From Hell (2001)
Director: The Hughes Brothers
Heather Graham/Mary Kelly
Ian Holm/William Gull
When street whores begin to pop up with their throats slit and body parts missing on Londonâ€™s shady streets, opium-addicted Scotland Yard Detective Abberline (Depp) is brought in to find the elusive ripperâ€¦yesâ€¦Jack The Ripper.
â€śOne day men will look back and say I gave birth to the twentieth centuryâ€ť
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 â€śreal lifeâ€ť account of the Ripperâ€™s 1888 massacre. Itâ€™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 onâ€¦
In this movie, Abberline (Depp) often â€śchases the dragonâ€ť (an expression meaning that he smokes opium and trips out) and thatâ€™s exactly how I felt while watching this visually engrossing, macabre offering. Donâ€™t get me wrong, â€śFrom Hellâ€ť 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 Abberlineâ€™s opium trips, the dreadful atmosphere thatâ€™s spread throughout the film, the novel use of lighting, the creepy use of shadows or the stylish murdersâ€¦my eyes were crazy-glued to the freakin' screen. The Hughes Brothers have really outdone themselves from a â€śdirectingâ€ť 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 Londonâ€™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 movieâ€™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 â€śI will never age and boy am I great lookingâ€ť 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 mentionedâ€¦you canâ€™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 wouldâ€™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 wasnâ€™t too interrupted.
On a script level, the film did fail me twice. First off, thereâ€™s the Depp/Graham love angle. I wouldâ€™ve accepted a friendship, but slapping in the big "L" in respect to both characters didnâ€™t ring true to me. The love subplot never really takes the time to evolve or grow, weâ€™re just asked to buy itâ€¦I didnâ€™t. Second of all, the film has way too many characters. I got lost a few times as to who they were? Whoâ€™s that evil dude with the white hair? Is everybody involved in this? Whereâ€™s Mulder when you need him? I donâ€™t know. On a positive script note, I did appreciate that Abberlineâ€™s visions werenâ€™t his main tools of investigation. It wouldâ€™ve been easy for the film to use his visions as the principal element that drove his quest but theyâ€™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 isnâ€™t particularly scary but its grim visuals and brutal violence more than make for it. This isnâ€™t a happy-go-lucky flick, thatâ€™s fer sure! Itâ€™s a un-pleasant (in a pleasant way) living nightmare and definitely one of the yearâ€™s best. Long live horror! Now let's go to hell!
This film reeks of death. If it isnâ€™t the many disfigured, rotten corpses that we encounter along the way, itâ€™s the splashes of blood, the â€śnot-funâ€ť lobotomies and one very graphic slit throat (I cringed). The movie actually grossed me out more with what it didnâ€™t show, my imagination ran wild and man, it wasnâ€™t pretty. Thereâ€™s gore hereâ€¦disturbing gore.
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 Grahamâ€™s (Mary Kelly) attempt to stretch her acting talents and in her scenes with Depp, she does fine. But itâ€™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. Heâ€™s focused, likeable and his scenes with Depp shine. Robbie Coltrane (Godley) also does well as Abberlineâ€™s friend and partner. Heâ€™s natural and sympathetic.
T & A
We get a bush shot, tit shot, butt shot but none of it is â€śpleasantâ€ť nudity. We do get to see girls make out a few times and Depp still looks great shirtless.
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 Demingâ€™s astounding cinematography and you a get a visual trip and a half!
Trevor Jonesâ€™ eerie score supports the gruesome images perfectly. A marriage made in hell.
"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 (didnâ€™t bother me) and the unconventional visuals might alienate others, but if youâ€™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 babyâ€¦chase it godammit!
Taken from the production notes: The movieâ€™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 filmâ€™s sets were created by Academy Award-winning production designer Martin Childs (â€śShakespeare in Loveâ€ť) and built by his team of seventy artists and carpenters.