Hammer Films was chiefly renowned for their revolutionary contributions to the horror genre, but when they weren’t slapping a new coat of paint on such beloved institutions such as Dracula, Frankenstein and The Mummy, they were dipping their tootsies into the impossibly red pools of other renowned figures of fear. In 1971, the studio dabbled in a bit of typically lurid “Rippersploitation” with Hands Of The Ripper, a film that took the legend of the notorious slasher of Whitechapel, stuffed it under its arm like a rugby ball and made a mad dash at glory with all the violence and heaving cleavage you’d expect.
In a time when the production company was upping its sex and violence levels to keep up with the times, Hands Of The Ripper seemed to be a nice compliment to all the lesbian vampire stuff the studio was putting out at the time.
Legendary serial killer Jack The Ripper returns home after a hard days… um, ripping, to his wife and daughter, but after being surprisingly careless about forgetting to wipe some incriminating blood from his person, his missus cottons on to his horrific hobby and is stabbed to death for her troubles. Before disappearing into myth, the killer scoops up his baby girl, Anna, whispers her name kisses her lovingly on the cheek and years later she’s grown into a puppy-eyed young woman who has been taken in by a brassy con artist who has no compunction pretending to be a medium in order to scam money from grieving rich folk or even feeding the girl’s virginity to dastardly politician, Mr Dysart. However, in the aftermath of one of these bogus seances, Anna is triggered by the combination of a flashing reflection and a kiss which allows the events of her traumatic past to consume her with the Ripper’s evil and she murders her “benefactor” with Dysart being a silent witness due to his social standing.
Present that night before all of the stabby antics started, Freud worshiping psychiatrist Dr. John Pritchard takes in the shivering girl in order to watch over her and cure her of her traumas and soon she’s been accepted as an extended member of Pritchard’s family, which include his son, who looks vaguely like Daniel Radcliffe complete with pornstache and the luxurious hair of a 1970’s footballer and his blind fiancee, Laura.
However, due to repeated instances of flashing lights and over eager pecks on the cheek, Anna keeps going all Ripper-ish and slaughtering the people around her and even after Pritchard realises the sweet, little seventeen year old is as lethal as a neck massager made of razor blades. However, despite the mounting pile of bodies, Pritchard soldiers on in an effort to cure Anna of her murderous disposition even if a more decisive cure would probably be the hangman’s noose.
Hands Of The Ripper is a preposterously camp psycho-thriller who’s female antagonist slots in nicely among the ever growing number of female villains Hammer was putting in such films as Dr. Jekyll And Sister Hyde, Countess Dracula and the movies that make up The Karnstein Trilogy, but while most of those other movies were content to tease the LGBTQ attributes of being a busty vampire, or gender fluid stalker, this movie is eager to dunk its players in the realms of psychiatry and dual-personalities. It’s an interesting concept that sees the science of treating a disturbed mind bandied about during the time of Queen Victoria and horse drawn carriages that also isn’t afraid to see our doe-eyed Ripper progeny get her hands dirty whenever she’s triggered.
While amusingly infused with the arch, British campness that marked out Hammer’s sizable catalogue with its particular style, I have to admit that the movie caught me rather by surprise because among some highly stylised performances (there’s many an arched, cocked eyebrow from the menfolk while if you were to play a drinking game for every time a prostitute squawks the word “Dearie” at someone, you’ll be dead of alcohol poisoning a good half hour before the end), there’s actually a genuinely touching story her amidst the multiple stabbings and the final, tragic showdown set in St. Paul’s Cathedral carries legitimate weight for a pulpy tale of Ripper possession.
The actors do what is asked of them with aplomb despite large amounts of the plot not making much logical sense – what’s with the preoccupation with psychiatry if Anna is supposedly possessed? Why would Pritchard keep Anna around after he finds out she’s prone to the odd bout of motiveless murder?
Reasons are given but few hold water, but luckily your attention is drawn from the shakier aspects of the plot thanks to some particularly nasty, pre-Friday The 13th murders that end up being surprisingly effective.
One woman, who you initially think is frozen to by a door with shock is revealed to have actually been pinned through it with a poker, another, the “Lawks a-lummy” accented maid, Dolly, overstep her station and pays for it with a gaping neck wound and an impossibly busty prostitute with the dubious moniker of Long Liz (I don’t even wanna know) played by Lynda Baron from classic sitcom Open All Hours gets a fistful of pins thrust through her hand into her eye and finally sees her succumbing to her wounds in the street. There’s almost a sense of Dario Argento style Giallo to the spiteful nature of the murders and while some admittedly totter off the sillier end of the murder scale (death by being stabbed by a pair of pince-nez glasses), the majority are actually brutally effective for early seventies Hammer and carry all the more resonance as they generally happen to well meaning, decent folk who don’t deserve a sharp implement suddenly plunged into their vital organs.
However, cock-blocking the film from out and out classic status is way too many lapses in logic tends to thwart the tension. Pritchard gets run through the side with a fucking sword and still manages to yank it out, hop in a horse and carriage, seek out his son and then still have enough “oomph” in him to try and talk Anna out of her last, murderous episode and Anna herself never really rises above the scared girl/blank killer modes to become an actual character.
However, Hands Of The Ripper remains upper tier Hammer and its mixture of shocks and squirts ensures a ripping good time.