From Hell (DVD)

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Only the Legend Will Survive. FROM HELL

Jan 26, 2010
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Rated a Very Helpful Review
  • User Rating: Excellent

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Pros:Moody, taught, grim look at the corruption of Victorian England.  Great cast.  Depp.

Cons:Subject matter is rather grim.  Definitely not for kiddies.

The Bottom Line: Jack the Ripper has fascinated us for over a century.  Now, see one of the better "explainations" of how it might have gone.


Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie's plot.

From Hell (2001) Directed by the Hughes Brothers.  From the Graphic Novel by Alan Moore.

Lord Hallsham: How did he find out about the unfortunate and her child?
Sir Charles Warren: Well, he has that kind of cleverness you'll sometimes find in the middle classes. A cheap sort of intelligence, but effective nevertheless.
Lord Hallsham: Hmm. Thank God that's not something you're burdened by.
Sir Charles Warren: Yes, thank God.

In the fall of 1888 London was gripped by a growing terror as five women were brutally murdered in the Whitechapel slums.  All the women were prostitutes, and there were many similarities that marked them as done by the same hand.  The first serial killer, Jack the Ripper had been born.

Certain facts in the case are not in dispute.  Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes and Mary Jane Kelly were all killed by a right handed man with some skill with a knife.  Chapman and Eddowes both had their uteruses removed.  Mary Jane Kelly's body was extensively dismembered, and her heart taken.  It is likely that Stride's murder was interrupted, causing Jack to seek a second victim, Eddowes, that same night.

Beyond that...it is all guess work, and one of the most fertile fields of speculation, both in fiction and non-fiction.  I wonder what that says about us.

From Hell is taken from a letter, ostensibly written by the Ripper.  Its return address was "From Hell" and it included part of a human kidney, presumably taken from the unfortunate Catherine Eddowes.  The letter was signed, Jack the Ripper.

This story follows Inspector Frederick Abberline (Johnny Depp) as he tries to solve the murders.  Abberline is helped, and hindered, by a curious condition.  He is an opium addict.  However, the poppy seems to give him visions that later prove to bear fruit.

Like other great English Detectives with a penchant for creative chemistry, Abberline has a sidekick, Sergeant Peter Godley (Robbie Coltrane) who like Watson before him serves to do leg work, wonder at the brilliance of his mentor, and do what he can to keep said genius from self destructing.

All speculations must take a solid form, and follow a logical line.  This leads us to possible spoilers.  If you are a purist, stop now.

From Hell follows "The Royal Connection."  The street walkers are not just business acquaintances, but friends, and one of their number attracted the attention of a rich patron, was married, and bore a child.  Now, she has vanished, and the child as well, and it is the questions her friends ask that starts the entire tragic string of events.

One by one, they are murdered, and as the terror grows, they have to try to see a path out of their predicament.  What money they earn is taken by pimps, they have to work to eat, and yet, working puts them in the way of the Ripper.  Their conundrum builds a great deal of sympathy for these poor women.

Abberline, of lower birth himself is rather attracted to Mary Jane Kelly (Heather Graham...who wouldn't be?)  But he is motivated by more than just a desire to protect her, but from a genuine belief in justice.

The skill of the murderer, to be able to remove organs swiftly, in the dark, with skill, speaks to an educated culprit.  However, all lines of investigation into the upper classes are blocked by Sir Charles Warren, (Ian Richardson) Abberline's superior.  The path to truth is blocked by the wall that separates the classes, and further by the machinations of the Masons, whose secret gatherings are reserved for the most powerful of the upper class.  And as Abberline draws ever closer to the truth, his life is placed in jeopardy by that code of silence.

The Analysis.

This picture has taken some pains to get the historical details right, down to the maps of London, and the sites of the murders.  Drawn from actual photographs and case files, as much detail has been worked in as possible, with the singular exception of the murder of Mary Jane Kelly, which, if shown in it's complete and horrific form, would have earned the movie an NC-17 rating.  Even the cuts on the victims are correctly applied.

This builds a deeply dark and atmospheric London.  There is a wonderful scene where an aerial view, all pretty lights, drops to the rooftops, and then to the streets, where the grime and poverty are apparent, then continues below the ground to a subterranean chamber where the Masons practice their furtive rites.  It serves to show the corruption and decay of London, top to bottom, and from the poorest to the richest.

And of course, the actors only carry this theme along.  Depp is brilliant.  But so many parts allow him to shine; the workaday Godley, the pompous Warren, the jaded Dark Anne Chapman (the late Katrin Cartlidge) the genteel and accommodating Doctor William Gull (Ian Holm).  All these serve to draw a wondrous performance from Depp.  Only Heather Graham is out of place, her ethereal beauty unconvincing as a Cheapside har-lot.  But that's just bad casting.

Ultimately, there is only so much you can do with this tale; certain parameters are set in stone.  But inside that frame work Alan Moore and the Hughes Brothers have created a gripping drama that shows the full horrors of the Whitechapel Hell, in which Jack the Ripper was only one of many, many devils.


Recommend this product? Yes


Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Fit for Friday Evening
Suitability For Children: Not suitable for Children of any age


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