Hammer Studio’s “Hands of the Ripper” has been quoted as “expertly mixing the sophistication expected of Hammer’s films with the gore its new audiences demanded.” This statement is decidedly true as it was filmed near the run of Hammer’s heyday. Distributed by Synapse, this is the first time is has appeared on the Blu-ray format.
The film opens in dramatic fashion with Jack the Ripper being chased throughout the streets of London by angry townsfolk. He retreats into his house where his wife and toddler-aged daughter are. Once his wife realizes who he really is, he stabs her violently right in front of his daughter Anna as the roaring fire from the fireplaces glows against her young face. From there we jump ahead 15 or so years and young Anna is older and living with a caretaker, Ms. Golding, who dabbles in con-artistry as a medium. During a night which Ms. Golding tries to sell Anna’s body to a man for money, a violent fight erupts resulting with the death of her caretaker. There is a bit of mystery to who is guilty as the man who was present, and happens to be a part of parliament, fled the scene quickly. A Dr. Pritchard (Eric Porter) has taken new guardianship over Anna in hopes to psycho analyze her and get to the root of her issues. She is not thought of as a suspect in her previous guardian’s death however Pritchard believes she is the killer. He thinks her situation is better to help him and his work than to turn her in. As the film goes on we seen that Anna is afflicted with horrible subconscious memories of her mom’s death and that propels her on a killing spree throughout the city.
After watching many Hammer films I would have to say this one is probably the most professional and most violent film of the lot. Hammer films always had violence through them but they only tend to have one main gruesome moment, usually resulting in Dracula’s death or the beheading of an evil twin. “Hands of the Ripper” has multiple moments of bloodletting as a result from sharp objects like knives, fireplace pokers and shards of mirrors. This was intended as film hit the 1970’s and the more modern movie goers needed a little more from their films. Hammer understood this and made it so. There was also an effort to anchor this story into the real world as the villain is not an inhuman creature such as Frankenstein or Dracula. This is a barely supernatural tale based on a real person. Further anchoring the story are mentions of Freud and psychoanalysis and how these new concepts can be applied to Anna‘s case.
The acting is solid and has a more contemporary feel to it compared to the older Hammer films which relied on a more theatrical way of dialogue delivery. “Ripper” has many of the typical hammer gothic tropes such as saucy prostitutes, townsfolk with torches, characters taking walks in cemeteries and wispy smoke floating through darkened streets. The opening dramatic scene is fast moving with swirling music and quick editing. Unfortunately the film slowly down drastically for the rest of the running time. The ending dabbles in more of an artistic approach as there is a certain tragic beauty to the final minutes of the film. It is a tonal shift from what comes before it but the film ends on a high note because of it.
Synapse’s 1.66:1 image of “Hands of the Ripper” is quite impressive for a 40+ year old film. Colors are vibrant especially when blood appears on the screen. It pops nicely helping create a more palpable effect. The 1080p image helps show off the amount of detail in the usually terrific Hammer set pieces. The print itself does not have much damage and it is largely debris free except for a couple of specks here and there. This is easily the best it’s ever looked.
While nothing to show off to your friends, the DT MA HD 2.0 track is perfectly suitable considering the age of the film. Audio never drops out or fades leaving the dialogue issue free and perfectly intelligible. Effects and music are on the tinny side but should be an accurate rendition of how it originally sounded. The music does crescendo nicely during the active moments.
The main extra is titled “The Devil’s Bloody Plaything: Possessed by the ‘Hands of the Ripper’” in which gives a lot of back history on the film involving censorship and where “Ripper” stands among Hammer’s other films.
Next is a “U.S. Television Introduction”. These are added-in pieces to the television broadcast which makes up for the decreased running time since the gore was edited out. This piece was damaged in a 2008 fire and is only the audio.
“Slaughter of Innocence: The Evolution of Hammer Gore” is a chronological slideshow of various gory scenes from Hammer over the years.
Similar to this is a Still Gallery of the making of “Ripper”. There are over 70 pictures show here.
Lastly are three original television spots.
People who appreciate the Hammer films will most likely think that “Hands of the Ripper” is their most professional and deepest work. Casual horror fans looking for a good scare may find this a bit too slow for their tastes. The story is well told albeit a little too leisurely which may leave some viewers antsy for more action. The video and audio are simply the best this film has seen yet and fans should thoroughly enjoy it.