Digi-Schlock: HANDS OF THE RIPPER (Synapse Blu-Ray/DVD Combo Pack)

The Hammer Films titles in the Synapse Films catalogue are amongst their most high-profile properties – and fittingly, they have inspired some of the company’s best latter-day work.  Synapse’s special editions for Vampire Circus and Twins Of Evil were hits with the classic horror fanbase, offering both gorgeous transfers and quality extras about Hammer’s history.  Fans of those releases will be happy to hear that Synapse’s new blu-ray/DVD combo pack of Hands Of The Ripper maintains that standard of quality.

The package begins with a lovely anamorphic transfer in the original 1.66:1 screen ratio.  The imagery here is a challenging mix of daylight and nighttime material shot in exterior locations and on sets, sometimes captured through gauzy filters, but this transfer is able to capture all the variations in style.  Detail and colors are appropriately rich, dovetailing nicely with the film’s antiquarian sense of style, and the results hit the right blend of HD vividness with a convincing celluloid texture.

The audio component of this transfer offers a Dolby 2.0 lossless presentation of the film’s original mono mix.  The results are very impressive for a vintage mix, with a crisp blend of music, dialogue and effects.  Like the video, the audio presentation respects its vintage style while also giving it a modern level of clarity.  There is also an isolated music and effects track that will please fans of Christopher Gunning’s lush musical score.

As with Synapse’s prior Hammer releases, Hands Of The Ripper features a nice batch of extras masterminded by Daniel Griffith.  For example, there are two animated image galleries.  The first focuses on the film itself, offering a nice mix of behind-the-scenes shots, promo stills and ad art.  The second and more unique of the galleries is called “The Slaughter Of Innocence: The Evolution Of Hammer Gore.”  As the title implies, it walks the viewer through a few decades’ worth of the shocking character makeups and bloody effects that made Hammer infamous with the censor board in their day.

On the promo material tip, there is also a theatrical trailer and a trio of punchy t.v. spots.  They all give the film a traditional hard-sell.  Audio is also included for the additional scenes from the t.v. version, which added a number of scenes with Severn Darden as a psychologist who wrote a book about the story covered in the film.  Sadly, no usable video source exists for these scenes – and the audio included here is fairly rough – but fans will be grateful to hear this rare material, which offers an interesting alternative spin on the film.

That said, the biggest and most noteworthy of the extras is “The Devil’s Plaything: Possessed By The Hands Of The Ripper,” a half-hour featurette helmed by Griffith.  It offers a concise yet highly informative retrospective on the film, placing it in the context of Hammer’s uneasy early-’70s era and discussing its unique take on gothic horror.  Director Peter Sasdy is interviewed extensively here as well as fans/historians like Wayne Kinsey, Richard Klemensen, Kim Newman and Joe Dante.

This piece covers a lot of ground: how particular makeup effects were censored in the U.K., Sasdy’s approach to casting, even how Angharad Rees was coaxed into doing her brief nude scene when she had second thoughts.  Most pleasantly, it offers a heartfelt tribute to producer Aida Young, who capably shepherded the film at a time when female genre film producers were a rarity.  The result will impress veteran fans and newbies alike with its wealth of information.

In short, Synapse’s combo edition of Hands Of The Ripper is another gem worth adding to any horror fan’s collection of high-def Hammer titles.

To read Schlockmania’s film review of Hands Of The Ripper, click here.

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