Saturday, December 7, 2013

From Hell (2001)

From HellJack the Ripper is perhaps one of the most famous (or should I say infamous) serial killers known. His has indeed become somewhat of a household name that has withstood the test of time. The Whitechapel murders, to this day, remain unsolved, and many people find themselves morbidly drawn to this slew of ghastly occurrences. The Hughes brothers are no different from the countless others who seek to dissect the facts surrounding these heinous crimes, and they approach this fascination with cinematic fervor, creating an excellent movie from the excellent comic book.

There have been countless books, movies, and PBS specials produced that delve into the Jack the Ripper tales and theories. This particular adaptation is the depiction of a detective named Inspector Fred Abberline (Johnny Depp) who is hot on the trail of the murderous monster. Enlisting the hallucinatory effects of absinthe, he can induce visions that aid him in his quests. Throughout his investigation, he gradually begins to fall for one of the Whitechapel prostitutes at risk (Mary Kelly played by Heather Graham), and this serves to up the ante regarding the challenge to find the villain and, furthermore, accelerate his efforts. Sir William Gull (Ian Holm) is a doctor who contributes to Inspector Fred Abberline's profile of the meandering butcher. Add to this an illegitimate marriage and a royal scandal, and this equates to an enticingly dour, moody thriller that one can't help but to enjoy.

The sets on this film are incredible, and included in the two disc edition within the extras existing on the DVD is an intriguing explanation of the recreation of the sets from actual photographs and maps from the period. The props and attire were also quite well done. The acting and casting were superb. The dark lighting created a potently thrilling and disturbing atmosphere, and the excellent cinematography only served to strengthen that sinister ambiance, as well as create an almost overwhelming sense of impending danger. The blood and gore effects are incredible as well, yet they never take precedence over the story line, which is very much appreciated. Though fairly predictable, this film is still an exhilarating, if somewhat fictitious, romp through some dreary and obscure pages in history.

This movie is a must for fans of horror, true crime, and dark thrillers. I very highly recommend this film to those with any kind of brooding fascination for the macabre. Not for the easily disturbed.

When I had seen the trailers for the film "From Hell" I'd expected it to be good. Was it good? Yes. As good as I hoped it would be? No. But it is still a damned fine mystery-horror-thriller that incorperates romance and drama into the story as well.

The story follows Inspector Fredrick Abberline as he begins his investigation of the infamous Whitechapel murders, perpetrated by the shadowy, never-caught Jack the Ripper. During the course of the investigation, he has precognitive visions that lead him deeper into the mystery, as he tries to save the beautiful prostitutes who are being viciously murdered, and are somehow linked to a massive conspiracy. He even begins to fall in love with Mary Kelly, who would be the Ripper's final victim.

The performance of Johhny Depp as Inspector Abberline is overall an excellent performance from an actor who always takes notoriously quirky roles. Heather Graham came off rather well as Mary Kelly--much better than I thought she would be. Robbie Coltrane plays the part of the Inspector's sidekick, Sgt. Godley, extremely well, and he manages to steal all of his scenes. Another wonderful portrayal is that of Ian Holm as the royal physician Sir William Gull, who assists Inspector Abberline and may have a key to the mystery. Supporting performances are all pulled off very well.

The set design and visual effects are gorgeous and haunting, giving a vivid presentation of 1888 London(the visuals rival even those of Tim Burton). The murders are left more to the imagination rather than being very explicit--but the onscreen gore effects are decidedly gruesome. Even the music by Trevor Jones is haunting in the simple, dark textual feel that it gives off.

The story itself is overall good. The first 3/4ths are quite ingenious, but in the very end of the film is not what I expected and I was a little disappointed in the resolution and conclusion of the tale. The Ripper's identity and motive were excellent, even when kept faceless in the shadows. But the as the climax builds up, it seems to be running out of steam. My only major gripe is how complicated the story gets as it progresses--adding in the conspiracy and the romance, it just seems unable to hold its own weight, building up to nothing. Although this can be accounted by trying to stick close to the source material and history itself, the conclusion is not wholly satisfying.

But overall this is a good movie that will undoubtedly become a favorite among Ripper fans, as well as fans of "Seven" and "Silence of the Lambs". If you can tolerate its massive complexity and the rather limp ending, then you will find this an entertaining and enjoyable--and rather nasty--little pleasure.

Buy From Hell (2001) Now

The most important thing you need to know about "From Hell," is that the Hughes Brothers really let you off easy with this one. When you go home after seeing this movie late at night and have trouble getting to sleep, just remember that they could have shown you a lot more, which means you might not have gotten to sleep for a week. I have read Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell's graphic novel "From Hell," and have also spent some time researching the historical record regarding Jack the Ripper, which includes not only autopsy reports but also photographs of the victims. Consequently, I was surprised that the film verion of "From Hell" actually backed off three times from completely grossing out the audience.

