Graphic Horror: From Hell
From Hell 2001
Next up on the chopping block is the first of many Alan Moore adaptations, though I have covered most of the later ones already here. This is a fictionalized account of the Jack the Ripper murders in the late 1800’s in London’s East End. I will say that one thing this film did do for me is renew my interest in the actual Jack the Ripper case, at least for a few hours of Wikipedia and Google video searching. I find it interesting that last year or so there was someone who claimed to have used DNA evidence to “solve” the murder, and yet none of that was enough to make it into the Wikipedia pages a year later. The film is more of a thriller mystery with Johnny Depp put center stage with his slightly eccentric character, though much more dialed back than most of his characters in recent years post Jack Sparrow. I had heard mixed things about this adaptation, and I fall on the line that I thought it was greatly dumbed down for audiences even though I have no experience with the comic, but I was intrigued by the mystery slightly. And since this is a mystery film I will give warning that I will be discussing the killer as presented in this film in case you would rather watch the film and be surprised.
The film generally jumps between following Johnny Depp’s Detective Abberline and the group of prostitutes who become the victims of Jack the Ripper led by Heather Graham in a passable but still laughable lower class English accent where she plays the pretty one alongside four other more average looking “unfortunates” who are plagued by a couple rough pimps that don’t really offer protection from anyone but themselves. Depp is the one who leads the investigation and eventually solves the case, though he must keep the truth a secret for various reasons which are varying degrees of absurd, all while he occasionally gets high on opium to go on vision quests that will supposedly help him solve the murders.
The first issue with this film is basically everything surrounding Detective Abberline. Depp does a decent job at playing the detective, though the opium addiction doesn’t add anything interesting to his character at all aside from the chance to give the film some visual flair with his hallucinations, though none of them are honestly very interesting at all. On top of that, he feels out of place using a more modern style of detective work and criminal profiling. While it does line up that the police at that time did use many very similar methods of detective work still used today, there was still an air of modern sensibilities that felt out of place. There was also an odd sense of racism and classism surrounding the interactions between Depp and his higher-up, as he dismisses the initial hunch that it was a learned Englishman committing the crimes and suggests that it was a tradesman or a Jew tradesman. Though this is also somewhat reversed during the scene where there is graffiti on a wall that references Jews and the higher-up orders the writing washed off for fear that mob justice would go after the local Jewish in retaliation.
What does help the film along is the mystery aspect, though there are a few misdirects along the way which seemed like they were exactly that: simple misdirects rather than elements to add intrigue to the story as a whole. There was the obvious repeated use of the automatic stair release on the killer’s coach that also felt like a bit of audience hand-holding to spell out when it was the Ripper’s carriage even if it wasn’t always the Ripper riding in it when you’re able to see the man’s face. The explanation as a whole was also a bit convoluted and far fetched. To sum it up, the Prince of England liked to have dalliances with the underclass and would obscure his identity so he could mingle unnoticed, he ended up falling for a prostitute who he married and they had a child. Since this was a legitimate child and heir to the throne, the bureaucracy that protects the Royal family took the woman out of the equation and eliminated the prostitute witnesses one by one. But instead of just kidnapping/arresting them one by one or as a group, they use an elderly surgeon who uses it as an excuse to enact this ritual befitting the Freemasons. The same surgeon who has been giving advice to Abberline about the murders. It all just seemed a little too far fetched, though Ian Holm plays the role of William Gull excellently. He’s able to transition from the helpful surgeon to the dark eyed murderer fabulously.
As often happens with these types of movies, there has to be the addition of a romantic sub plot. And here it’s the relationship between Depp and Graham who was both far more attractive than the other unfortunates as well as the last to die, if she technically dies at all. While the film does leave a small amount of ambiguity, after the final murder where the body is completely mutilated, Depp finds a note where she was supposed to meet him at a specific pub. The note says that she was planning to take the infant heir from the orphanage and go to the small village where she grew up and had mentioned to Depp earlier in the movie. There was also another French prostitute that had joined their group near the end and was with Graham at the end who could have been killed in her place, but the final moment where we get to see Graham and a slightly older Alice as the infant had grown a few years is also possibly just from another one of Depp’s opium visions.
What is impressive about this film is the amount of detail that is unfortunately wasted to some extent. For the first four murders, the wounds are presented exactly as the records from the real Jack the Ripper killings show them to be. There are other moments as well such as the notations of the crime scene in the final murder are verbatim from the actual crime. Unfortunately, with all of the other dramatic liberties taken with the material, those moments of veracity ultimately don’t ring true unless you’re someone already familiar with either the case itself or the trivia section of this movie. The visuals also may have lost their impact over time, there were a few moments that caught my eye, like the flashing blade of the first killing, and the use of the colors green and red, though it wasn’t enough for me to read deeper into them. The film was enjoyable, but it’s not something that I forsee leaving a lasting impression on me. The biggest thing that it did for me was ignite an interest in the real case of Jack the Ripper which is still fascinating over a hundred years later, though this feels like a watered down version of what likely really happened. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.