Slashers & Serial Killers in Review: From Hell (2001)
Released Date: Oct 2001
Director: The Hughes Brothers (Albert & Allen)
Starring: Johnny Depp, Heather Graham, Ian Holm & Robbie Coltrane
Brief Synopsis: Based on the graphic novel by Alan Moore & Eddie Campbell. A clairvoyant detective investigates the Jack the Ripper murders in turn of the century England. The investigation leads him to an unspeakable conclusion.
Review by: Feind Gottes
I have to start out by telling you From Hell is one of my favorite movies. It’s right up there with Se7en when it comes to crime thrillers that dip a toe or two in the horror waters. If somehow you have not seen this movie you need to correct that mistake immediately! So to start, everyone should know about Jack the Ripper, at least, in a general sense – a serial killer who stalked the streets of London from August 1888 to November 1888 credited with killing five known prostitutes in the Whitechapel district of London. The case stands as the most famous unsolved murder case in history. That may change soon but I’ll touch on that at the end. The film From Hell explores a conspiracy theory that is interesting to explore though has about as much chance of being correct as I have of being Bigfoot in disguise but it is fun to think about. The film makes this theory seem far more plausible than it is but then it comes from a graphic novel written by one of the most brilliant writers of our time, Alan Moore (if you don’t know who Alan Moore is go look it up! NOW!)
The film comes from the perspective of an opium addicted, somewhat clairvoyant, detective Inspector Frederick Abberline superbly portrayed by Johnny Depp. He has visions of the murder scenes while in opium trances which is fun for the movie, probably not so much in real life. I’d say you probably shouldn’t try it unless you like opium then have at it I guess. Anyway, Abberline has a vision of a murder when he is pulled from an opium den by his partner, boss and only friend in this movie, Sergeant Peter Godley (Coltrane). For the record, Inspector Abberline was, in reality, one of the Scotland Yard detectives on the case though I’m not sure about Godley. Aside from the murders themselves most of the movie is “based on actual events” if you get my meaning.
The murder scenes themselves are historically accurate which helps suck you into this story. Police at the time were at a loss in the face of such brutal crimes and the science of forensics was in its absolute infancy (forensics was not a word yet). Police at the time suspected the murders were committed by a butcher or someone in a similar occupation while Abberline is the first to suspect Jack the Ripper must have some sort of medical training since the cuts are precise and difficult to find organs are removed in the dark or at best by candlelight. This leads Abberline to request the assistance of Sir William Gull (Holm), an aging surgeon teaching in London since he is no longer able to perform surgeries due to a stroke. Their relationship turns into a fledgling profile of Jack the Ripper which has to be kept between the two since psychological profiles were akin to witchcraft at the time.
Jack the Ripper keeps brutally killing off whores in Whitechapel while Abberline develops a relationship with Mary Jane Kelly (Graham) because this is a movie and there has to be a romantic interest/storyline. It is only after speaking with Kelly that Abberline discovers a link to the royal family which may be responsible for the murders. In this alternate history conspiracy theory exploration, Prince Edward married prostitute Ann Crook who he also fathered a child with making the daughter of a whore a direct successor to the throne. After learning this Abberline confronts Dr Gull with the news only to find out that Prince Edward can’t possibly be Jack the Ripper because he has contracted syphilis – a common and incurable ailment at the time. Fun fact – insane asylums were once filled with those infected with syphilis since in the later stages it causes a variety of mental ailments as the brain deteriorates from the disease. Moral of that story: wear a condom kids! Anyway, this new information doesn’t deter Abberline from believing that the unsanctioned marriage must have something to do with the murders. Also a giant assumption in this movie is that all the female victims were a small group of prostituting friends – this was done for convenience of the story and not based on any historical fact though all the woman were prostitutes working in Whitechapel so hence, they likely knew each other if only in passing.
Another player in this conspiracy is a gentleman called Benjamin “Ben” Kidney (excellently played by Terence Harvey) who is the equivalent of being the head of the Secret Service for the Royal Family in today’s terms. In the film it is Kidney who finds out about Prince Edward’s marriage to a prostitute promptly kidnapping the woman and, for the purposes of this film, does not kill her (as likely would have happened, I mean why keep her alive?). Instead Kidney has her committed to an asylum where she is promptly lobotomized so that she can’t speak to anyone about what she knows even though she did not know who the Prince actually was, believing him to be just a rich man not a royal.
There are many twists and turns as Abberline tries to get at the truth and catch the most infamous killer ever. Toss onto the conspiracy pile the Free Masons and a Police Chief doing everything in his power to make sure the case is not solved and you have a ton of possible suspects for Abberline and Godley. One big problem here is that we kind of know the end, right? I mean Jack the Ripper was never caught so he isn’t going to be caught in the movie either. However, the story cleverly deals with that too. If you haven’t seen it I don’t want to give away everything since it’s fun to watch it all play out. Obviously though, Jack the Ripper isn’t ultimately caught but you will catch one of the most interesting movies ever made about him if you watch From Hell… something I’ve done probably a few dozen times. I highly recommend it and while it does play fast and loose with actual historical facts that doesn’t really matter nor deter from the enjoyment of this film. From Hell is a damn near perfect film and a favorite so, for me, this one is a ten but looking at it subjectively I guess I’d give it a 9.5 out of 10 because everything can be better in some way.
Now, before you go and watch From Hell for the first time or again, I have a final thought for you. If you want to dive deep and I mean really deep into the possible solving of the Jack the Ripper murders nearly 150 years later I urge you to watch American Ripper. This is an investigative documentary series on the History channel hosted by Jeff Mudgett who is the great-great-grandson of Herman Mudgett who is better known as H.H. Holmes, an infamous American serial killer. Holmes ran the infamous Murder House in Chicago. He was a con man, a thief and serial killer – perhaps the most prolific of all-time. Jeff Mudgett believes Holmes was also Jack the Ripper and for good reason… I think he was too! Mudgett is still trying to find a piece of concrete evidence like DNA to prove it beyond a shadow of a doubt but the circumstantial evidence is absolutely stunning including eyewitness descriptions matching Holmes and ship logs that place Holmes in England at the time of the Ripper murders. It is absolutely fascinating if the Ripper case peaks your interest as much as it does mine. Also you learn a lot about Holmes you probably didn’t know. Honestly, he was so psychopathic he seems more like a character someone like me would have to make up but he was very much a real person who killed an absolute fuckton of people.
So check out American Ripper which I believe you can find on HULU and probably a few other places. Peace Out!
Feind Gottes [Fee-nd Gotz] is a horror writing, metal loving award winning horror author. Feind currently resides near Omaha, NE with his girlfriend and one crazy cat. In 2017 Feind placed in the Top Ten in The Next Great Horror Writer Contest sponsored by HorrorAddicts.net then later won the 2017 Vincent Price Scariest Writer Award from Tell-Tale Publishing with his story Vacuity, now published in Vacuity and Other Tales.
2018 marked a milestone for Feind with the publication of his first solo published work with the unleashing of his novella, Essence Asunder, by Hellbound Books in June 2018. Lastly, Feind won the Dark Chapter Press Prize 2016 novel writing contest with the first draft of his first novel, Piece It All Back Together, which is currently being edited for an early 2019 release from Stitched Smile Publications.
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Will have to give this one another look, especially after visiting Whitechapel this past summer. Saw the premiere at TIFF, but after bumping into an old friend and downing a few too many…I am not sure I gave it a fair shake.
November 23, 2018 at 4:21 pm