I've watched three movies directed by Peter Sasdy today; Countess Dracula, Nothing But the Night and finally my favorite, Hands of the Ripper. The first two are excellent also and I’m surprised how serious both of them are. No tongue in cheek, no cheese. Deadly serious stuff - Countess Dracula is not a horror movie for example, it’s a melodrama with a few splashes of nudity. I totally forgotten that. Still like it a lot. Hands of the Ripper on the other hand (no pun intended) I've returned to many times over the years, from VHS to DVD and now blu-ray. My interest - like many others - in Jack the Ripper might be reason why I hold it close to my heart, but the thing is it’s not really about good ol’ Jack either, it’s about his daughter!
In some kind of alternate universe the identity of Jack the Ripper is known and we follow him during his last trembling minutes, chases by a mob to his house. He kills his wife but spares his daughter. Many years later she’s grown up you a pretty, young woman named Anna (Angharad Rees) who helps a not-so-serious psychic with fooling idiots to think there’s a spirit world. After a seance she’s about to be forced to have sex with a high profile politician, Dysart (Derek Godfrey), but something happens and the medium is found dead, stabbed right through her guts and the door behind her! Brutal! No one knows it’s Anna who’s done it, and one of the visitors to the seance, the kind doctor Pritchard (Eric Porter) takes care of her and wants to study her behavior, because he suspects she is the killer. But soon she feels the blood-thirst again and escapes…
I HATE writing recaps of the story. I really hates it. Not more than racism, famine, war, homophobia etc...but I still HATE doing it. Anyway, fuck it. For every time I see Hands of the Ripper the more impressed I become by it. It’s an odd story, behind the silly premise. It deals with psychoanalysis, which always is interesting, but foremost it’s a fantastic reason to see Angharad Rees doing a wonderful performance as Anna. I totally believe she’s dangerous. What’s even more fascinating is the relationship between Pritchard and Dysart, which at a first glance seems nothing special, until you realizes that the smartest and more complex character is Dysart, a corrupt politician who begins the movie planning to purchase an hour or so with Anna alone. Being an asshole he’s also right about most things that happens in the movie, when the more friendly and sympathetic Pritchard fails totally.
Not sure, but it might be one reason why some people whose reviews I've read dislike it. It’s because they’re forced to stand on the same side as a disgusting, terrible and extremely not-so-friendly man. A politician also, which makes it even worse. It’s an interesting choice and I wonder if that was the screenwriter’s intention or if it was something that evolved during the shooting of the movie? You could sense a dislike for psychoanalysis and instead support for the jolly good British conservative. I’m on the side of psychoanalysis, but watching a movie which takes a stance opposite is actually quite refreshing and edgy.
Another thing edgy is the raw atmosphere of Hands of the Ripper. It never get that shot-in-studio feeling, and the cinematography feels modern and a lot less fog-loving than what usually happens when you make a horror movie based on Jack the Ripper in the UK. Like my other favorite Hammer production, Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell, this one also have plenty - for the time - of gore and blood, which always feels quite shocking in a Hammer movie. Yeah, I know. Hammer Films where among the first to use graphic violence, but it’s extra nasty in this one. Me like a fucking lot!
Hands of the Ripper is one of Hammer’s finest films and it easily balances between the classic horror style of the 50’s and 60’s with the grittier, gorier and more adult horror of the 70’s. My wish now is that Hammer will revisit the Jack the Ripper mythology and unleash him once again in cinemas. You hear that, Hammer? I’m there for you if you need a hand to hold on to!