Released in the waning years of Hammer Films' two-decade reign as one of the top producers of horror films, Peter Sasdy's Hands of the Ripper
(1971) is the studio's last successful attempt at bringing its trademark blend of lush Gothic atmosphere and graphic violence to a suspenseful and mature thriller hinged on the Jack the Ripper case. UK TV and stage vets Angharad Rees (Poldark
) and Eric Porter (Moriarty to Jeremy Brett's Sherlock Holmes) are top-billed as, respectively, a young woman plagued by murderous impulses and the Freudian psychiatrist determined to root out the cause of her homicidal urges. The killings--spurred by the stabbing of Rees's mother by her father, the notorious Ripper himself--are quite gruesome, even by latter-day Hammer standards, but the most lasting impression left by the picture is the doom-laden relationship between Rees and Porter, which perversely twists the traditional arc of Hammer's previous efforts, with the forces of reason and science not only failing to overcome superstition, but also falling victim to them. The result is a distinctly downbeat but still rewarding Hammer effort that benefits greatly from its professional cast, Sasdy's muscular direction (Ripper
was his third project for the studio after the equally intriguing Taste the Blood of Dracula
and Countess Dracula
), and some opulent sets at Pinewood Studios. It's unfortunate that few viewers on either side of the Atlantic got to see the film, which flitted through theaters in a truncated edit on a double bill with Hammer's Twins of Evil
Synapse's Blu-ray/DVD combo presentation compares favorably to its home video presentations of the equally obscure Twins and Vampire Circus, offering not only an uncut edition of the film but also a wealth of new and archival extras. The Devil's Bloody Plaything is a lengthy making-of featurette from Ballyhoo Motion Pictures that covers a wide range of subjects within the orbit of Ripper, from the state of Hammer at the dawn of the 1970s to the work of producer Aida Young and Sasdy's corner-cutting measures for providing maximum screen value (using M's office from the James Bond franchise and still photos from St. Peter's Cathedral as rear-projection backdrop for the finale) through interviews with the director himself and costar Jane Merrow (The Lion in Winter), as well as filmmaker Joe Dante and author Kim Newman. Slaughter of Innocence is a slide show of production photos focusing on the grisliest moments from Hammer horror. Said gore set pieces forced Universal to substantially trim Ripper for broadcast on American television during the mid-1970s; the new scenes, featuring actor Severn Darden as a psychologist spouting vast amounts of expositional psycho-babble, are presented in audio-only format (the video master was apparently lost in the 2008 fire at Universal). An appropriately overwrought theatrical trailer and TV spots round out this terrific set. --Paul Gaita
An infant girl watches in horror as her father, the infamous Jack the Ripper , brutally murders her mother. Years later, young Anna (Angharad Rees) is now under the care of a fake psychic and has been forced into prostitution. At the end of a séance one evening, a woman is mysteriously killed. Dr. John Pritchard (Eric Porter) suspects Anna is the murderer but cannot understand how she could do this unspeakable act. Using new Freudian psychoanalysis techniques, Pritchard experiments on Anna and discovers a shocking secret. The spirit of the Ripper is alive and well, and may be possessing his own daughter! Can this evil be stopped before it's too late?
Completely restored in high-definition and released uncut for the first time on Blu-ray in the U.S., HANDS OF THE RIPPER is a film widely recognized as one of the most gruesome Hammer horror films ever made.
- THE DEVIL'S BLOODY PLAYTHING: POSSESSED BY HANDS OF THE RIPPER Featurette
- SLAUGHTER OF INNOCENCE: THE EVOLUTION OF HAMMER GORE Motion Still Gallery
- U.S. Television Introduction
- Original Theatrical Trailer and TV Spots
- HANDS OF THE RIPPER - Motion Still Gallery
- Isolated Music & Effects Audio Track