First, when the Ripper killed Annie Chapman he draped some of her intestines over her shoulder. The film does not even suggest this happened, beyond the idea that organs have been removed. Second, the night the Ripper claimed two victims, most Ripperologists have surmised that because he was interrupted when he killed Liz Stride, he was really angry when he killed Catherine Eddowes, since he hacked away the bottom half of her face. But when her face is revealed it is just the same as the other victims. Finally, when the doctor begins to describe the final body--usual the very words of the actual report--he stops after having described the position of the corpse. More to the point, he stops before describing what Jack did with her organs. Believe me, you do not need to see this to freak out because just hearing about it would keep you awake all night. Now, to be fair, the dialogue is the same as that scene in the graphic novel; but then Moore and Campbell had already devoted a entire volume to what Jack the Ripper did that night in graphic detail so it did not have to be articulated. But I was all set to hear the one of the biggest audience moans in cinematic history and was somewhat disappointed the Hughes Brothers let everybody off the hook.

Ironically, the Hughes Brothers could legitimately get away with showing us much more blood and guts. After all, the autopsy reports tell us in excruciating detail what the Ripper did to each of his victims and they could simply claim historical accuracy. But instead they pull up short, giving them even more latitude for getting away with what gore they do offer up. However, during Abberline's vision of what will happen to Jack the Ripper's final victim, one of the images that flashes before our eyes is indeed a photograph taken by the police of the mutilated body of Mary Kelly. This only goes to reinforce the great divide that exists between those who have studied the murders of Jack the Ripper and/or read "From Hell" and those who simply know Jack the Ripper killed a bunch of prostitutes in London in the late 19th century and was never caught.

Certainly, the Hughes Brothers do play with us in this film. If you can stomach seeing it a second time, or if you already know who "From Hell" contends is the Ripper, then they are several scenes were Abberline is tantalizingly close to the killer. Of course, they are not alone in such regard; "The Bone Collector" was particularly audacious in offering us a first glimpse of the killer. Moore and Campbell let us know the identity of Jack from before he ever starts his killing spree, but the movie version decides to keep it a mystery and apparently succeeds in surprising those who only know about "From Hell" from the trailer and television commercials.

The Hughes Brothers have described "From Hell" as a "ghetto" film, and certainly the production design stands out in providing a fitting atmosphere for the tale. The events we are watching are not taking place in the London we have come to know from countless Hammer horror films but in what we readily accept as the city's Whitechapel district in the fall of 1888 (with Prague doubling nicely). This is as stylish a slasher flick as you will ever see, with the time-lapse sequence of the discovery of one of the bodies and the revelation of the Masonic meeting beneath the streets of London particularly memorable. Even the lighting works towards the proper atmosphere for the story.

Johnny Depp's performance as Inspector Abberline is nicely understated (the character's psychic visions come from a fake psychic who was in the graphic novel). Unfortunately, Heather Graham is just too darn cute, sticking out from the rest of the totally believable group of prostitutes (Annabelle Apsion, Katrin Cartlidge, Susan Lynch and Lesley Sharp). I had heard that the producers made actually made them shoot a "happy ending" to this film, but fortunately they had the wisdom not to use it. Ripperologists knew going in that this was not going to be the "true" story about Jack, so that additional liberties such as all of the victims hanging out together all the time and the total absence of men in any of their lives, are easily forgivable. What was always impressive about Moore's tale was how he managed to weave so many different elements together into a comprehensive tale, even if it is ultimately suspect. But the film version strips the story down to its essentials and while it is certainly the best Jack the Ripper film made to date, I cannot shake my head and think how much better it could have been by letting the audience glimpse just a little bit more of the true story.

But, oh, boys and girls, "From Hell" could have upset you a whole lot more than it did. If only you can understand how close to the edge of the cliff you were on this one...

Read Best Reviews of From Hell (2001) Here

The case of Jack the Ripper has long been, and continues to be, one of the great unsolved mysteries of all time, and as such has been the subject of numerous treatments in film. Of them all, however, none has advanced a more logical or plausible theory in explanation of the who, whys and wherefores of the infamous serial killer than "From Hell," directed by Albert Hughes and Allen Hughes, which attempts to solve the mystery that has by consensus long been deemed "unsolvable." But-cinematically speaking, at any rate-the Hughes Brothers make a decidedly solid case of it.

It's 1888, London; in the Whitechapel district prostitutes are being systematically slaughtered in a precise and grisly manner. Scotland Yard is at a loss to solve or stop the murders, and Inspector Fred Abberline (Johnny Depp) is assigned to investigate. Abberline is somewhat unique in his approach, as he is invested with certain prescient abilities, which he enhances through the use of opium, laudanum and absinthe; not the usual methods employed by the police, but it does effect the desired results.

Abberline discovers a link between the victims, and along the way becomes involved with one of the "girls," Mary Kelly (Heather Graham), who may be in danger because of something she knows. But as Abberline gets closer to a solution, he very well may be in danger also; he knows too much, and there is one, especially, who would find ease if he were to just disappear. And by any means necessary.

