Hands of the Ripper Blu-ray Review
Murder! ‘orrible murder!
The MovieYou've got to hand it to Hammer Films, when they weren't merely regurgitating endless rehashes of their powerful terror-triumvirate of Lee's Dracula, Cushing's Frankenstein and just-about-anybody's Mummy, they could actually come up with some interesting and unusual stories that offered something new and fresh to the genre that they, ultimately, lost a grip on. The seventies, as most of us know, were especially unkind to the studio, leading to its slow, lingering death - Hammer's once-shining beacon for horror becoming snuffed-out, like one of those Victorian gas lamps in the thick London fog, by much more impressive movies produced in Hollywood such as The Exorcist and The Omen, and by fearless and groundbreaking independents like Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
PictureSynapse’s release of Hands of the Ripper makes no errors with the aspect ratio unlike another Hammer classic, Final Cut’s Brides of Dracula, that suffered inexplicably in this crucial department. It comes in at an accurate 1.66:1, and is encoded via AVC. The print used reflects Kenneth Talbot’s soft photography – softer than was usually the case for Hammer – and exhibits only minimal wear and tear and looks, for the most part, clean, stable and vibrant, although with at least one partial scene that looks remarkably blurred and indistinct when Anna first arrives at the good doctor’s house. A couple of lines and nicks here and there, and the odd smudge, but nothing substantial to gripe about. Grain is apparent and there doesn’t seem to have been any unnecessary noise reduction. Edges are smooth and don’t present any major signs of enhancement, although some haloing is still present – black suits against lighter backgrounds etc. There was a touch of aliasing, though nothing to actually distract.
For one of the studio’s later efforts, the film can be frequently quite thickly colourful, with the sort of saturation that you would expect from Hammer’s gothic glory days. Primaries are bold and satisfying. The furnishing and the costumes and period finery are displayed with tempting lushness. Blues are cool, greens and purples finely rendered. Blood, vivid and startling. Skin-tones are neither too pale, nor too ruddy – though it is important to note that Rees should look very pale. Contrast very ably deals with the shadowy moments and the brighter, more garishly lit sequences.
Gowns, pearls and torches stand out well against the gloomier aspects. Whites don’t tend to bloom although some fuzziness may be apparent, and the darker elements do not appear to hide anything within their confines. I’ve seen deeper, inkier blacks, but these work perfectly well. It is worth stating again that this is a soft-looking presentation. DOP Talbot went for a hazy, dream-like veil approach to mimic the meandering states of mind that Anna finds herself in, and possibly to lend to the post-foggy, now-smoggy air of London. The image certainly reflects a grey, overcast and threatening atmosphere.
Despite its softness, the image has plenty of depth to it. The street scenes are suitably packed and busy-looking, with extras gadding-about and rented mobs haring-off left and right. The sets yield spatiality, even in the more cramped and claustrophobic confines of parlours and boarding rooms. The scenes in the Whispering Gallery gain a spectral quality from the architecture and the moody lighting, even though Aida Young and Talbot really only managed to obtain still photos, guerilla-style, to shoot against.
Detail is very welcome in its new adherence to the more finite. The wounds are clearer than before, which helps the film look both more vicious and a tad more obvious in its makeup execution. The patterns on costumes and the assorted bric-a-brac of the intricate art design are rewarding in their own right. Facial detail now possesses greater texture. Wood-grain, plaster-work and stone cobbles also gain integrity and substance.
There is a different look to this film than the earlier and more classic Hammer pictures, but this gauzy, shimmery aesthetic works to the film’s advantage. It has the veneer of a luxury TV period drama, but with the trappings of a motion picture glitz, movement and staging. This translates well to Blu-ray, though the image can shift from clean and clear to hazy and soft.
SoundThis release comes with a fine DTS-HD MA 2.0 audio mix, as well as an Isolated Music and Effects Track that is only found on the Blu-ray disc.
