many waxing lyrical over who ‘The Ripper’ really was. Screenwriters L.W Davidson and Edward Spencer Shew fill in the gaps to suggest ‘Jack’ was a family man: father of a young child, and married. This is where the film begins, as the killer flees an angry mob and joins his wife at the homestead, where he promptly stabs her to death in front of their young child Anna, who is watching the proceedings from her crib. Fast forward about fifteen years and we are presented with Anna (Angharad Rees) as a young woman, now taken in by Mrs. Granny Golding (Dora Bryan), and working with her landlady in a scam to extract money from fake séances. Anna is unaware of her past, however a stressful situation that sees Golding try and prostitute the young woman to a client, results in murder and bloodshed.What follows from this brief introduction is an excellently crafted tale that focuses on solving the mystery of Anna’s past, when Dr John Pritchard (Eric Porter) steps in and sees her as the perfect case study to explore his newfound interest in psychology. The film blends in a beautiful Edwardian set design with period costuming, which harkens back to the studio’s classical period. However, the story is anything but classical, exploiting turn of the century psychology as the main vehicle to drive the narrative on—thus abandoning the Studio’s earlier formula of gothic horror—and placing this serious storyline alongside a fairly respectable body count. The result is a formally constructed proto-slasher and, while the grue is free flowing, the theatrical backdrop and strong production values give the piece a solid element of quality throughout. There are some savage murders on offer in Hands of the Ripper and the effects, for the time, are exceptionally well done.
Director Peter Sasdy, a prolific director who was more at home in television than film, was responsible for this effort. He did, however, produce some notable efforts for the Studio, including Countess Dracula (1971), and is on record saying Hands of the Ripper was his favorite. It is clear that Sadsy had an eye for his subject matter and the resulting piece gives a fairly authentic view of Edwardian London with its affluent middle classes and their luscious regency homes. While certain facets allow Sadsy to give glimpses of a more flavorsome side of early 1900’s London, in its underworld complete with gregarious prostitutes and drunken cockneys. Central to the success of the film, is the quality of the performances, with Angharad Rees stepping into the shoes of the poor lamented Anna. Angharad, an actress with a strong background in theatre (who later went on to find fame in the hugely successful British TV show Poldark), gives an outstanding performance; on one side frail and vulnerable, and the other twisted and dangerous. The way in which she is able to switch between the two temperaments is remarkable. Eric Porter plays Dr John Pritchard and grounds the story with his scientific perspective on matters at hand. The supporting cast are uniformly solid, giving the story the air of plausibility and tension when plot elements demand. The story does end on an unusual note for a Hammer film, which makes Hands of the Ripper quite a resonant piece. It is the energy created from the cast, and the chemistry between Rees and Porter in particular, that aid the narrative successfully reaching its crashing conclusion.
The film is restored from the original elements into this high definition 1080p Blu-Ray, and comes with the benefit of being presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.66:1. It seems like a careful approach has been taken to converting the film to a digital medium. Some minor age related damage exists on the print—odd specs of dust—but the film retains a strong film grain, detail, and texture. Colors are slightly on the pinkish side when it comes to skin tones, and the blood—and there is plenty—displays as a tad orange. This, however, could be a reflection of the original print material available. As a result, the film appears dated, however this should not be of issue for fans of classic horror.
The audio here is presented in its original mono track. There does not appear to be any noticeable flaws, apart from a tiny distortion on the higher vocal ranges. The sound effects and musical backdrop are well mixed, and dialogue is, for the main part, clear. This release also includes an audio commentary from lead actress Angharad Rees and writers Kim Newman and Stephen Jones.
The most interesting extra included here is an episode of the British seventies TV show Thriller- Once the Killing Starts (which was originally screened in 1974). This is not simply an afterthought, but something that gives the opportunity of seeing Hands of the Ripper star, Angharad Rees, in one of her many TV roles. The episode is a little rough around the edges—even retaining the original “part 1,2” screens that would have been shown on either side of advertising breaks—but, this aside, it does make for a valuable extra and somewhat entertaining. As well as the aforementioned commentary, writer Stephen Jones also provides the content for the collector’s booklet that accompanies this release. There are also image galleries for the main feature, and the original theatrical trailer included as part of the extras package.
Hands of the Ripper is a film that has seemed to have gotten lost in the melee of early seventies Hammer Horror, and as such is a title that has not attracted the attention it deserves. A strong proto-slasher with a fair helping of brutal violence to help matters along, while the lavish period setting and associated production values give the film a strong quality edge that transcend the film’s budgetary limitations. The film also benefits from a strong cast, with outstanding performances from Angharad Rees and Eric Porter in particular. Now out on Blu-Ray courtesy of Network, this one will appeal to all fans of classic British horror.