‘And Now The Screaming Starts’ #2 Hands of The Ripper

hotr1“And Now The Screaming Starts!” – UKHS’ Regular Hammer / Amicus Feature

by Rosie Gibbs

‘Bloody Love It: ‘Hands of the Ripper”

Warning this article contains MAJOR SPOILERS – if you have not seen Hands of The Ripper then please do not read!!! You have been warned !!

In October 1971, Hammer Film Productions released a film which presented a new slant on the legendary and infamous ‘Jack the Ripper’ murders of 1880’s London – a ‘true’ myth which the company had previously explored in the film ‘Room to Let’ in 1949. Some two decades later, Hammer chose the unsolved mysteries of the brutal Whitechapel killings as a theme once more, only this time with an altogether different perpetrator – who was however by no means all that far removed from the dreaded and still today elusive ‘Jack’. Released on a double-bill with the rather more saucy vampire romp ‘Twins of Evil’, ‘Hands of the Ripper’ was received with a respectable level of praise from audiences, though perhaps over the years has not gained a reputation as one of Hammer’s stand-out finest. For me personally, however, it’s a favourite, and what follows is something of an ode to the whole package…

‘Hands of the Ripper’ operates on what was a fresh angle on the Ripper legend – in the tale, we follow the journey of Anna, the daughter of the man who had become ‘Jack’, who as an infant tragically witnesses what we presume is her murderous father’s final killing and his subsequent capture by mob and law. In his final moments of freedom, he brutally stabs Anna’s mother to death in front of Anna’s crib, before giving the traumatised child a final embrace and kiss on the cheek. Some years later, we see that Anna (Angharad Rees) has been taken in by the unscrupulous phoney medium, Mrs Golding (a welcome cameo by the late, great Dora Bryan). Mrs Golding embroils innocent Anna in her fake seances, having her act as a hidden spirit guide, and also proposes to make a live-in prostitute of her. Her first client, Mr Dysart (Derek Godfrey), presents her with a sparkling brooch, and its glint in the light triggers an unusual reaction in Anna which results in her murdering Mrs Golding in a cold rage with a poker. Local physician Dr John Pritchard (Eric Porter), taking pity on the young woman and convinced he can help her with the assistance of psychoanalysis, has her stay with him, and as the story unfolds he pieces together who Anna really is and why she is cursed with the impulse to kill.

hotr2The film was directed by Peter Sasdy, who would later go on to direct many episodes of Hammer’s television series ‘House of Horror’ and ‘House of Mystery and Suspense’, and the Hungarian filmaker presented in ‘Ripper’ a delightfully subdued work which still hits the spot on the shocks and scares. The film’s opening sequencing involves a low-key yet still cleverly menacing circular view of all those gathered at the séance, staring down at the viewer passively yet with scrutiny. Subtle lighting and a soft focus in the camera work make for an attractive piece overall, replete with glitzy chandeliers and shimmering costume pieces – not least those which send Anna into her psychotic trances – and this is a welcome break from the dank dungeons and moody backstreet settings of many of its counterparts. The gore, when it occurs, is then all the more shocking in contrast – the hatpin-related fate of the unfortunate street walker ‘Long’ Liz, based on one of the real-life Ripper victims and here played by the excellent actress Lynda Baron, is particularly memorable and possibly one of Hammer’s greatest dispatchings.

The concept and narrative itself, scripted by Lew Davidson and based on an original story by Edward Spencer Shew, is I believe another aspect of what elevates ‘Ripper’ above the average Hammer. The piece shows at its start a horrific trauma suffered by a small child and the haunting fluted soundtrack which becomes something of a theme for Anna, played out over the opening credits and shots of her infant tear-stained face, is rather moving and shies away advisably from sensationalising a small child’s suffering. Shew’s story competently marries both the emerging (at the time the film is set) theories of psychoanalysis and the concept of mediumship and the ability to ‘hear’ those who are deceased, and questions whether the two can co-exist and even become manifest together in someone who has experienced traumas such as Anna’s. The presence of both a phoney medium (Bryan), out to exploit those who wish to talk with their dear departed, and a true medium (Madame Bullard, played by Margaret Rawlings) with an actual gift, admirably upholds both sides of the argument regarding how ‘real’ clairvoyance may or may not be.

