31 by 31 Challenge #7: HANDS OF THE RIPPER (1971)

@craiggors

Have you ever felt like stabbing a stranger that’s attempted to kiss you? Well then, you’ll find it quite easy to sympathize with Anna (Angharad Rees), a traumatized young girl who seeks only to appreciate beauty in the world, experience just a touch of kindness, and perhaps find a place in a loving, caring family. But when you’re in a Hammer Horror film, those are gifts you shouldn’t expect the universe to bestow upon you.

Infant Anna witnesses the brutal murder of her mother at the hands of her father and is subsequently traumatized. Fifteen years later, Anna begins exhibiting strange, violent tendencies that catch the attention of a local doctor and amateur psychoanalyst (Eric Porter), who believes he can cure Anna’s troubled mind. The trouble is, Anna’s violence is not rooted in psychological horror, but in spiritual possession driving her to murder. For Anna’s father was no mere one-off killer…he was Jack the Ripper.

Hands of the Ripper has a deliciously nonsensical plot that plays out on gorgeous, over-the-top Victorian Gothic set pieces that demand you watch this movie while sipping tea in a corset. It’s all a bit My Fair Lady if Henry Higgins was even more of a creepazoid and Eliza Doolittle was a doey-eyed serial killer. There, that’s my elevator pitch for Broadway’s next big smash. Silliness aside, this is still one of Hammer’s best movies. All of the performers are game, the direction is solid, and the costumes and sets are proper Anglophile-porn.

What’s interesting about Ripper is that it’s very much a transitional film for Hammer, coming at a time where the studio was trying to balance the Gothic sensibilities that they had built a reputation on with the increasing demands for blood and gore that modern audiences craved. Director Peter Sasdy is able to handle this balance with aplomb, leaving us with some great kills in juxtaposition against the sophisticated Victorian setting. Even the psychological angle, which doesn’t pan out plot-wise, is an interesting addition and a harbinger of the shift that horror would begin to take in the decade ahead.

Porter is excellent as the initially sympathetic then skeevy psychiatrist, and Rees is able to shift from rabbity maiden to unhinged maniac with practiced ease. The two of them lead an all around fun, suspense mystery whose slow burn is heated up by nasty deaths that propel events towards a tense, Shakespearean finale. Don’t wash your hands of this one, folks.

Hands of the Ripper

  • 5 – Totally Terrifying
  • 4 – Crazy Creepy
  • 3 – Fairly Frightening
  • 2 – Slightly Scary
  • 1 – Hardly Horror

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