As usual for a film of this era and with such a limited range, it is Christopher Gunning’s score that is given the most room to breathe, and it is more lush and charming than many a Hammer-score, but there is no lacking of power when it comes to the frequent screaming. The hubbub of the mob isn’t exactly precision engineered, but the more energetic scenes still have plenty of noisy activity to keep the track bubbling along, such as crisp footsteps and quite sharp clattering of carriages along streets. Stabbings and penetrations aren’t exactly delivered with Argento-like cabbage-shearing effects, but you definitely get the point. There is quite a shrill and crisp birdsong just before the wedding ceremony.
Dialogue is understandably clipped and a little restrained within the mix, but there is nothing unintelligible, from Porter’s harried obsession to Rees’ dainty demonics.
The Cockney accents can be lathered-on from the rabble, especially the "me-deary" tuppeny whores, but the whispering during the tense finale is reasonably effectively conveyed, and there are some decent echoes.
At least Synapse didn’t go for a surround makeover and kept to the original source. What we get is hardly award-winning, but it is a good, faithful, quick-sounding and punchy track that combines all the elements of score, screams and rabble-rousing to great effect.
ExtrasThis is a combo-release that features both BD and DVD copies of the film.
As well as the aforementioned Music and Effects Track, which showcases Christopher Gunning’s eloquent and passionate score, Synapse provide a decent 28-minute retro making-of entitled The Devil’s Bloody Plaything: Possessed by the Hands of the Ripper, which has been specially commissioned for this release. An estimable crowd is gathered to discuss the production including Hammer historian Wayne Kinsey, critic and author Kim Newman, the ubiquitous Joe Dante and Video Watchdog's Tim Lucas, and even director Peter Sasdy and actress Jane Merrow. The piece pays some due respect the usually unsung producing heroine of Hammer, Aida Young, and goes on to dissect the casting of Angharad Rees and the unusual psychological angle of the story, the censor-problems and the little snippet of nudity. Covering a lot of ground, this is another great little behind-the-scenes exposé for fans to appreciate.
Slaughter of Innocence: The Evolution of Hammer Gore is a motion-still gallery that somewhat indulgently attempts to chronicle the bloody moments from the Studio’s horrible history. Lots of severed heads and bloody victims, and some choice monstrous demises are captured in some terrific images, both colour and black and white.And since one motion-stills gallery is never enough, Synapse furnish us with a second one that is devoted to Sasdy’s film.
We also get to see the US TV Introduction to the film, which presented an audio rationale for the dark deeds from actor Severn Darden in lieu of the actual scenes getting cut out, and the Original Theatrical Trailer and TV Spots.
As is becoming customary for many of these niche horror labels, the sleeve is also reversible, boasting two of the original poster designs.
As usual, I would have loved a commentary track (the UK DVD from Network had a great chat-track from Kim Newman, Stephen Jones and the late Angharad Rees) … but this is not a bad selection to, ahem, rip into.
VerdictI have enjoyed Synapse’s Hammer releases so far, and Hands of the Ripper, which is possibly the best of their trio for the studio so far, does not disappoint either. A decent package has been put together, and the transfer is a very respectable one that promotes the film’s visual beauty and savagery with equal aplomb.
The film, itself, is definitely one of Hammer’s latterday classics. It is a hoary old concept that has been quite brilliantly modified and intelligently put together. The shocks are plentiful and the story is full of fine conceits and ideas. There is Argento, there is Bava, there is Hitchcock in here … all elements that any psycho-thriller would be proud to boast of. Yet the piece is decidedly a Hammer Film, though and through. The seventies were cruel to the studio, who just couldn’t keep up with drastically altering tastes, but this makes a great stab in the right direction. Alongside Captain Kronos, Vampire Circus and Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell, Hands of the Ripper joins an illustrious last-stand quartet of clever, witty and wonderfully entertaining horror yarns. Hammer wouldn’t go down without a fight … and the best thing was that they still stuck to their guns and created the types of story that they’d been doing for the past twenty years – just with a little more meat to chew on.
Synapse does the film proud and fans should definitely seek it out, provided they can play Region A discs.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £19.99
Our Review Ethos
To comment on what you've read here, click the Discussion tab and post a reply.