After his so-so novelisation of 'Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter', I was worried when I saw that Guy Adams' next novelisation was to be of the 1971 Hammer classic 'Hands of the Ripper'. Even so, I could never have imagined what a total mess this book would turn out to be.
Described in the forward as "a new and exciting makeover", what we actually have is version of the story which is not only updated from the film's original late Victorian setting to the present day, but which also manages to lose practically everything that made the original film so good.
Most of the main characters from the film survive in some form or other, but their motivations and traits are almost unrecognisable. Although in the film, the murders were somewhat gory for the time, here they are just plain sensationalist. Even the film's final climatic scenes, on the page come over as totally banal.
Adams can write good original material as his 'Sherlock Holmes' and 'Torchwood' novels showed, but in adapting Hammer films something seems to go wrong.
This is based on a review copy I received as a member of the British Fantasy Society review team.
When I reviewed Shaun Hutson's 'X The Unknown' from this series, I watched the film version first, to better compare the two. I ended up regretting that. I found I'd have preferred not having all the suspense ruined by more than my vague memories of having seen the film over 30 years prior to reading the book. This time I decided to leave watching the movie until after reviewing the book. I'm pleased to say it works well enough as a novel without relying on any affection for any previous version of the story. Although Jonathan Rigby's notes in the forward, about the original version of the novel, by Edward Spencer Shew intrigued me enough that I now want to track down a copy of that long out of print book. Guy Adams' greatest strength as a writer is his flair for natural dialogue. No doubt this stems from his years as an actor, before switching to writing. The reader gains such a clear image of the characters from simply reading how they talk that they are pulled into the book very quickly. I had planned on just starting the book, but ended up finishing it in a single sitting. Given the instruction from the publisher to update the story, Adams is pretty much forced to sever any ties with the original Jack The Ripper. Instead he uses a contemporary serial killer he dubs 'The East End Ripper'. The author pitches the story in such a way that the reader can make up his/her own mind as to whether or not any supernatural influences play any part in the proceedings. Dr. John Pritchard is half-convinced his dead wife is haunting him, which is how he becomes involved in the whole sorry mess in the first place. He imagines her guiding him at the end, but there's certainly no hard and fast evidence that this isn't simply his own subconscious at work. As for the tragic Anna, Adams makes clever use of the fact that multiple personality disorder was associated with demonic possession in less enlightened times. I'm again pleasantly surprised to be able to recommend a film novelisation so highly.
I'm always a little dubious when a film is novelised, especially when the film is something of a British Classic from the Hammer studio's whilst the book has been brought up to date to appeal to a modern audience part of the problem for the reader is the loss of the Victorian courtesies that allowed the film to feel organic, with the roles being carefully fleshed out Eric Porter and Angharad Rees.
Sadly this book fell short of what I would have expected not only on a title based on the film but of the talent to which we know he has as we've read quite a bit of his material. The characters were sadly 2d, the pace sadly lacking and all in the book really felt that it should have been left where it was to allow the film to stand on its own merit. Hopefully other Hammer books will do a better job of adaptation than this but with a well-known author falling flat, that does leave me wondering if it's really going to be worth my time.