Sunday, June 22, 2014

Hands of the Ripper (1971)

          A lesser effort from Hammer Films featuring the company’s usual posh production values but lacking a lively storyline, this UK thriller imagines that Jack the Ripper’s young daughter was traumatized by seeing the Ripper commit a murder, then grew up to become a psycho just like Daddy. As lurid premises go, this one isn’t bad, but the execution of Hands of the Ripper is so predictable and sleepy that not much excitement in generated. Set in Victorian England, naturally, the movie begins with a prologue during which Jack murders his missus in front of preteen Anna, then skips ahead several years. Now a young woman, Anna (Angharad Rees) lives with a con-artist medium who treats Anna like a slave. One evening, Dr. John Pritchard (Eric Porter), an aristocrat with an interest in the burgeoning science of psychiatry, visits the medium and meets Anna. Soon, kindly “Dr. John” takes Anna into his home because he’s curious about her fragile mental state—and because he knows that she might have committed murder. As the film drags on, Anna’s homicidal impulses produce a succession of corpses, so even as Dr. John seeks to diagnose Anna’s sickness, he becomes complicit by hiding a criminal from law-enforcement officials.
          It’s unclear why director Peter Sasdy and his collaborators shunned the most obvious narrative opportunity—the idea of Anna and her caretaker falling in love—but since that element is not present, it’s difficult to understand why Dr. John keeps mum. Similarly, the main gimmick of Anna’s characterization—the notion that her murderous rages are triggered by seeing light reflected off jewels—feels arbitrary and convenient. Had the script by L.W. Davidson and Edward Spencer Shew plugged some of these plot holes, Hands of the Ripper might have joined the ranks of the most imaginative Hammer releases. Instead, the movie is a slog featuring relatively anonymous actors, and the most laudatory element is probably the rich musical score by Christopher Gunning. On the plus side, the film contains most of the requisite elements for a killer-on-the-loose thriller, such as various parties conspiring to capture and/or expose Anna, and the violent scenes are sufficiently gruesome. Nontheless, the strongest reaction that Hands of the Ripper inspires is disappointment at unrealized potential.

Hands of the Ripper: FUNKY

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