Hands of the Ripper (1971)

Directed by Peter Sasdy
Starring Eric Porter, Angharad Rees, Jane Merrow, Keith Bell, Dora Bryan, Derek Godfrey and Marjorie Rhodes

SYNOPSIS: A child, Anna, witnesses her father - the notorious Jack the Ripper - killing her mother. She is later (now played by the adult Rees) taken in by a spiritualist medium (Bryan) who exploits her as an assistant in her fake seances. Freudian psychiatrist Dr Pritchard (Porter) attends a seance that ends in tragedy, with the medium's brutal murder at Anna's hands. Pritchard, determined to gain insight into Anna's psychological motivations, covers up her guilt and takes her into his home, from where she continues her murderous spree whenever the memory of her father emerges from her subconscious to haunt her.

COMMENTS: It is to Hammer's credit that they managed to create an original gothic horror at a time when the standard characters - Dracula, Frankenstein, the Mummy - had run out of steam. In Peter Sasdy's hands, this is a delightful exception to the generally poor quality of Hammer horror during the early '70s era.

As with his earlier Taste the Blood of Dracula (1969), the real villain in the film is the hypocritical and duplicitous bourgeois society. There is a constant juxtaposition of Anna's innocence with the shady and corrupt society around her. The loathsome nature of society also creates ambivalence towards Dr Pritchard, who like Fisher's Baron Frankenstein before him is a gentleman with impeccable manners; on the other hand he is so consumed with zeal that he is willing to sacrifice others' lives in the name of scientific advancement.

This most reminded me of Terence Fisher's Frankenstein Created Woman (1967). Both concerned medical men taking a vulnerable young woman under their wing with the double-purpose of helping her overcome a disadvantage and using her as an experiment. There are ironic overtones of Shaw's Pygmalion in both.

This similarity to Fisher points to Sasdy's position as the most worthy - perhaps the only - successor to Fisher's mantle at a disappointing time in Hammer's history.




David L Rattigan 2005





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