Saturday, October 01, 2011

From Heck

Pia Zadora once claimed that Peter Sasdy, the director who guided her to a Golden Raspberry award for her infamous performance in The Lonely Lady, was the worst director in the history of directors. I think that might be giving the man too much credit. When you get down to it, spectacularly bad directors have a kind of charm, which is why the work of such cinematic criminals as Ron Ormond or Al Adamson persist in the outer twilight zone of the pop culture imagination. To say nothing of Ed Wood. Sasdy just isn't in that league. His films are generally anonymous, often indistinguishable from workmanlike television productions of the period. They are vapid and unimaginative. A case in point is The Hands of the Ripper (1971), a film I've had in my Netflix queue for quite some time. I it dumped there with a bunch of other nondescript Hammer films last year and never did get around to it until now. It's pretty bad.

The premise of the film finds the daughter of Jack the Ripper witnessing her father murdering her mother, thus scarring her for life. When she is grown, she finds herself taking up the family business when she is triggered by events that remind her of this trauma, a psychosis that first manifests itself when the fake medium who has taken her in and exploited her begins to pimp her out to her customers. She's subsequently taken in by Dr. Pritchard, a professional debunker and a practitioner of the new science of psychoanalysis. He knows she's a murderer, but he keeps her away from the police and even covers for her murders in the interest of science and "misplaced" liberal sentiment. It ends badly, of course.

Visually it's a boring movie, without style or design. It's content to occasionally leer at its female cast members and occasionally throw in some gore for the groundlings. The gore is pretty unconvincing even for 1971. As a narrative it plods from plot point to plot point. As a screenplay, it's a complete muddle. It can't decide if its unfortunate heroine is actually possessed by Jack the Ripper or if she's acting out a psychological trauma. It's equally confused about matters of spiritualism or skepticism and, for that matter, what constitutes a consistent character. This can be summed up in two scenes and one character. The two scenes are the ones in which mediums figure. The first scene, with our young Anna's procuress, presents a seance as pure humbug. The second, in which the medium dispenses with the huggermugger of the con, is presented as authentic. The movie wants it both ways. This is also true of the ambivalent character of Dr. Pritchard, who, early in the movie, is shown to be a skeptic who wants to run fake mediums out of business as a matter of public safety and who wants to find humane ways to rehabilitate criminals. At the same time, he's shown to appease a dangerous murderer in the name of science using the same justifications that mad scientists always use about their work and he can't let a few little things like murders interfere with his research. There's an undercurrent of anti-intellectualism in his character that doesn't sit well with me.

This is pretty much a stock b-list Hammer film. It was, in fact, the bottom of a double bill with the somewhat more prurient Twins of Evil. This was the period when the studio was beginning to ship water and this film can't have done much to right the ship because, well, it kind of sucks. It's unimaginatively staged on Hammer's stock sets, and even though it climaxes at St. Paul's in London, they've used genuinely awful rear projection to simulate the cathedral rather than actually spend money to film there. The boys at Bray were nothing if not frugal, though frugality to them generally meant penny wise and pound foolish.

Current tally: 1 film

First time viewings: 1

Around the web:

Over at Mr. Gable's Reality, the redoubtable Mr. Gable survived Diary of A Cannibal.

Meanwhile, the Vicar of VHS takes on the creepy old TV movie, The Dark Night of the Scarecrow, one of your humble hostess's favorite memories from from her youth.

The Bloody Pit of Horror double dips on the first day of the challenge with The Day of the Triffids and Tsui Hark's We're Going to Eat You. Yum.

Tim Brannan over at The Other Side Blog takes on The Unnameable.

Ashley over at Pussy Goes Grrr (which may be my favorite blog title ever) hasn't posted any reviews yet, but she's totally getting into the Halloween spirit. In fact, she suggests just renaming the month of October as "Halloween."

Jenn over at Cavalcade of Perversion has the same idea and is gearing up by indulging in Halloweeny activities .

Remember, there is a Facebook group devoted to the challenge, and lots of folks commenting there, so check it out if you have a mind.

Finally, your humble Mistress of Ceremonies has joined this year's ranks of Cryptkeepers at the link-tastic Countdown to Halloween. There's whole bag of yummy Halloween candy goodness to be had there.

It's the most wonderful time of the year.


Chris Hewson said...

I vaguely remember seeing this one when I was a kid. Didn't it climax with the doctor ably 'saving the day' (and surviving) despite having been run through with a sword a few minutes prior?
Also, I remember that the local TV guide where I lived, whenever it aired this, it spoke pretty highly of the film, citing it an 'important' horror film due to its mix with Freudian themes. What do you think of that statement?

Vulnavia Morbius said...

Hi, Chris,

That's the film. It's convenient how every other one of her victims dies almost instantly but the doctor lingers long enough to have a heroic death.

It's totally NOT an important horror movie (important horror movies should be good, shouldn't they?). Horror movies from mid-century are often painfully Freudian. If you want a horror movie that's important for its innovative mix of Freudian themes, I suggest going back thirty years before The Hands of the Ripper to Val Lewton's Cat People, which IS an important horror movie.

Anonymous said...

Since you analyze films a lot, have you ever watched The Prisoner? And if you have what are your thoughts on the final episode of that? That was VERY allegorical.

Vulnavia Morbius said...

Hi, Anonymous.

I love the fact that the series is a Möbius strip. But this is telegraphed at the beginning of every episode:

Number 6: Where am I?
Number 2: In the Village.
Number 6: What do you want?
Number 2: We want information.
Number 6: Whose side are you on?
Number 2: That would be telling. We want information... information... information.
Number 6: You won't get it.
Number 2: By hook or by crook, we will.
Number 6: Who are you?
Number 2: The new Number 2.
Number 6: Who is Number 1?
Number 2: YOU are Number 6.
Number 6: I am not a number, I am a free man.

(Emphasis mine).

I think the whole thing is some kind of internal existential nightmare.

Dr. AC, Fool for Blood said...

I don't know that I can argue with your points, but I actually liked this one quite a bit. Maybe I wasn't analyzing as much as just sitting back and letting the Hammer blood run, but I liked Eric Porter's performance and the conceit of the bloodlust having been inherited. It's not a great or important flick, but I enjoyed it at least as much as DR. JEKYLL AND SISTER HYDE, which is to say, a lot.