Director: Peter Sasdy. Screenplay: L.W. Davidson. Based on the Short Story by Edward Spencer Shew, Producer: Aida Young. Photography: Kenneth Talbot. Music: Christopher Gunning. Special Effects: Cliff Culley. Art Direction: Roy Stannard. Production Company: Hammer Film Productions.
Eric Porter: Dr John Pritchard. Angharad Rees: Anna. Keith Bell: Michael Pritchard. Jane Merrow: Laura. Derek Godfrey: Dysart. Marjorie Rhodes: Mrs Bryant. Norman Bird: Police Inspector. Dora Bryan: Mrs Golding. Lynda Baron: Long Liz. Marjie Lawrence: Dolly. Margaret Rawlings: Madame Bullard.
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.
Review: Timothy Young
Images: Marcus Brooks