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Hands of the Ripper (1971)

Synapse Films
Blu-ray Disc Released: 7/9/2013

All Ratings out of
Video: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 7/29/2013

Anyone who knows horror movies knows that they follow trends and come in groups of similar films. Because of that, we can categorize decades by the kind of scary movies which were popular. The 70s saw supernatural movies and brutally violent shockers. Slasher films were popular during the 80s and dominated most of those years. But, what about the 60s? The decade opened with Psycho and while it had its imitators, it didn't define the period, as we continued to get a slew of gothic period-pieces from Roger Corman and from Hammer, the British production company which had been making these kinds of movies since the 50s. However the political realities of the late 60s began to seep into the movies and period pieces began to wane in popularity, but even as the new decade dawned, we get Hammer entries like 1971's Hands of the Ripper.

Hands of the Ripper opens in 19th Century London. Anna is just an infant when she witnesses her father killing her mother. She sees the light bounce off of the knife just before it's plunged into her mother's chest. Following this, her father kisses her on the cheek. Several years later (we aren't told how many, but Anna is at least 18) Anna (Angharad Rees) lives with charlatan psychic Mrs. Golding (Dora Bryan) and assists in the old woman's bogus seances. As money is tight, Mrs. Golding accepts money from Dysart (Derek Godfrey) to spend the night with Anna. However, when he shows her a shiny necklace and kisses her on the cheek, Anna goes berserk and kills Mrs. Golding. She's arrested and the other attendees of the seance are called in for questioning. Dr. John Pritchard (Eric Porter) lies and states that he doesn't remember seeing Dysart leave the building and then volunteers to take in Anna. Knowing that she was the killer, Pritchard, who is a student of the budding field of psychology, wants to study Anna and learn what makes her homicidal. This noble cause backfires on Pritchard as Anna kills again and again. Pritchard realizes that he must learn about her past and is shocked to hear that Anna's father was Jack the Ripper.

Full disclosure here, I've never been a fan of these gothic period pieced horror films and I don't understand their appeal. Of course, this may stem from the fact that they seemed to constantly be on TV when I was a child and perhaps I was too young to appreciate them. But, I like to keep an open mind about movies and I decided to give Hands of the Ripper a shot. I must admit, on paper, the film sounds appealing. There have been plenty of movies about Jack the Ripper, but I can't think of another one which explores the idea of the famous murderer having children and how his crimes would have effected said offspring. While the title brings to mind The Hands of Orlac, which dealt with the after-effects of a transplant, Hands of the Ripper posits the idea that Anna kills because of what she witnessed as a child (sort of). The movie takes a true story and then creates a fiction which incorporates some modern ideas of behavioral science.

Unfortunately, the whole affair is so silly that it's difficult to take seriously. When the first murder occurs, it's somewhat surprising. However, following this, the movie borders on camp. Every time someone shows Anna a shiny object, we wait for them to kiss her so that she'll go off. Obviously, these two events are mutually exclusive, so one must wonder two things -- firstly, had this never happened before in Anna's whole life before Dysart cornered Anna in her room, and secondly, if not, why did it happen so much afterwards. Seriously, in the movie's short running time, everyone which Anna meets wants to flash some jewels at her and then give her a peck on the cheek, which sends her in a homicidal state. It simply becomes ludicrous. Then, we have the question of why Anna kills. The movie implies that because of what Anna witnessed as a child, she is reminded of that time and it makes her want to kill. But, the movie also tells us that she's possessed by the spirit of her father during these moments. These are decidedly different ideas. This isn't a situation where it's left up to the viewer to decide -- the movie literally tells us that both of these are possible.

Aesthetically speaking, Hands of the Ripper is impressive. The movie was shto at the famous Pinewood Studios and it offers detailed sets and cobblestone streets. Much of the acting is good, most notably Eric Porter as Dr. Pritchard. However, I couldn't get past the "here we go again" nature of the story, as we watch Anna kill one person after another. Instead of being suspenseful, it plays out as silly. In addition, there was one facet of the movie which I couldn't ignore -- If I was servant and my boss brought home an orphan who was about my age and told me to clean and dress them, I would be furious.

Hands of the Ripper made me wary of overly shiny jewelry on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Synapse Films. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. Clearly, the Synapse team put some work into this transfer. We're talking about a 40-year old low-budget movie, so there is some obvious, but not that bad, grain here and some minor defects from the source material. However, the image is sharp and detailed. The colors look very good and the image is never overly dark or bright. The depth is good, but the HD transfer also makes it quite obvious when the camera goes out of focus. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 2.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. There is no hissing or popping here, and the dialogue is always audible and the sound effects are crisp. The score never overpowers the actors when they are speaking.

The Hands of the Ripper Blu-ray Disc contains a few extras. "The Devil's Bloody Plaything: Possessed by Hands of the Ripper" (28 minutes) is a retrospective documentary which examines the making of and the history of the film. Film clips and stills are accompanied by historians and fans, such as Joe Dante, Kim Newman, and Tim Lucas. The piece examines the production of Hands of the Ripper while also exploring the history of Hammer. "Slaughter of Innocence: The Evolution of Hammer Gore" (6 minutes) is a still gallery which delivers exactly what it promises -- a look at how the Hammer films became more violent. When Hands of the Ripper premiered on TV in America in 1977, a new opening was created. Only the audio survived and we get to hear it in "U.S. Television Introduction" (7 minutes). The extras are rounded out by a STILL GALLERY, the "Original U.S. Theatrical Trailer" and three "Original TV Spots".

Review by Mike Long. Copyright 2013.