Britain’s Hammer Studios may have been known for their films featuring the classic movie monsters like Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, and others. But for today’s film, they took their inspiration from a real life monster…Jack the Ripper. Apparently that killer instinct is passed down in the Ripper family, as evidenced by 1971’s “Hands of the Ripper.”
The film opens with a dark figure being pursued by authorities through the foggy London streets. He reaches his home, where his wife and young daughter have noticed the commotion out on the streets. Spotting the blood on her husband’s hand, the wife realizes that he is The Ripper. His response is to plunge a knife into her ample Hammer beauty bosom as their daughter watches. He then kisses his daughter.
Now we jump forward many years. Mrs. Golding (Dora Bryan) is a bargain-basement medium who has taken in the girl, now 17 and called Anna (Angharad Reese). She uses her to provide voices for her séance sessions. Among the guests one night is Dr. Pritchard (Eric Porter) and his son Michael (Keith Bell). As they prepare to leave, Pritchard notices the girl behind a curtain. Though her presence is revealed, Mrs. Golding quickly covers up the ruse. That same night, another one of the guests is a member of parliament named Dysart (Derek Godfrey). He has made arrangements with Mrs. Golding, who is desperate for money, to pay the girl a visit for the evening. When Dysart presents the girl with a present, a jewel, something in her snaps. She falls into a trance like state, which just causes Dysart to start slapping her around. Mrs. Golding soon arrives to defend her, kissing her on the cheek as she tosses the dirty old man’s money toward the fireplace. Next thing we know, Mrs. Golding has been run through with the fire poker.
Now, Pritchard has been waiting for his carriage out on the street the whole time. He hears the screams, sees Dysart run out, and finds the dead Mrs. Golding. The following day, when he’s called before the police to answer questions about Dysart’s involvement, he sticks up for him. He also takes Anna into his care. See, Pritchard is sure there is something not right with the girl and wants to study her.
Arriving in the Pritchard home at the same time is Michael’s fiance, Laura (Jane Merrow). She is blind and seems to be somewhat despised by Dr. Pritchard, who has given the room intended for her to Anna. The maid, Dolly (Marjie Lawrence) quickly starts tending to Anna, preparing her for a fancy dinner out. But, when Dolly holds up the jewels Anna will wear, it causes the girl to go into a trance, once again. When Dolly gives her a quick kiss on the cheek, Anna smashes a hand mirror and slices the maid’s throat with a shard. When Anna doesn’t arrive for dinner, Dr. Pritchard comes home to discover what has happened.
Pritchard covers the whole thing up, determined to find out what is wrong with the girl. More madness follows when Anna wanders out one day and ends up killing a “lady of the night,” just as her father did. Dysart, who is keeping Anna’s secret along with Pritchard, suggests that she be taken to a psychic, Madame Bullard (Margaret Rawlings). She senses great evil in the girl…she should know since she ends up dead after a few minutes. This doesn’t deter Pritchard, who continues to experiment…finally figuring out the secret of the girl’s past. But she ends up turning on him while in a trance. She then heads out into the city, with the blind Laura hanging onto her for guidance. Now Michael and Dr. Pritchard must find her before she kills again.
“Hands of the Ripper” has many of the marks of a Hammer production. Even though it doesn’t have any monsters or vampires, we still get plenty of the bright red blood Hammer was known for. There are several pretty icky deaths in this one, too. The scene where Anna ends up stabbing a prostitute in the eye with large needles is especially gross.
I do like the premise of having a character that becomes possessed by the spirit of Jack the Ripper, unfortunately the movie just doesn’t seem to go anywhere. It doesn’t take long for the movie to become pretty predictable. Anna sees something sparkly…Anna kills someone…and repeat.
There’s really nothing extraordinary about any of the characters. I know that they couldn’t be in every Hammer film, but I can’t help think that the film would’ve benefited from the presence of Christopher Lee or Peter Cushing. Even Anna really isn’t given much chance to develop. The fact that she’s in a zombie-like trance every time she turns violent really detracts from the character ever becoming scary. The film also gets bogged down in characters that really aren’t necessary to the story. Michael and his blind fiancée Laura are especially a drag on the plot.
Still, the movie does have the great atmosphere of a Hammer production, and that will be enough to make many viewers happy. “Hands of the Ripper” has a few good moments, but it’s just not quite on the level of other Hammer films.