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From Hell (A Movie Review)

Updated: Jul 28, 2020

From Hell

From Hell

FROM HELL  (2001)

Starring Johnny Depp, Heather Graham, Ian Holm, Robbie Coltrane, Ian Richardson, Jason Flemyng, Katrin Cartlidge, Terence Harvey, Susan Lynch, Paul Rhys, Lesley Sharp and Estelle Skornik.

Screenplay by Terry Hayes and Rafael Yglesias.

Directed by The Hughes Brothers.

Distributed by 20th Century Fox.  121 minutes.   Rated R.

The hardest thing about making a film from such a familiar story as that of Jack the Ripper is the expectations.  The story has been told on film so many times that the story brings the baggage of all the previous celluloid incarnations, particularly the Michael Caine mini-series Jack the Ripper from the mid-nineties. 

The Hughes Brothers’ view of Whitechapel was extremely atmospheric and well done.  But, if you get technical, the only thing new this film brings to the story is a new goriness that was mostly left off-screen in previous movies.  (Well, okay, they also add a subplot about grapes that is somewhat clever but a real stretch of the truth, since grapes were only found once by a corpse in the murders.)

The story is still fascinating enough to stand on its own and this stylish production is a very good way to spend a couple of hours.  The film plays a little fast and loose with the truth — particularly when it comes to Johnny Depp’s role of Inspector Frederick George Abberline.  Abberline was no drug addict, nor did he have visions of the Ripper (these visions attributed to Abberline in this film were actually claimed by the Queen’s favorite psychic.) 

And, no matter what the film suggests, (SPOILER ALERT: IT’S NOT AN IMPORTANT PLOT POINT, BUT IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE FILM AND WANT TO BE SURPRISED, PLEASE SKIP THE NEXT LINES) Abberline absolutely did not die soon after the Ripper case, in fact he lived until 1929, about forty years later. 

Also the hookers of Whitechapel certainly didn’t look anywhere near as beautiful or even clean as Heather Graham and her friends.

This is certainly the most atmospheric Ripper film yet, and it could never ever get boring.  But, even the “surprise” ending about Mary Kelly (at least as much of a surprise as can be in a story that is this familiar) does have strong echoes of the amazing 1979 H.G. Wells-meets-the Ripper fantasy Time After Time.   And the solution to the Ripper’s identity is one of the more popular theories, one that has already been dramatized in previous films like Murder By Decree and Caine’s Jack the Ripper. 

So From Hell is nothing you haven’t seen before, but with the good acting, the stylish sets and the always fascinating story, it’s well worth seeing again.  (10/01)

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2001 All rights reserved. Posted: October 28, 2001.

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