From Hell

88 ratings (87 Epinions reviews)
Epinions Product Rating: Very Good
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Ripper's Bigger Influence? Serial Killers or Movies?

Oct 17, 2001
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Performances from Depp, Coltrane and Holm are solid. Wonderful atmosphere and well-directed.

Cons:Whodunit trappings make unmasking the killer too easy.

The Bottom Line: It's a good movie that could have been great and that only makes it more disappointing. But what is there is worth your time.


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

"One day, men will look back and say, I gave birth to the twentieth century.” That’s a quote from Jack the Ripper that opens From Hell, a stylishly grim tale that offers the first spin of the legend in the 21st century. That excerpt obviously refers to the metaphorical underpinnings of The Ripper’s relationship to man’s dark nature starting to unravel in the 1900s. But in the context of From Hell, it makes more sense to compare it to the number of serial killer and Sherlock Holmes-type mysteries we’ve been accustomed to in the last hundred years, especially in the world of movies. For where From Hell entertains with its atmosphere and performances, its central mystery to the identity of the ultimate unmasked killer will prove to be not much of a mystery to those who have seen most of those movies.

I must admit, in the spirit of fair play, to knowing my fair share about the history of Jack and his victims. In 1988, one hundred years after the case was marked “unsolved”, a television miniseries came along using the newly released court records to shed its own theory on the murders. It starred Michael Caine (in a Golden Globe-winning performance) as Chief Inspector Frederick Abberline who followed the trail of characters and clues (most of which can be found in From Hell) to the final ambush and capture of the notorious slasher.

The identity of the Ripper was the same there as it is here, although a larger conspiratorial plot has been moved to the forefront. Johnny Depp gets to play Inspector Abberline this time, except with a proclivity for opium dens which may or may not induce the visions he’s been having of the Ripper’s victims. One of those visions is that of Mary Kelly (a surprisingly decent Heather Graham), who is the most fresh-faced cleanest streetwalker this side of Big Ben. She possesses none of the moles or blotchiness of her co-workers who remain the closest knit of whoo-res since Clint Eastwood’s “Unforgiven”.

This den of hoariness is whom the Ripper sets his sights on. One-by-one they are picked off like teenage friends in a Jason movie, only with a lot more style. Could it have something to do with their knowledge of that little baby born by one of them? Possibly. If the film’s title were changed to “Sleepy Hollow II”, would it make much of a difference? Most likely not.

You have Johnny Depp playing a police inspector with unusual methods. He has a love interest that may be closely linked to the murders. The killer, whether it be Jack the Ripper or The Headless Horseman, isn’t killing indiscriminately, but carefully picking his victims within a circle of friends who know a little more than they should. There’s a carriage fight and a final surprise revelation that leads us to the one person the filmmakers has been shifting our attention away from as much as possible. Yet is the film still entertaining? Absolutely.

As stated before, directors Allen and Albert Hughes have infused From Hell with such a perfection to detail and an ambience of darkness that its impossible to look away. Using Alan Moore’s graphic novel as the film’s inspiration, every exterior frame looks like a comic book storyboard. Gore fans may be slightly disappointed that most of the blood and mutilations are kept at a soft focus or in the background, but that only sets everybody up for what could be the greatest throat slashing ever captured on film towards the end.

Johnny Depp is reliable as ever and he’s back with some solid support from Robbie Coltrane as his loyal partner, Sergeant Godley, and the always welcome Ian Holm as Sir William Gull, a sickly doctor for the Royal Family whom advises Abberline in his investigation. It’s a shame that screenwriters Terry Hayes (The Road Warrior) and Rafael Yglesias (Fearless) couldn’t inject a little more life and heart into more of the living characters, especially since vital organs had already been taken from the Ripper’s victims.

I have enough confidence that I would have figured out the Ripper’s identity even without the knowledge of the ’88 miniseries. All the familiar trappings of whodunits are present here, even up to one of the oldest Three-Card Monte tricks in the book. Intriguingly enough, From Hell offers up a clean-cut solution to the age-old mystery without ever using the world “unsolved” in the end. I guess that kind of revisionist history gives them a little more freedom to take creative license with the outcome of Mary Kelly. From Hell is certainly more Sherlock Holmes than Freddy Krueger, and while it doesn’t exactly qualify as a horror film, its creepy and fascinating enough to garner your undivided attention. I only wish some revisionist would come along to make mysteries such as this a little more unsolvable.


Recommend this product? Yes


Suitability For Children: Not suitable for Children of any age


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