The Film (4/5)
From the moment they struck cinematic gold with their back to back adaptations of Frankenstein and Dracula in the late 50's, Hammer Films became synonymous with lush, colorful, atmospheric, and often violent adaptations of classic existing material. It is quite surprising to realize that it took them 14 years from the Curse of Frankenstein to take a crack at a Jack the Ripper tale with the Peter Sasdy directed, 1971 film Hands of the Ripper.
Jack the Ripper films have existed since cinema's silent era. Something about Whitechapel's still unsolved string of violent murders has captured the imagination of filmmakers for the last century from Alfred Hitchcock with his 1927 silent film the Lodger to the Jess Franco directed, Klaus Kinski starring Jack the Ripper, and the Hughes Brothers with 2001's From Hell (an adaptation of an Alan Moore graphic novel, granted) and beyond.
What Hammer does with Hands of the Ripper is distinctly different from many Ripper yarns, rather than follow the exploits of Jack himself, Hands of the Ripper follows his daughter, Anna. The film opens on what is allegedly the final Ripper murder. Jack, is being chased through the streets of London by an angry mob, but before they can catch him, he arrives to the safety of his home. His wife, who has just put their infant daughter to bed, notices the blood on his hands, and makes the connection that he is Jack the Ripper. Not allowing her to get away with his secret, he murders her in the nursery in clear sight of the not-quite-asleep Anna.
The film than jumps about 15 years into the future, the girl is now living with a faux psychic, who is murdered soon after an attempt at prostituting Anna after a seance. It turns out Anna is responsible for the murder, but can remember none of the details as if her Father had taken control of her from beyond the grave. She is taken into the custody of a psychiatrist, who believes she is responsible for the murder, but failed to report her so that he can study the mind of a murderer up close. Unfortunately, keeping the psychotic daughter of Jack the Ripper in one's house is bound to be difficult, and the body count soon begins to pile up.
Hands of the Ripper came out during the early 70's, a period where Hammer was trying to shake off their now traditional "stuffy" horror image. The films they had been doing certainly had their audience, but that audience was quickly finding more shocking, and scary delights as the American and continental European horror films of the early 70's which were both more violent and sexual than anything Hammer had put out in the last decade were leaving them looking quite obsolete in comparison. Their change began with The Vampire Lovers an adaptation of the lesbian vampire novella Carmilla by Sheridan Le Fanu, and continued with other films such as Vampire Circus, Countess Dracula, and of course this one..
Hands of the Ripper has the distinction of being one of the most outwardly violent Hammer films I have ever seen. I can't say if it is Hammer at their most violent, but I cannot imagine them going much further then this. The cast is uniformly fantastic, and is bringing their best to the material, and while the premise can at times be a bit silly (Anna tends to obtain her murderous impulses after viewing something shiny). The cast treat the material quite seriously.
The direction from Sasdy is quite excellent, it blends the sophisticated style of a traditional Hammer feature while not shying away from the violence that had begun to mark horror films in this era. This, of course, was not his first film for Hammer as he had previously done the Dracula series sequel Taste the Blood of Dracula, and the Ingrid Pitt starring Bathory tale Countess Dracula.
Hands of the Ripper is a Hammer Film I've waited quite a long time to see. It has certainly been worth the wait. Alongside, the Peter Cushing vehicle Twins of Evil it is certainly one of my favorite films of Hammer's early 70's transitional period, and does a wonderful job with an interesting variation on the Jack the Ripper story.
Synapse Films have done an excellent job restoring Hands of the Ripper for this Blu-ray release. The film is for the first time on a home video release seen it's 1:66:1 original aspect ratio in an AVC encoded 1080p transfer. The transfer preserves the natural look of the film with a healthy organic grain structure present. The colors appear natural, the film has a lot of Earth tones present and those come out very nicely, and in the films brighter moments those colors really shine, black levels are solid, and fine detail is excellent.
Synapse has presented Hands of the Ripper in a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono soundtrack. The soundtrack certainly fits the film, dialogue comes through nice and clearly as do music and effects. I did not detect any instances of pops, cracks, or hissing on the track.
Synapse have put together a really solid package for Hands of the Ripper in keeping with their prior Hammer releases. The Blu-ray extras kick off with a nearly half hour documentary called The Devil's Bloody Plaything: Possessed by the Hands of the Ripper. We then get The Evolution of Hammer Gore, a photo gallery slideshow of Hammer violence through their filmography. They have also included a 7 minute U.S. TV introduction. The disc is rounded off trailers, T.V. spots, and a stills gallery.
An early 70's treat from Hammer Films, Hands of the Ripper is an excellent little variation on the Jack the Ripper tale. The Synapse Restoration looks fantastic, and the extras are informative and entertaining. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.