ARROW IN THE HEAD REVIEWS

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From Hell (2001)
Written by: The Arrow
Director: The Hughes Brothers

Starring:
Johnny Depp/Abberline
Heather Graham/Mary Kelly
Ian Holm/William Gull
Robbie Coltrane/Godley
PLOT-CRUNCH
When street whores begin to pop up with their throats slit and body parts missing on London’s shady streets, opium-addicted Scotland Yard Detective Abberline (Depp) is brought in to find the elusive ripper…yes…Jack The Ripper.
THE LOWDOWN
“One day men will look back and say I gave birth to the twentieth century”

This gruesome film is based on Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell's graphic novel that goes by the same name (win copies of that novel here). A few of the facts in this movie are true (like the states in which the corpses were found) but this is by no means a “real life” account of the Ripper’s 1888 massacre. It’s mostly a fictional take on the legendary maniac with a very interesting theory as to who he was. But does this bad-boy hold up? Read on…

In this movie, Abberline (Depp) often “chases the dragon” (an expression meaning that he smokes opium and trips out) and that’s exactly how I felt while watching this visually engrossing, macabre offering. Don’t get me wrong, “From Hell” has a storyline and a very strong one at that, but for me the visuals took over and were my main draw to the film. Be it the brilliant use of colors (red and bright green), the trippy montages of Abberline’s opium trips, the dreadful atmosphere that’s spread throughout the film, the novel use of lighting, the creepy use of shadows or the stylish murders…my eyes were crazy-glued to the freakin' screen. The Hughes Brothers have really outdone themselves from a “directing” standpoint. Think David Lynch mixed in with some Oliver Stone. Wow!

On a story level, the film is also mostly captivating. It covers all its bases. First, it imbues us in its world; old London’s dirty streets never felt so genuine on the screen, I felt like I was there. The sets are remarkable, the costumes dead-on and you can almost smell the filth. Then, the film sets up its characters and there I hit a snag. I had a bit of trouble caring about the dirty foul mouth whores that stood as main characters in this movie. I was actually rooting for them to get nixed by the Ripper dude! I know this was not the movie’s goal, but films are subjective and I guess my slasher sensibilities popped out at the wrong moments. DIE WHORE DIE!!!

I did have a blast following the murder case though. It helped that Johnny “I will never age and boy am I great looking” Depp was the actor playing the detective. Not only is the man a solid actor, nailing a groovy accent once again but like I just mentioned…you can’t have a more photogenic man than Johnny Depp. The mystery itself kept me going, playing with my suspicions like a jock plays with a prom queen. It did slightly turn me off when a secret society (a more in-depth exploration would’ve been nice), corrupt doctors and the Queen of England were tossed into the mix, but I eventually warmed up to the ideas and my pleasant, dread-filled ride wasn’t too interrupted.

On a script level, the film did fail me twice. First off, there’s the Depp/Graham love angle. I would’ve accepted a friendship, but slapping in the big "L" in respect to both characters didn’t ring true to me. The love subplot never really takes the time to evolve or grow, we’re just asked to buy it…I didn’t. Second of all, the film has way too many characters. I got lost a few times as to who they were? Who’s that evil dude with the white hair? Is everybody involved in this? Where’s Mulder when you need him? I don’t know. On a positive script note, I did appreciate that Abberline’s visions weren’t his main tools of investigation. It would’ve been easy for the film to use his visions as the principal element that drove his quest but they’re merely a light support to his more conventional methods here. Thank god!

On a whole, "From Hell" has to be darkest movie I have seen all year. The script has a few flaws and the film isn’t particularly scary but its grim visuals and brutal violence more than make for it. This isn’t a happy-go-lucky flick, that’s fer sure! It’s a un-pleasant (in a pleasant way) living nightmare and definitely one of the year’s best. Long live horror! Now let's go to hell!
GORE
This film reeks of death. If it isn’t the many disfigured, rotten corpses that we encounter along the way, it’s the splashes of blood, the “not-fun” lobotomies and one very graphic slit throat (I cringed). The movie actually grossed me out more with what it didn’t show, my imagination ran wild and man, it wasn’t pretty. There’s gore here…disturbing gore.
ACTING
I love it when Johnny Depp (Abberline) plays dark and damaged characters. He excels at it. Here, he showcases another flawless performance (and accent) and had me hooked the whole way. I respect Heather Graham’s (Mary Kelly) attempt to stretch her acting talents and in her scenes with Depp, she does fine. But it’s her scenes with the other whores that betray her weaknesses. Compared to them, her accent is flawed and so is her conviction. Ian Holm (William Gull) does it again, playing the good doctor helping Abberline out. He’s focused, likeable and his scenes with Depp shine. Robbie Coltrane (Godley) also does well as Abberline’s friend and partner. He’s natural and sympathetic.
T & A
We get a bush shot, tit shot, butt shot but none of it is “pleasant” nudity. We do get to see girls make out a few times and Depp still looks great shirtless.
DIRECTING
Outstanding. The Hughes Brothers explore a different kind of ghetto as opposed to their two previous films and they nail it. Talk about dark! They also handle their actors very well and slap all kinds of slick style our way. Be it gnarly camera angles, kool use of sounds (loved those carriage stairs), effective use of the dark (all about that blade slashing away in a sea of darkness), surreal use of filters and a way groovy use of colors (the green carriage lanterns, the constant reddish shades). Couple that with Peter Deming’s astounding cinematography and you a get a visual trip and a half!
SOUNDTRACK
Trevor Jones’ eerie score supports the gruesome images perfectly. A marriage made in hell.
BOTTOM LINE
"From Hell" is a very suitable title for this movie. With its dark and scary sets, its extremely brutal murders, its many lobotomies and its visually arresting images, this film can almost be perceived as a descent into hell with Jack the Ripper as the devilish entity himself. The pace might be a bit too slow for some (didn’t bother me) and the unconventional visuals might alienate others, but if you’re looking for an uncompromising, involving, violent little ditty, I say take that trip to hell, it won't let you down. Chase that dragon baby…chase it godammit!
BULL'S EYE
Taken from the production notes: The movie’s principal locations included several historic castles outside Prague and a large re-creation of the Whitechapel district of London where the murders occurred. Constructed on a 20-acre site near the famed Barrandov Studios, the Whitechapel set is an accurate rendering of the buildings and narrow cobblestone alleys of the infamous area where five indigent prostitutes met their grisly fates. The film’s sets were created by Academy Award-winning production designer Martin Childs (“Shakespeare in Love”) and built by his team of seventy artists and carpenters.
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