Wednesday, December 13, 2006

From My Mailbox

I watched the new Network "Special Edition" of HANDS OF THE RIPPER a few weeks ago and considered writing to you about a problem with the disc at the time. Then I decided that, when you reviewed the disc, you'd notice the error yourself and make a note of it. But you didn't, and I ended up giving myself a mental clip behind the ear for not writing in the first place. So, better late than never...

Unfortunately the print of HANDS OF THE RIPPER supplied by Carlton International to Network (and, I assume, also to Anolis, although I haven't actually seen the German disc to compare them) is a cut version of the film. The scene which has been truncated on the DVD is the murder of Dolly the maid. In the original cinema version of the film, the character of Anna swings the hand mirror back over her shoulder and it shatters against the full-length mirror behind her. She then slashes the maid back and forth three times across the throat and the film cuts back and forth between shots of Anna swinging the glass shard and POV shots of Dolly reacting as the three distinct slashes are streaked across her neck. (I have always assumed that part of the reason Marjie Lawrence was cast in this pretty thankless role was because she has such a long, lovely, swan-like neck – just perfect for the indignities which are heaped upon it!) Anna then buries the shard in the side of her neck and Dolly staggers backwards into the bath.

In the " special edition" DVD, the repeated slashes have been removed. Dolly appears to have her throat cut only once and then the shard is seen protruding from the side of her neck. This excision leaves a noticeable jump in the soundtrack and, if you look closely, has resulted in an unfortunate continuity gaffe with the placing of Anna's hands. Peter Sasdy might not be Alfred Hitchcock, but he did assemble the scene with surprising intricacy, editing back and forth between Anna and Dolly to the rhythm of the music and carefully building up to the savagery of the murder itself. The missing shots completely disrupt this rhythm, giving it a slightly anti-climactic feel.

As I said, the uncut throat slashing was present in the movie when I first saw it in the cinema (at least a couple of times) back in 1971. Part of the reason it stuck in my mind was because it was a genuinely brutal sequence even by Hammer's standards, and did have the power to kill stone dead any giggles or chattering in the cinema!

One might attribute my 30-year-old memories of the scene to an overactive imagination, except... A few years later, when I was helping run my university film society, we booked a 16mm library copy of HANDS OF THE RIPPER to screen to the student body. It was common practice for us film nerds to run private screenings of the films once the prints had been delivered, when we had a chance to play around with the projection and run scenes back and forth, dissecting how they had been put together. (You have to remember that this was all pre-commercial video, when one had no access to the pause button, let alone fast forward and rewind.) A group of us sat and watched that sequence over and over ad nauseum, working out the cutting sequence (no pun intended) and generally deconstructing Sasdy's work. So, in this case, I do know categorically that a longer version of the scene exists.

Needless to say, all subsequent TV screenings of the film cut the scene even more substantially than the current DVD version (and also trimmed the later murder of the the prostitute Long Liz, excising the shot of the hatpins being stabbed through her hand, as well as the shot of her hand pulling away from her face to reveal her mutilated eye). And, while I have never seen it myself, I understand that the US version of the film also trimmed the murders and used additional footage to bulk up the running time.

When I realized that Network's new DVD was cut, I e-mailed the company and pointed out the mistake. Although initially treated by the company like the Village Dunce in a Fifties monster movie – "Yes, Mr Taylor, I'm sure you really DID see a giant praying mantis crawling over an uncut print of HANDS OF THE RIPPER last night. Take two aspirin and call us in the morning." – I was forwarded to a very helpful woman who explained that the print Carlton had supplied was the "most complete available". We also mused that the British Board of Film Censors, as it was known back then, had inflicted some unspecified cuts on the film for its cinema release and wondered whether Hammer had noted their decision and gone ahead and released the film uncut anyway. (It's one of the amusing secrets of British film distribution that films were frequently released intact after their trip through the censors - film companies sent the films in to the BBFC for their verdict, but the cuts were never imposed and uncensored prints just shipped out to cinemas around the country, it being virtually impossible to monitor whether they were the approved version or not; I can cite numerous examples of times when I went to see films for a second time, after they had been booked for a second run at the cinema after the original roadshow presentation, to find myself watching an entirely different print of the film to the one I had seen first time round, with supposedly censored scenes unaccountably restored.) It was entirely possible that Carlton had supplied Network with the BBFC-approved cut of the film, but that uncut prints of the film had slipped through the net t the time of its theatrical release and been in circulation ever since.

Anyway, the lady at Network did ask me to keep my eyes open and said that, if I managed to track down a version of the film that included the scene as I described, to let her know. A similar situation arose with the DVD release of FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL awhile back, when the film was reissued after various scenes had been found and restored from other DVD versions. I had been curious as to whether the German version of HANDS OF THE RIPPER was any different to the UK version, but your review would seem to indicate that it is not. I am currently trying to get hold of the Japanese DVD release of the film, which was issued some time ago and is now OOP, to see whether that is any different.

It's ironic that I only bought a copy of the new special edition of HANDS OF THE RIPPER in a burst of nostalgia to see the film after all these years, and have inadvertently been thrust into the role of its unofficial restorer – a role for which I am probably ill-equipped to fulfil! Anyway, if you or any of your readers can cite a release of HANDS OF THE RIPPER that includes the scene as I have outlined above, please let me know. Hammer films have had a pretty spotty history on home video and DVD; they may not all be masterpieces, but one wishes that they were treated with a modicum more respect than they have been in the past. (To be fair, Network have to be applauded for unearthing that formerly excised scene for their recent re-issue of TWINS OF EVIL and including it as an extra on the DVD). HANDS OF THE RIPPER is, I think, one of the best of the 70s efforts and it would be nice to at least have a definitive copy of the film after all these years.

David Taylor

If anyone has any information about more complete prints of HANDS OF THE RIPPER on video, please drop me a line at the Contact link and I will forward the information to David.


  1. cplmarr3:56 AM

    I just wanted to say thanks for your sterling efforts and to wish every success in getting this film restored to its former glory. I think it is one of the more interesting Hammer movies and deserves to be seen complete. Best regards, Craig Lancaster Marr

  2. Anonymous7:05 AM

    In many ways, "Hands of the Ripper" is Hammer's last "Classic".
    I remember being very shocked to see Dolly's death filmed in such an exolicit fashion.
    The Theatrical Cut was violent, but not overly-so.
    The VHS tape revealed that the murder WAS filmed in a somewhat defeatingly "mega'gruesome" way.
    If there's even MORE brutal footage, I would say that sometimes, less is better.
    But, if the Director's choices are "gospel", then, so be it.
    It's bound to reduce audience sympathy for Anna, though...

  3. Anonymous12:24 AM

    I was similarly crucified and reviled as an idiot years ago when I pionted out that the 'restored' DVD of The Vampire Lovers was not complete, but missing the falling decapitated head at the beginning. Melvyn Bragg did a doco in 1993 to coincide with the release of Francis Ford Copolla's "Bram Stoker's Dracula" for London Weekend Television and it included the scene intact.
    I contacted MGM at the time (and they didn't seem to care) and since they own the current rights to Hands of the Ripper...


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