Monday, October 5, 2020

Hammer Time: Hands of the Ripper and The Satanic Rites of Dracula

Angharad Rees as Anna.
After movies featuring mummies, vampires, Frankenstein, and generic psychos, it was inevitable that Hammer Films would get around to Jack the Ripper. However, Hands of the Ripper (1971) is a bit of a surprise: a somber, well-acted tale focusing on the famous murderer's troubled daughter.

In the prologue, a young girl watches her father--the Ripper--stab her mother to death. Years later, Anna (Angharad Rees) has grown into a young woman who works for Mrs. Golding, a fake medium. After one of her seances, Mrs. Golding accepts money from a gentleman who wants to spend the night with Anna. When Anna resists the man's advances, Mrs. Golding intercedes, but the ensuing argument triggers Anna's horrid memories of her mother's murder. She grabs a poker and kills Mrs. Golding.

Eric Porter as Dr. Pritchard.
Dr. John Pritchard (Eric Porter), who suspects that Anna is the murderer, volunteers to care for the girl. In the beginning, Pritchard's interest in Anna is purely academic, as he wants to "cure" her. But, as their relationship progresses, he develops genuine feelings for the young woman that evolve from paternal to perhaps something more. There's only one problem: Anna can no longer control her murderous impulses.

For the  lead roles, Hammer cast two fine performers: Eric Porter, who won acclaim as Soames in the television drama The Forsyte Saga, and Angharrad Rees, the Welsh actress who would charm millions of viewers in the TV version of Poldark. The duo take what could have been a lurid film and bring out the pathos in it.

Indeed, the film's first half is an engrossing Victorian drama that barely resembles a Hammer film. Alas, that gives way to a mounting number of blood-splattered corpses as the story reaches its inevitable downbeat conclusion. Still, if you can look past the violent murders, Hands of the Ripper is worthwhile viewing thanks to its strong performances and production values.

Peter Cushing as Lorrimer Van Helsing.
At the other end of the spectrum, The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973) is an inferior effort that wastes the talents of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. It's a direct sequel to Dracula A.D. 1972 and continues the contemporary setting.

The opening scenes generate some interest by promising an Avengers-like plot--and even casting future New Avengers star Joanna Lumley as Van Helsing's granddaughter. However, the story falls apart when Van Helsing learns that Dracula wants to release a new super strain of the Bubonic plague on the world. Van Helsing offers an explanation of why Dracula would want to do this (no plot spoiler here!) and while it's novel, it just doesn't make sense.

A red-haired Joanna Lumley.
It's a shame that screenwriter Don Houghton didn't streamline the story and just focus on Dracula as a wealthy recluse (think Howard Hughes) who recruits influential world leaders to do his bidding in return for eternal life. That might have been a pretty good contemporary vampire film. Also, I feel obligated to mention that Satanic Rites features the most boring destruction of Dracula on celluloid!

The Satanic Rites of Dracula wasn't released in the U.S. until 1978. It was re-edited and re-titled as Count Dracula and His Vampire Bride. Fortunately, it wasn't the end of Hammer's Dracula saga. The studio produced one last film featuring the Count: the goofy--but highly entertaining--mash-up of vampires and kung fu known as The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires (1974).


  1. This is going to be a bit complicated, so I beg your indulgence.

    For a period of time covering the late '60s and early '70s, Hammer films had a distribution deal in the US with Universal Pictures.
    Hammer and MCA made this deal so Hammer could use Jack Pierce's makeup design for the Frankenstein monster in its own pictures (Evil Of Frankenstein was one of the results).
    Another part of the deal was that Universal was free to reedit Hammer pictures for network and syndicated TV sales; the high gore content made this a necessity.
    This reediting meant that Universal would not only cut out the bloodier scenes, but would refilm whole sequences in Hollywood, using American actors and crew; these would be seen on US TV in place of the British originals.

    Sometime in the '80s, I recall seeing Hands Of The Ripper on a Chicago station, in a late-night timeslot (around midnight on a weekend).
    In the version I saw, there's a framing story: the whole picture is presented as a novel that's been written by a psychiatrist, who in the frame is narrating the tale to a colleague (or maybe it's the publisher he's trying to sell the book to - I can't recall after all these years).
    I know that this is an American-made sequence because the shrink-novelist is played by Severn Darden, a favorite of mine from his Second City days (see also The President's Analyst among many others).
    I'm sorry to say that I didn't stick with this reedit through to the end; thinking back, I'm guessing that Universal might have had a "twist" of some sort in mind with the US add-on.
    Alas, this was my only shot at seeing this version; my understanding is that the rights everted to Hammer Films, which then scrapped the Universal add-ons and restored the original grue and gore permanently (just a guess on my part; correction welcomed if needed).

    All of this was long enough ago that my recollections are imperfect; perhaps somebody out there can verify my shaky memories - here's hoping, anyway ...

    1. That’s interesting, Mike, as I didn’t know about the re-edited version of this film. I’ve seen the re-edited versions of Kiss of the Vampire (retitled Kiss of Evil) and The Evil of Frankenstein. Both of those appeared in prime time on NBC and were recut mostly to make them fit the two-hour time slot.

  2. This sounds like a double bill to give one a case of whiplash. I think I must give Hands of the Ripper a look-see. The later Hammer vampire flicks tend to run together in my mind.

  3. Nice post, Rick. I love how you unearth these perhaps obscure (to me, at least) films and air them out. Matthew Ryhs's turn as Perry Mason in the fine new HBO series makes me think of Welsh actors and actresses. I will have to check out the Ripper film on your recommendation. Turns out it is "included" on Amazon Prime Video, if anyone is interested: