Hands of the Ripper (1971) 

An often forgotten later Hammer film that boasts a clever and original plot. Network UK R2 DVD.

The Film

Whitechapel - a mob chases through the narrow streets - the Ripper is at large, arriving at his home, he brutally kills his wife and kisses his baby daughter goodbye. Years later his daughter Anna (Angharad Rees) is being looked after by a fake medium who makes her provide ghostly voices - later, seemingly in a trace she brutally kills her foster mother. A psycho-analyist, Dr. John Pritchard (Eric Porter), hears of the killing and takes her into his care sure that she cannot be the killer, but he is soon proven wrong and as he sets out to find out the reason for her murder, the body count rises....

Jack the Ripper has been a star of dozens of films, Hammer themselves explored the subject with early neo-noir Room to Let (1950). Just as their Dracula and Frankenstein films diverge from the original stories in wild new ways, so does this adaptation of the Ripper legend based on a short story by Edward Spencer Shew. For the most part, the story is cleverly written and subtle with some surprisingly mature themes - most notably the prostitution of Anna by her foster mother. The addition of a sub-plot involving Pritchard's son and fiancée could easily have been merely used as padding for the story, but here it actually fits very well and helps to keep the film moving. The references to class divides are similarly subtle and avoid the heavy handed politics of many such stories.

Unfortunately the grim atmosphere is often interupted by some rather misplaced scenes; a short 'prostitute with a heart of gold' sequence is very cliché and hardly in keeping with the tone of the production, obviously present only to help build up the body count. The plot itself has problems - the revelation that Anna is the daughter of Jack the Ripper is made from the start, and not the twist it could have been, and more importantly, despite an interesting and realistic build up with hints that Anna's 'posession' is psychological, Hammer again go for the easy supernatural excuse to 'explain' everything. Aside from this, however, the climax is fitting and nicely written.

Later Hammer director Peter Sasdy gives a typically decent turn here, working with his frequent collaborator, cinematographer Kenneth Talbot - helping to convey the atmosphere along with an equally strong score. The set design is very good, particularly the railway station and St. Paul's sets, although not quite as grittily realistic as they seem to have hoped. The gory effects are surprisingly realistic, without the bright red blood of the Hammer vampire films and equally a match for the gorier Italian giallo pictures.

It is the acting department that sets Hands of the Ripper above many of the Hammer films. The wonderfully subtly beautiful Angharad Rees gives a great performance as Anna, managing to look sweet and innocent one minute and murderous the next, with some very realistic trances. Jane Merrow as the blind Laura gives a highly authentic performance that is sadly overshadowed by the film - surely if it was in a "proper" film then such a performance would be considered award winning. Eric Porter carries sufficient gravitas for his role, with a harder edge than an actor like Peter Cushing would have brought. The rest of the cast work well with the material.

Original, largely well written, and very well acted and directed, Hands of the Ripper is a good film, although not as entertaining as many of Hammer's better known monster horror films. Recommended to fans of Hammer's psychological thrillers, and partly recommended to general Hammer, and horror fans.

In Brief

Anyone famous in it? No-one of note.
Directed by anyone interesting? Peter Sasdy - a later Hammer director who also shot Countess Dracula (1970) and Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970) as well as several episodes of Hammer House of Horror.
Any gore? Several very bloody and gory murders.
Any sex? A very brief topless scene.
Who is it for?
Recommended to fans of the darker Hammer productions.
Good soundtrack? A standard, but well written, orchestral score.


Visuals Original Aspect Ratio - 1.78:1 widescreen (might have been shown 1.66:1 in Europe). Anamorphically enhanced. Colour.
The disc is strong visually, decent colours (although rather like Countess Dracula the skin tones are rather orange in some scenes - possibly intentional) , some grain but almost no print damage.
Audio English mono audio - good throughout.
Subtitles none
Extras The disc includes:
  • Audio commentary with Angharad Rees and British horror experts Kim Newman and Steven Jones. With lots of interesting stories and information. New to this DVD.
  • Thriller episode Once the Killing Starts (1974) - a 1970s British television show with horror and mystery themes, similar in format to the Hammer House of Horror series. This particular story stars Hands of the Ripper's Angharad Rees and is nicely written (if a rather overused story today) with a nice, long build up and mysterious elements. (1 hour)
  • Original cinema trailer.
  • Stills gallery. Publicity shots and posters, included as a video file with no background music or scrolling.
  • A booklet of notes from Kim Newman and Steve Jones, some interesting information.
Region Region 2 (UK, Europe) - PAL
Other regions? No other DVD releases.
Cuts? This print is believed to be fully uncut. English language print.



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All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 6th October 2006.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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