Another of the film’s main strengths is its strong cast, in particular Angharad Rees, who portrays the china doll-faced Anna with grace and depth, convincing as the meek, genteel young ward of Dr Pritchard and suitably cold-blooded and snarling during her moments of murder. This film was Rees’ only Hammer part and one can’t help wishing she had taken others as she was such an engaging screen presence – standing ball-gowned with bloodied hands in a post-homicidal daze or cowering in dirt in a crowded jail cell, she is very believable as a sweet-hearted yet understandably mentally troubled protagonist. Jane Merrow is also completely charming as Laura, the fiancée of Dr Pritchard’s son Michael (Keith Bell) – in fact this spirited, energetic young woman is I think one of Hammer’s most positive representations of a young female, and credit is due to the writers for introducing a character with a disability (in this case loss of sight) who radiates positivity and capability, and whose absence of sight is rightly presented as merely one of the many facets of their overall being. The rest of the cast, including stalwart Eric Porter, are all capable in their roles, resulting in another of many boxes ticked for this outing.

hotr3My absolute favourite part of ‘Ripper’ however is the final sequence, which sees Michael and Laura escort Anna on a visit to St Paul’s Cathedral. The unique and inspired setting of the cathedral’s Whispering Gallery sees Anna, already in one of her trances and by now hearing actual instructions – imagined or extra-sensory – from her father, attempt to strangle the terrified Laura (the only point at which the bare titular Hands are used to kill). The wounded Dr Pritchard, from the ground far below the Gallery, calls to her and pleads with her to ‘come back’ to them, ending in tragedy played out in a beautifully bittersweet, poetic and satisfyingly redemptive final shot. This last sequence and ending frame round off this absolute gem of a horror film brilliantly and I say, long may it be appreciated and cherished as an excellent addition to the Hammer canon.

Hands Of The Ripper (1971) DVD Review

RIPPER 001HANDS OF THE RIPPER (1971) DVD

Directed By: Peter Sasdy

Written By: L.W Davidson (screenplay), Edward Spencer Shew (story)

Starring: Eric Porter, Angharad Rees, Jane Merrow, Keith Bell, Derek Godfrey

UK Certification: 15

RRP: £14.99

Running Time: 82 minutes

Distributor: Network Releasing

UK Release Date: 18th August 2014

The notorious serial killer who terrorized London in 1888 has been the subject of countless movies not least in adaptations of Marie Belloc Lowndes’ book The Lodger which has had five interpretations alone, with the most notable by Alfred Hitchcock in 1927. Other diverse talents have attempted the tale too such as Jess Franco in 1976 with Kinski in the role of Jack, while the Hughes Brothers adapted Alan Moore’s graphic novel in 2001 and cast Johnny Depp as Abberline – a prominent police figure in the case.

Hammer too have a history with the Whitechapel Murderer with their first foray into horror being Room to Let (Godfrey Grayson, 1950), a working of Margery Allingham’s radio play where a lodger escapes from an asylum where he has resided for 16 years following the well documented series of murders. Even in the same year that Hands of the Ripper was released, Hammer released Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde (Roy Ward Baker, 1971) which although set within the parameters of Robert Louis Stevenson’s story, it incorporated into the plot aspects of the Jack the Ripper case.

RIPPER 002As far as Hands of the Ripper is concerned, we could easily file it into the bulging suspension file of overlooked early 70s output from the studio, which is a shame as it deserves some recognition, and thanks to Network this Blu-Ray release is the perfect time for which to bestow it with praise. Missing from the film, most Hammer aficionados will notice a lack of studio pedigree – both contributors to the script and story were working on their first (and last) movie, while lead actor Eric Porter had only been seen in the Hammer fold as Capt. Lansen in The Lost Continent (1968). For Angharad Rees who played Anna it was her debut for the legendary British studio, while Jane Merrow and Keith Bell were also in their inaugural roles for the company.

