Written by Alan Moore, Eddie Campbell, and Terry Hayes
Directed by Albert Hughes and Allen Hughes
It seems that lately, Hollywood has become enamored with Freemasonry. At least one big movie per year seems to vilify the “secret society” and makes them responsible for everything from covering up the birth of Jesus’ offspring to hiding a priceless treasure.
What’s this got to do with From Hell? Well, I can’t tell you because that would spoil a lot, but it does have something to do with prostitutes being killed in London in the late 19th century.
Based on what is known about Jack the Ripper, From Hell ties the facts together with the people involved in the investigation and the events that took place. Although many of the facts are correct and true to the investigation, the storyline is basically one theory that has been extrapolated. It’s based on a graphic novel by Alan Moore, although it doesn’t follow Jack through the murders as the novel does. Instead, we get the perspective of the lead Scotland Yard investigator on the case.
Johnny Depp is Inspector Frederick Abberline, an opium-smoking Scotland Yard detective who is assigned to the cases. The twist is that he has a sixth sense, and has seen some of the victims in his dreams. His character is reminiscent of the depictions of Sherlock Holmes in many ways.
Heather Graham is Mary Kelly, a prostitute living in the area where the victims have been murdered. Mary is frightened but also strong in her resolve. What seems like the side story of her taking care of baby Alice for her friend, Anne, is much more. Mary is worried when she brings Alice to her grandparents and then all three of them disappear. It is even more worrisome when they find out what has become of Anne.
Yes, all of that ties in together. In what might have possibly been the first conspiracy theory, one explanation for the Jack the Ripper phenomenon is explored. The ties to Freemasonry come into the picture when Abberline consults the physician to the Royal family for advice.
The acting is really terrific. There is little that Depp has ever disappointed me in, and his performance here is stellar. Depp shares good chemistry with both of his co-stars, but especially with his investigative partner, Sergeant Peter Godley (portrayed by Robbie Coltrane). They make it look like a Laurel and Hardy matchup, but they work quite well together and play off of each other nicely throughout the investigation.
Heather Graham is good in her role, but she seems more like the role Julia Roberts played in Pretty Woman than a 19th-century London prostitute. She could have been a bit grittier and at times seems out of place in the events going on around her, including her interaction with her fellow street-walkers. Her connection with Abberline is believable, although they don’t share intense chemistry.
From Hell is definitely not for the squeamish. When the first killing is shown, we see the shiny knife blade coming up and plunging down, again and again, covered in blood. It gets worse as the film goes on. There are a number of scenes of the murdered prostitutes which are quite graphic and could be disturbing for some. One of the throat-slitting scenes is shown with the blood bubbling out of the body right after the night has drawn across her throat. In some ways, it’s a marvel of special effects and make-up. In others, it made me want to turn away.
The look of the film is a grisly, dark look, and it accentuated the abject poverty of that area of London. From the setting of the murders to the residences (and non-residences) of the girls, the message is clear. These are the lowest levels of society during this time. It’s easy to understand why some of the girls were so easily baited into the clutches of The Ripper by something as simple as a group of grapes. The tone the Hughes brothers sets with their setting is perfect, only bringing in bright sunshine illustrating hope near the end and keeping it dull and dreary otherwise. It’s not an uplifting movie by any stretch of the imagination, but it does end on a bit of a Hollywood note.
The DVD is a 2-disc release loaded with extras. The extras are really worth viewing and add a lot to the film itself.
While From Hell would largely be classified as a horror flick, and has the graphic blood and guts to go along with it, it’s not a low-budget slasher flick by any means. I generally don’t care for horror films and I did like this movie. It’s not for the squeamish, no matter how many times you say to yourself that it’s just special effects.
• Commentary by Albert Hughes, Allen Hughes, Screenwriter Rafael Yglesias, Cinematographer Peter Deming and Robbie Coltrane
• Deleted scenes
• Jack the Ripper: Six Degrees of Separation
• Production Design
• Tour of the Murder Sites
• Graphic Novel
• Absinthe Makes the Heart Grow Fonder
• A View From Hell Featurette
Categories: Movie Reviews