Hands of the Ripper (1971)
One of the things that is so intriguing about Hammer Films is that they were never afraid to take risks or to deviate from the norm. Most of them times we damned them for it, but sometimes we praised their trailblazing. Hands of the Ripper is an example of one of their “deviations from the norm” that Hammer got oh so right.
Hands of the Ripper is based on the assumption that Jack the Ripper had a daughter, Anna. When Jack murdered her mother at a very tender age, she was placed in an orphanage. When Anna grew up, her father possesses her to commit horrible murders that she has no recollection of. The only one who suspects Anna is a psychologist, who desperately believes he can cure her.
When many other studios were doing knockoffs of the same old Jack the Ripper story, Hammer decided to do something unique with it. And it worked extraordinarily well. Anna (played brilliantly by Angharad Rees), was automatically established as a sympathetic character as opposed to her spiteful father despite her equally murderous tendencies. This is because the writer and director chose to have her mirror the traits we sympathize with of The Wolf Man - innocent, not able to control what is happening to her, and hopelessly tragic. This was a wonderful choice as it gave Anna a depth to her character not often seen in classic horror films which made the acts she commits all the more horrifying. Even though she commits absolutely horrible crimes, we know she is innocent as she is completely powerless against her father. It is this constant battle with her Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde sides that drives this riveting story all the way to its compelling end.
I have to take time here to give appropriate kudos to Eric Porter, who plays the psychologist. He brought an air of authority, compassion, and desperation to his role. He wasn’t simply a self-centered psychologist who was trying to cure her for his own personal gain (although that was one of his motivators), he truly had a desperate need to help Anna on an emotional level as well. This passion along with Porter’s diabolical chemistry with Anghard Rees made the film all that more effective.
While the character development is certainly the main cause for the sinister atmosphere in this tale, the director also must be give props for having a very keen eye for subtlety. Even though this film features much gorier deaths than we expect from Hammer, the gore never seems over-the-top. This is because the director shows just enough so you capture how horrible the crime was, but does not linger on it too much that you actually go “eeeewwwww... gross.” He didn’t want us to come away from this movie thinking it was a low-grade “hack em up film” Instead he focused our attention on the horror behind Anna’s multiple personalities. This is most seen in the end scene, which I will not ruin for anyone. What I can say is that while there was defiantly room to go with the lowest common gore denominator at the movie’s climax, he instead showed off some very impressive camera work and emphasized the suspense and tragedy instead.
Though Hands of the Ripper is a very simple and straightforward tale, it is an emotionally charged story that is well worth you time. You won’t be able to take your eyes off the screen from the moment it starts until the credits roll. One of the best obscure Hammer films, this is recommended for all enthusiasts of classic horror, Hammer films, and simply good cinema.