One area where this certainly wasn’t the case was in the director’s chair where we would find Peter Sasdy. The 46 year old Hungarian cut his teeth on a plethora of TV shows like Emergency-Ward 10 (1959) and Ghost Squad (1963) before entering the Hammer fold with Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970) which was swiftly followed by Countess Dracula (1971). Hands of the Ripper would be his third and final Hammer picture before going on to shoot such iconic stuff as The Stone Tape (1972), before returning to the company in the early 80s for episodes of Hammer House of Horror and Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense.

The story itself concerns itself with a young girl called Anna (Rees) who is the actual daughter of the notorious Jack the Ripper. Some years after the killers demise she finds herself living with a spiritualist medium (Dora Bryan) who uses her during the séances she does to, shall we say – add a bit of credibility. The psychiatrist Dr. Pritchard (Porter) attends one of these séances, but tragically it ends with the death of the medium at Anna’s hands. The doctor, intrigued by Anna’s cause for such destruction is compelled to discover her psychological motivations. To do so, he takes her into his home where she becomes susceptible to continuing her murderous spree whenever the memory of her father is drawn from her subconscious.

RIPPER 003The beginning of the 70s was a transitional phase for horror. Audiences were demanding more on-screen gore, and Hammer complied with Hands of the Ripper and it’s plethora of throat slashings and other horrific set pieces. Importantly though, none of this bloodletting gets in the way of Davidson’s sharp screenplay and excellent performances from both Porter and Merrow. Rees is the star though, exhibiting a naivety and an innocence that brings so much to her characterisation of Anna. Despite prominent roles in Under Milk Wood (Andrew Sinclair, 1972) and Poldark (1975-77), Hands of the Ripper was undoubtedly the defining role of her career. In a much maligned period of Hammer output, Sasdy’s film is undoubtedly the shining light. How it’s been so overlooked in the 40-odd years that have passed is genuinely surprising, but hopefully now thanks to this Blu-ray release from Network, it will take its rightful place in the upper echelons of Hammer’s filmography – a place for which it’s very much deserving.

The main extra for this Blu-ray release comes from 2006 – and that’s the commentary from Kim Newman, Stephen Jones and the late Angharad Rees. Despite its appearance on another edition it’s still a fascinating listen with Rees very forthcoming with regards to the production, while both Jones and particularly Newman offer an expected high level of analysis and history.

Elsewhere on the Blu-ray there’s an episode of Brian Clemens’ Thriller called Once the Killing Starts (1974) which sees married college professor Michael Lane (Patrick O’Neal) engaging in an affair with student Stella (Angharad Rees) which leads to sinister goings on. It’s an odd inclusion and presumably only here due to the appearance of Rees, but nevertheless Thriller was a phenomenal series and it’s always a pleasure to catch an episode of this hallowed series. Finally on this disc there’s a multitude of galleries be it production, behind the scenes, portrait and promotional, with an original theatrical trailer to complete the package.

HANDS OF THE RIPPERThe image quality of this release from Network is solid without being exceptional, though it’s undoubtedly the best transfer you’ll have seen for this film. There is good detail on the Blu-ray – colours are subtle and the image is sharp while the film in general manages to stay true to the look of Hammer pictures from that era. The first of three forthcoming Hammer releases on Blu-ray from Network, Hands of the Ripper is a recommended purchase. It may not contain the bells and whistles that came with other companies Hammer releases, but it’s sensibly priced and provides you with an opportunity to re-examine a classic British horror that deserves some contemporary recognition.

7.5 out of 10

Extras:

Audio commentary with Stephen Jones, Kim Newman and Angharad Rees

Episode of Brian Clemens’ Thriller – Once the Killing Starts

Theatrical Trailer

Production Gallery

Portrait Gallery

Behind the Scenes Gallery

Promotional Gallery