BluRay/DVD Reviews

HANDS OF THE RIPPER (Synapse Films)

By • Feb 21st, 2015 •

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The year was 1888 and a blood-thirsty psychopath roamed London’s White Chapel District, murdering women of the night without feeling or mercy. Like the fog on the dirty streets he vanished into the night, never to be brought to justice; I’m speaking of course of Jack the Ripper. After Hammer exhausted just about every main-stream monster from the vaults they decided to dust off old Jacky boy. Surprisingly, HANDS is only the second Ripper film in Hammers cannon; the first being ROOM TO LET in 1951.

It seems Anna (Angharad Rees) just can’t catch a break. At a young age she suffers a very traumatic episode involving you guessed it, our pal Jack the Ripper. Flash-forward to her adult life, we find she has been taken in by a Mrs. Golding, a rather loathsome woman who makes her living conning people with fake séances; Anna, of course, is forced into helping by providing disembodied voices from beyond the grave. If that wasn’t grimy enough she also pimps her out to some of her male clients. When one such gentleman gets too rough it ends badly and a bloody murder takes place. Dr John Pritchard (Eric Porter) springs Anna, who’s in jail on suspicion of the murder, and takes her home with him. He plans to give the poor girl a new life under his roof. While the doctor is partially doing this out of kindness, he also has another reason. A student of the new Freudian form of psychiatry, he plans to study her and hopefully unlock the truth of her illness. For once in Anna`s life things seem to be going well. However things come crashing down when, while in a trance, she savagely murders Dolly, a kind servant. Now the doctor must unravel the web of darkness; a darkness which leads back to Jack!

HANDS OF THE RIPPER breaks the mold of “Ripper” based films, which normally solely focus on Jack`s butchering of women and the investigation that follows. One can see this as a Franken-film; a patch-work of horror sub genres stitched together in one pleasing package. Let’s sort the pieces. On the one limb you have the lavish period gothic film that made Hammer famous. Sew that together with the emerging gore genre and splice with psycho drama that became popular following films like PEEPING TOM (1960) and PSYCHO the same year. In less capable hands this could indeed have been a monster, yet with an experienced director at the helm it`s a perfect creation. Director Peter Sasdy was no stranger to Hammer, having done the far campier COUNTESS DRACULA, also released in 71 and before that (a personal favorite) TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA. Sasdy wisely reins in the camp factor in this one with a nice mix of gore and a dash of dry British wit, which at times borders on black comedy. While watching HANDS you can tell Sasdy is totally in his element and treats the story and the characters with dignity and makes them likeable (most of them) and it’s these engaging characters that hold it together. Eric Porter, the classical trained Shakespearian actor, had previously worked on the studio`s THE LOST CONTINENT and, like Cushing and Lee, lends a much needed air of class to the film, not to mention his face and personality fits with the time period. Playing opposite Porter is Angharad Rees whose portrayal of Anna is demanding, having to play a person with duel personalities; she can be both charming, tragic and a brutal bitch with hat pins. It’s to her credit that she can pull all these dimensions off without a hitch. Both Peter and screenwriter L.W Davidson were wise in how they handled the character of Laura, the future daughter in law of Dr. Pritchard. She is blind but never made out to be a helpless victim, rather she shows a strong drive and even when she is put in danger never acts like a typical woman in horror films of the time. I did have a few problems with the plot; mainly the love subplot between Michael Pritchard (Keith Bell), Dr. Pritchard’s son, and Laura. Even though the two are great actors, the chemistry between them is missing. Scenes like the couple’s wedding rehearsal do nothing for the story and only slow things down. Actually it would have made more sense to have a budding romance between the Doctor and Anna, which would have made the ending even more powerful. Also Michael’s character gets nothing to really do in the film.

It never ceases to amaze me, the production values these films had on such a small budget, and this film is no exception. The amount of attention that is paid to the set design is amazing and really makes you feel as if you’re in early twentieth century London. It also helped that the film was wonderfully shot,
with great locations and mood pieces.

HANDS OF THE RIPPER pre-dates many slashers such as BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974), HALLOWEEN (1978) and FRIDAY THE 13th (1980) yet has gone unnoticed by lovers of the horror subgenre. Don’t be fooled by it being British: it still packs a punch. Though it can be a little slow at times it’s a well-acted and directed, nasty little gem that will make you think twice about booking a flight to England.

PICTURE: Synapse has outdone themselves in turns of a great HD transfer. I would say this by far looks better than any other of their releases, and is on par with the great job they did with TWINS OF EVIL, also in their Hammer Horror Collection.

SOUND: RIPPER is presented in a 2.0 DTS-HD MA track. It does a nice job maintaining the original films sound design and music. Its crisp and noiseless audio rarely disappoints.

SPECIAL FEATURES: The true “crown jewel” in this set is the featurette “The Bloody Plaything: Possessed by Hands of the Ripper.” Like the previous featurettes done for Synapse’s “HAMMER HORROR COLLECTION, it shines in its slick production values and well informed expert interviews with Joe Dante, Kim Newman, etc. “Slaughter of the Innocence” is a Motion Gallery timeline of Hammer Gore. Even when you get over the fact that this is a gallery feature and not a featurette, there are a few problems with it, one of which is while it’s a picture gallery of gore, most of the stills are in black and white so it seems pointless. Also nobody thought it was prudent to put the dates of the films beside the title. It’s a decent way to kill a couple minutes but at the end of the day it’s something they could have done without. Synapse wisely thought to include the original U.S Television Introduction which is audio only but very interesting nonetheless. As always a nice group of Trailers and TV spots round out the features along with an Isolated Music and Effects track.

OVERALL: Nobody can say Synapse doesn’t work hard to package a film, from beautiful image and sound transfers to interesting informative special features and nice reversible artwork. As with TWINS OF EVIL, COUNTESS DRACULA and VAMPIRE CIRCUS, this is a nice addition to the Hammer Horror Collection and a great addition to your horror BluRay library.

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