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Case Number 25997: Small Claims Court

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Hands of the Ripper (1971) (Blu-ray)

Synapse // 1971 // 85 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker (Retired) // July 22nd, 2013

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All Rise...

Appellate Judge Tom Becker has the hands of a weed whacker.

The Charge

The hands of Jack the Ripper live again!

The Case

Poor Anna's had a rough life. She spent most of her childhood in an orphanage, until she was taken in by a duplicitous older woman. This woman tried to pass Anna off as her granddaughter while using the girl to further a phony business of pretending to communicate with the dead.

What no one knows is just how rough Anna's life really was. When she was a toddler, Anna witnessed her father violently dispatch her mother—something that would be unsurprising to anyone who realized that Anna's father was actually Jack the Ripper!

Pity that—especially since Anna seems to be following in her father's footsteps. But has she inherited the Hands of the Ripper, or is she possessed by the malevolent spirit of the killer?

Grim, gory, and surprisingly somber, Hands of the Ripper is another wonderfully rendered, atmospheric period thriller from Hammer.

The film is a bit of departure for Hammer. Most of its early '70s output focused on vampires and monsters; this was the Karnstein era, and there were plenty of Dracula and Frankenstein films produced, as well. While there's a suggestion of the supernatural here—the Ripper seems to be communicating with his daughter from beyond the grave—Hands of the Ripper is really more of a psychological thriller-cum-slasher film, with some graphic and disturbing kills. The film is nudity-light and doesn't feature any Hammer regulars like Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, or Ralph Bates.

Early in the film, Anna (Angharad Rees, Poldark) is taken in by a psychiatrist—a student of Freud, actually. Dr. Pritchard (Eric Porter, The Day of the Jackal) is convinced that Anna is suffering from psychological trauma and that he can cure her. Unfortunately, Anna continues to be "triggered"—shiny jewelry and chaste kisses seem to set her off, putting her in a murderous trance.

Anna's trances signal the film's many sequences of violence, and Rees spends the better part of the running time staring vacantly and slashing. These scenes are effective, but they also provide a bit of a drawback in that we don't get to know Anna all that well. Part of what elevates Hands of the Ripper above the standard early slasher is its air of tragedy. There's really no villain in the film; Anna is as much a victim as the people she kills, and Dr. Pritchard is well-meaning, if misguided. If the characters, particularly Anna, had been drawn with a bit more depth, Hands of the Ripper could have been one of the most memorable thrillers of its era. It's still an exemplary genre item, and well worth seeking out; it just doesn't have quite the impact it could have.

I find myself looking forward to Synapse's annual Hammer release, and their issue of Hands of the Ripper (Blu-ray) doesn't disappoint. It's interesting that the films Synapse has been lavishing this attention on aren't those one might immediately associate with Hammer—no Lee/Cushing Dracula films, or the Frankenstein series.

On the tech front, Synapse offers up a gorgeous picture and solid sound. The 1.66:1/1080p image is impressive, with gas-lit London looking appropriately eerie. Colors and contrast are excellent; this is an all-around great job.

One of the highlights of the Synapse Hammer releases has been the documentaries that are included as supplements. These focus not just on the films, but also on the history of Hammer studios. Hands of the Ripper gives us "The Devil's Plaything: Possessed by the Hands of the Ripper," another excellent installment. While not as extensive as "The Flesh and the Fury," the documentary included on Twins of Evil, "Devil's Plaything" offers up an excellent look at the production of the film and the state of Hammer at the time.

Other supplements include an isolated music and effects track; "Slaughter of Innocence," a gallery of notable gore scenes from Hammer films (particularly appropriate for this release, given how gruesome it is); trailers, TV spots, a still gallery, and a DVD of the feature. There's also audio of a new introduction created for Hands of the Ripper's U.S. television debut. It seems that the film was so violent, it was drastically cut for broadcast, and this new sequence used to cover the missing footage.

This is a terrific slate of extras, meeting the high bar Synapse has set with its previous Hammer releases.

What can I say? Synapse has turned out another outstanding disc of a lesser-known but excellent Hammer film. A top-flight job all around; highly recommended.

The Verdict

Not guilty.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 92

Perp Profile

Studio: Synapse
Video Formats:
• 1.66:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
Audio Formats:
• DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio (English)
• English
Running Time: 85 Minutes
Release Year: 1971
MPAA Rating: Rated R
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Distinguishing Marks

• Introduction
• Documentary
• Featurette
• Isolated Score
• Image Gallery
• TV Spots
• Trailer
• DVD Copy


• IMDb

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