The proper atmosphere is, of course, a requirement if one is to tell this story convincingly, and the Hughes Brothers succeed nicely in this regard. But it would be hard to find a movie about the Ripper that did NOT achieve a proper mood; it's kind of a common link that ties all of the previous offerings together, up to and including this one. This film differs from the rest in one important respect, however, and it's a big one-that being the story itself. Whereas the others are good at leading you down the path and taking you nowhere, the Hughes Brothers go out on a limb and actually deliver a satisfying ending, and moreover, one that solves the mystery. It's all speculation, of course, but this film will leave you feeling closer to the truth than ever before. It's well crafted and executed, and they manage to keep the air fairly heavy with menace and suspense, from the beginning right up to the very end, which ultimately defines it as something of a "fable-noir."

Johnny Depp gives a solid, convincing performance as Abberline, who is something of the antithesis of another of his creations, Constable Ichabod Crane, of Tim Burton's "Sleepy Hollow." It's a challenge for an actor to take on two roles somewhat similar in nature to begin with, and successfully manage to make them quite the opposite of one another in the end, which is what Depp has done with these respective portrayals. The events surrounding Crane may have been dark, but Ichabod was not; here, however, Deep finds a dark side of his character, Abberline, that is as enigmatic as the case with which he is dealing, and it is that to which Depp plays, approaching from the depths and looking up, rather than observing from a position of light, as he did in "Hollow." And it demonstrates that Depp is endowed with that same kind of chameleon-like quality that serves such actors as De Niro and Billy Bob Thornton so well; it's a matter of being able to transform oneself from the inside out, which comparably few actors can do with any real success.

Heather Graham does a good job with her role of Mary; she's convincing for the most part, but there are moments when it's something of a challenge for the viewer to totally believe that she is a "lady of the night." Her appearance seems almost a bit too polished, especially compared to the other girls. It's a minor complaint, however, as overall, though her performance may not necessarily be one of the strengths of the film, it certainly does nothing to detract from the effectiveness of it.

The performance turned in by Ian Holm, on the other hand, is definitely one of the film's strengths. As Sir William Gull, he is quite believable, with a probing portrayal that does much for the credibility of the story.

Also helping things along substantially, are Robbie Coltrane (who has since become known, and will forever after be, "Harry Potter's" Hagrid), as Abberline's colleague, Peter Godley, and Susan Lynch (who previously gave such a remarkable performance as Nora Barnacle in "Nora," opposite Ewan McGregor), as Liz Stride.

The supporting cast includes Ian Richardson (Sir Charles Warren), Jason Flemyng (Netley), Katrin Cartlidge (Dark Annie), Terence Harvey (Ben Kidney), Paul Rhys (Dr. Ferral) and Lesley Sharp (Kate). Arguably the best and, without question the most satisfying of all the "Ripper" movies, "From Hell" is a well made, graphic and thought provoking consideration of the Whitechapel killings, which for quite some time held all of London in the grip of fear and terror. The conclusions offered here may just be as close to the truth as anyone will ever get; in the event that it is pure fiction, however,it is decidedly good fiction that makes for a couple of hours of riveting entertainment and speculation. Be forewarned, this one is not going to be for everyone, as many of the mental, as well as visual images it presents are extremely disconcerting. Definitely not for the squeamish, but for those who are so disposed, this one will prove to be quite an experience. It's the magic of the movies.

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When I first saw the trailer for "From Hell", I was understandably ecstatic. Based on graphic novel of the same name, written by Alan Moore, I had really high hopes for this one. Judging by the previews, it looked as though the Hughes brothers might do it justice. But alas, as film adaptions of books often go, they butchered it. Let's start with Johnny Depp's character, Inspector Abberline. They turn him from an honest and hardworking detective that slowly develops some feelings for a young prostitute, into an opium-addicted clairvoyant that falls madly in love with the aformentioned hooker (Heather Graham). And speaking of Heather Graham, could they have made a more horrible choice for a 19th century prostitute? The other hookers in the film look, well, like they should (ugly), but Graham sticks out like a sore thumb. As for the story, this butchery is typical of big Hollywood films. The book focused on the character of Jack the Ripper more than anyone else in the story. In fact, he was revealed in Chapter 2! That's what made it so fascinating: the book went inside the killer's head and tried to explain the motivations for his gruesome killings, besides the obvious ones presented in the film. It deconstructed and analyzed a truly twisted mind and tried to convey how, in the words of Alan Moore, "Human experience went to the very edge...then stepped beyond". The film turns into a typical whodunit, keeping you guessing until he is revealed at the very end. Anyway, I've ranted long enough. See the film if you want for pure entertainment, you'll probably enjoy it. But if you want a richly textured and fascinating, albeit fictional, story about one of the most notorious serial killers of all time, read the book.

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