Hands of the Ripper (1971) [31 Days of Hammer Horror Review]
Jules picks up where he left off in October by running through some of the choice horror offerings from the fantastic Hammer back catalogue.
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Starring: Angharad Rees, Eric Porter
Director: Peter Sasdy
Stepping away from the vampires and mad scientists that had occupied their slate even more than usual for the last few years, Hammer took a diversion into a very real world horror, or at least an extrapolation of what came after it.
One of the most infamous murderers in history, Jack The Ripper was an obvious direction for the company to go in, so they have to be commended for trying something different with it.
As an infant, Anna witnessed her mother being murdered by her father, who then left her alone with the corpse. A tragic enough situation, but her father was none other than Jack The Ripper and his evil casts a long shadow…
Fifteen years later, she has no memory of the incident, but can be triggered into a murderous frenzy when reminded of it by as much as a kiss.
Dr. John Pritchard (Eric Porter), a keen student of the new Freudian school of thought, realises the troubled young girl is a murderer, but rather than have her sent to the gallows, he brings her into his home, convinced medical science can cure her, but his optimism is soon proved unfounded…
You have to commend Hammer for not just going down the straight Ripper road here. Instead of the obvious retelling of that well-worn story, we’re given a tragedy, a tale of good intentions and the awful ramifications of being unable to escape your past.
Director Peter Sadsy conjures up a lush and vivid world, recreating both the high society and wretched poverty of Edwardian London. It’s beautifully shot, vibrant and alive with characters across the gamut of society from street walkers and fake mediums to seedy politicians, all while exhibiting a fine eye for Grand Guignol every time the tragic Anna loses control.
A truly heartbreaking character, Anna is doomed from birth purely as a result of her father, brilliantly brought to life by Angharad Rees. Flirting between innocent and vulnerable to psychotically murderous, she sells both flawlessly, perfectly convincing no matter what mental state she’s portraying at any given point.
As the well-meaning Doctor Pritchard, Eric Porter manages to draw a fair bit of empathy out as the story proceeds. Initially he seems cold, like he’s seeing Anna as a medical experiment almost, but we soon see a softer side to him, one where he has quickly came to care for the girl.
As much as it’s very much a period drama Sasdy doesn’t scrimp on the horror. We’re well into Hammer’s most graphic period here and this one really goes to town with its standings, slashings and best of all, it’s bunch of hatpins through the hand and into the eye of a lesbian prostitute. It’s as hardcore a scene as Hammer ever attempted and they really go to town on it, coming back to show you the aftermath in the next scene, just in case you weren’t appalled enough. Lovely stuff.
The concept of Anna being actually possessed by her Father is never fully confirmed, which is for the best. Is she just a broken soul who never got over the horrific nature of her mother’s death? Or is she a vessel for one of the most evil men who ever lived?
Either way, Hands Of The Ripper is an enormously enjoyable little Penny Dreadful of a film, that gets the balance of heart and horror just right. It’s no classic, but it’s up there.
The Writer of this piece was: Jules Boyle
Jules tweets from @Captain_Howdy
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