For some, the psychological webbing of HANDS OF THE RIPPER may seem as rudimentary as cod Freud. But there’s something sustaining about this bendy 1971 outing from Hammer Film Productions, especially as it plunges the depths of a grubby London backdrop and features one of the most striking conclusions in all the company’s output. Directed by Peter Sasdy, this picture is a drastic departure from his crass but oddly moralistic COUNTESS DRACULA.
After witnessing the murder of her mother by her father Jack the Ripper, Anna (Angharad Rees) grows up with some serious issues. She is taken in by Mrs. Golding (Dora Bryan), who holds bogus seances. She is even prostituted out to a politician (Derek Godfrey). Anna murders Golding and draws the attention of Dr. Pritchard (Eric Porter), who pulls a few strings to bring the woman under his care. He aims to study her under the new science of psychoanalysis, but his patient has more demons than he anticipates.
HANDS OF THE RIPPER paints a difficult image of society at large, where predators and prey hang in shadows and fog. Anna is both predator and prey, a lasting quarry of condition evermore beset by brutality. She is introduced as a partaker in a con and immediately sold to a randy crone on the promise of her virginity. One suspects this has happened before and it’s hard not to find reason in her fatal act.
When Dr. Pritchard begins his work, things move from Sasdy’s dim streets to the academic circle. Porter’s character is theoretical. He wants to study the woman’s disorder of the mind, suggesting that Freud’s psychoanalysis is the cure to her ills. Others suggest the harm is demonic, but Dr. Pritchard believes in science. He also believes that a few deaths may be worth the conclusion, which is why he turns a blind eye to Anna’s hairpin butchery. In some ways, the good doctor is evocative of Hammer’s Baron Frankenstein. Does that make Anna the monster?