Hands Of The Ripper (1971)
"Hands" up who's seen this one? Thought so. Although probably more of you have seen it than can remember. Hands Of The Ripper is typical of Hammer's later output, in that it's overlooked, badly thought of, but actually extremely good.
It's an expensive-looking, brilliantly acted and well scripted masterpiece. It's also extremely gory, possibly the nastiest period film Hammer ever made. There's buckets of blood on view, which comes as a big surprise when you see the 15 certificate it now rather shamefully sports.
Much like it's stablemate Dr Jekyll And Sister Hyde, Hands lays the "cor blimeys" on with a trowel, but unlike Sister Hyde, it's not, in any way, a comedy. Despite having Dora Bryan in it.
The opening scenes start the film as it means to go on, and it's a careful balancing act between an obviously rose-tinted view of the Victorian era East End and compellingly violent psycho drama from then on. As an angry mob chase a top hat and cloak-wearing figure through the cobbled streets, shouting "It's the Ripp-a" at the top of their Jamie Oliver-alike lungs, you would be forgiven for thinking "oh no, not again", because after all, we've been here several times before, haven't we? Sister Hyde, The Flesh And The Fiends, Corridors Of Blood, Grip Of The Strangler, the list goes on and on (and on to the present day - think of Johnny Depp's Michael Caine impersonation in From Hell).
The Ripp-a arrives home, obviously a bit flustered, and proceeds to stab his wife to death when she susses just why he's been spending all those nights out and coming home covered in prostitutes' blood. This charming domestic scene is watched by their daughter, who is next seen (through the power of fading-in-and-out) as a beautiful young woman (Angharad Rees). She now lurks behind a grate in a fake medium's parlour, giving voice to people's ghostly relatives.
At the latest seance is a Dr Pritchard ("proper" actor Eric Porter), who susses what's going on (once again, a horror film staple) and confronts the medium (Bryan, on top form) about it. But unlike other horror films, despite sussing her for the sham she surely is, he doesn't take it any further. You kind of expect him to kick over the tables and whip away a curtain, but it never happens (I'm thinking of Aiden Quinn's character in Haunted). We also find out that not only does the girl (who's name is Anna, aren't they always?) supply the ghosts for her employer, but she also "works" upstairs (if you catch my drift - nudge, nudge).
Before you can say "bad idea", Anna's latest customer has flashed a bit of jewellery at the girl, and she's gone into a trance. Ever the gentleman, he starts slapping her about a bit. When Bryan intervenes, she somehow gets messily (I'll probably be using that word a lot more) impaled on the door by a poker. At the moment we don't know who dunnit, but as this isn't Agatha Christie's Poirot, and the title rather gives it away, it doesn't take an 'A' level in psychotic teenage girls to work it out.
But it appears that our hero (the redoubtable, and marvellously bearded Dr Pritchard) failed his 'A' Level in said subject - and quite possibly his GCSE as well. He quite bizarrely gives Anna's customer (an evil MP by the name of Dysart) an alibi which the oily scumbag frankly doesn't deserve, and then proceeds to rescue Anna from the loony bin into which she's been bodily thrown.
"I'm going to look after you from now on," he tells the doe-eyed psychopath. "Would you like that? All you have to do is learn to become one of the family."
The problem is that Pritchard is the kind of namby pamby Liberal so hated by right wing newspapers like the Daily Mail. He knows that Anna is the murderer, but being a recent convert to the teachings of Freud, he reckons he can figure out why she does what she does. And if a few maids and prostitutes get massacred in the process, they've layed down their lives in the name of psychology. All this despite being told by Dysart that during the murder, "her hands - they weren't her hands at all!"
Anna then embarks on a killing spree which would put Michael Myers to shame, each explosion of claret-splashing violence sparked off by either shiny objects or kisses on the cheek. First to get it is Pritchard's maid, dolly, who's a lovely girl. After finding the poor young popsy with her neck gaping wide open and covered in stab wounds, Pritchard prescribes "rest and care" for the troubled Anna. The next to feel the wrath of a now-hypnotised Anna is a prostitute who kindly takes her in. Random acts of kindness don't get you too far in this film, as she gets stabbed with a handful of hat pins which actually go through her hand and into her eye. Delightful.
Pritchard should by now be feeling rather foolish, especially when he's told by Dysart: "You can't cure Jack The Ripper - and that's who she is!"
Things get worse for the poor sap when he gets stabbed through the kidneys with a ceremonial sword (although in typically British "stiff upper lipped" style, he manages to put on a brave front for the servants), and as he follows Anna to her date with destiny in the whispering gallery at St Paul's Cathederal, you can't help feeling a bit sorry for him.
Hands Of The Ripper is a brilliant film - but for its over-the-top violence it might have even been seen as a classic historical movie (but probably not). Even some frankly daft psychoanalytical mumbo jumbo towards the end can't spoil it. And other nice touches include Pritchard's son's blind fiancee, who I've neglected to mention throughout the entire review but who has a pivotal role in the thrilling finale.
Once again, Hammer's early 70s output excels.
Last updated: February 23, 2010
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