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From Hell
DVD disk
10.10.2004 By: The Shootin Surgeon
From Hell order
The Hughes Brothers

Johnny Depp
Heather Graham
Ian Holm


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History's most notorious serial killer, Jack The Ripper, returns in this nightmarish rendition of his brief 19th century killing spree. Based on the graphic novel of the same name, this film is seen through the eyes of inspector Fred Abberline (Depp), whose absinthe-induced vision provide clues to the identity of a man who murdered and mutilated five prostitutes in a span of a few weeks and was never caught. Reflecting on only one of the many theories surrounding the mysterious killer, and a highly "intuitive" one at that, the film provides its viewers with something new: the identity of Jack The Ripper.
I guess this is just one of those strange films... I remember watching it at the movies and hating it to the point where I almost wanted to walk out. For some reason, this second viewing was a complete 180-degree turn from that. The gore which initially had turned me off (I've never disliked a bit of gore but for some reason it seemed excessive and gratuitous the first time around) suddenly disappeared into the extremely well written story and the great performances by Johnny Depp, Robby Coltrane and Sir Ian Holm. Depp puts in his usual cool, calm and collected performance as an opium and absinthe addicted inspector who can "see" the murders in his visions before they happen. His relationship with Coltrane, who plays his superior officer, provides the film with some human warmth (you don't really get much of that from Jack himself) and provides the film with its rare glimpses of humor. On the other hand, Holm, far from being humorous is a standout in the role of Dr. William Gull, the Queen's physician who assists Abberline in his investigation.

This film basically escapes the trap of previous attempts at retelling this story in focusing on only a couple of possible theories rather than spreading itself too thin by attempting to discuss the dozens of suspects from the 115-year old case. The realism is achieved through the great performances but also through the great look of this film. As dark as its topic, it's a true mood-setter and the creepiness can be felt even when the Ripper isn't lurking through the shadows. Naturally, the film does not pretend to be the final, truth-telling authority on the identity of the murderer. That is unfortunately something we'll probably never know about, but it does offer a solid theory (as explained later in the bonus documentary) that does have some backing from the Ripper "community".

As I mentioned before, I initially found this film way too gory but I couldn't find any of that this time around. Naturally, a film about Jack the Ripper won't be filled with flowery fields. His notoriety was built on the brutal way his victims were not only killed, but mutilated, butchered and had their bodies laid out in a quasi-religious ritualistic manner. The Brothers Hughes do a good job of keeping it all together without letting the tale be the forefront while making sure that the blood adds to the value of the film, rather than divert all focus toward it. All in all, this is a great film experience for anyone interested in the genre.
Once in a while, a DVD comes along with some bonus material that is not only relevant, but that is interesting both as a stand-alone and that contributes to your appreciation of the film. This baby's a prime example of exactly that. This 2-disc set should find prime real-estate in many DVD collections very soon.

Disc 1 opens with a feature length commentary hosted by the Hughes Brothers, cinematographer Peter Deming, actor Robbie Coltrane and co-writer Rafael Yglesias. The main topic during this was the conversion of the graphic novel to film form. Yglesias handles most of the duties and goes into a lot of details about the troubles they went to to get this script the way they wanted but the commentary itself is pretty good. The one drawback is that each guy seems to have his little sections, but they interact with each other very infrequently, meaning that even though their info is very interesting, the format gets sort of tedious. Still, it's better than most commentary tracks.

The other goodie you'll find on Disc 1 is a treasure chest of deleted scenes. There are 20 of them and lo and behold, they are all pretty good! They're also available with commentary from the Hughes, but they all tie very well into the film. Also available is an alternate ending to the film. That's 21 bonus scenes in all (count 'em).

Onwards then to Disc 2, where you'll begin your little tour with an excellent, hour-long documentary entitled "Jack The Ripper: 6 Degrees of Separation". Basically, you're treated to a description of the murders (including some pretty graphic photos) and a rundown of the suspects list. The background really fills in the story from the film and gives it a lot more depth and whether or not it's a good thing, one could easily become a "Ripper buff" watching this kind of stuff. Several different theories about the true identity of the killer are presented and the basic theory from the film is also explained and "proven" by a very weird guy. And even though the production values of the documentary are pretty low, the content is very interesting. It also happens to be "interactive", which means you can access special vignettes at the click of a button when a special icon appears. One of the most disturbing finds I made was that one of the prime suspects in the case was actually arrested here in Montreal after fleeing London for helping an underage prostitute with an abortion.

Following that is a 15-minute feature on Production Design, hosted by one of the Hughes (I can't tell them apart), the production designer and one of the producers. It elaborates on the set recreation of the Whitechapel district that was built outside of Prague for the filming. Pretty impressive when you think of all the work that goes into a 2 hour-long film... never ceases to amaze me. That's followed by a 10-minute discussion on the conversion of the graphic novel into a screenplay. Pretty basic, but that novel looks pretty damn good!

A very interesting extra was this one: "Absinthe Makes the Heart Grow Fonder". This 10-minute discussion explains what the mysterious (and illegal) green beverage that helps Depp's character call up his visions actually is. If you watch this and can honestly e-mail me telling me that you don't want to try this stuff on for size, I'll paint my butt green and run naked through the streets. For Heaven's sake, they even show you how to drink it!! Off to Europe I go!!

Next up is a 7-minuteTour of the Murder Scenes with the Hughes Brothers. Unfortunately, instead of walking you through the actual murder scenes, they take you through a tour of their recreated set. Still pretty cool but I was hoping for a bit more info on the actual case (yes, I intend to solve it and no, you can't laugh at me!). Once you're done with the tour, you can join Heather Graham as she hosts "A View From Hell", a 15-minute long studio featurette with cast & crew interviews and the standard junket stuff. Watch for the cool hat worn by the always delightful Depp. The Theatrical Trailer is also present.
Here's the lowdown: I loved this film but I can really understand how some would be a bit tentative on it. I hated it myself the first time I saw it but if you have an open mind about this sort of thing, or if you have any interest in this notorious case, then you're better off buying this dvd than giving your dough to Blockbuster, because I guarantee that you will love it. If you're not sure or just curious, you may want to take it for one night and check it out. My prescription? This film should be a permanent part of many collections. Enjoy, and don't walk alone late at night.
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