• Post category:Movies
  • Post last modified:July 8, 2020

From Hell: The Ripper Unmasked (Again)


fromhellWhen I was 16 years old, I wrote a paper on Jack the Ripper. I suspect my teacher worried about my choice of subject, but this was before the age of Columbine and she allowed me to proceed. I started reading Donald Rumbelow’s brilliant book “The Complete Jack the Ripper” (1975), which still stands as the definitive work on the serial killer. 32 years have passed and several “experts” (such as Patricia Cornwell) have tried to reveal the identity of the killer, but come no closer to solving the case. This film offers no surprises, but is entertaining nonetheless.

An overly familiar idea
I still remember being scared of looking at some of the photographs in Rumbelow’s book. They were pictures of some of the killer’s victims, taken after their autopsies. The worst of the photographs was taken shortly after the discovery of Mary Kelly’s body in her home; apparently, the Ripper had time to reach a sort of climax of hatred, mutilating the poor woman’s body in every reprehensible way imaginable. Making this film, directors Albert and Allen Hughes showed an interest in staying as faithful as possible to the recreation of these murders. However, The Hughes Brothers did not have integrity enough to stay away from the most elaborate theory surrounding the 1888 Whitechapel murders of five prostitutes. It is by now overly familiar. The film was based on a graphic novel, which was itself inspired by author Stephen Knight’s theories; there was even a well-made 1988 miniseries, Jack the Ripper, that claimed to have the answer to who the killer was (but offered nothing new). 

From Hell focuses on Inspector Frederick Abberline (Johnny Depp), the man in charge of the investigation, a person who in this version nurtures an addiction to opium and absinthe that gives him visions of the murders and the killer. As one whore is slaughtered after the other, the traces lead the Inspector from the working class neighborhoods of the East End to the highest echelons of the city… and the country.

Wheezing and whispering music
There is much to be said about the fanciful theory, but one can hardly criticize the directors for their vision of London in the 1800s; it’s fantastical, with crimson skies and a killer shrouded in black who enjoys a bloody steak before embarking on one of his rampages. Thanks to the brothers’ direction, Peter Deming’s cinematography and Trevor Jones’s wheezing and whispering music, we feel like we’re entering a hellish London totally influenced by the Ripper’s mad and evil mind.

The cast is good; Heather Graham, a Hollywood glamour girl, plays Mary Kelly, the Ripper’s final victim, and was ridiculed by some critics, but her performance does not hurt the film in any way.

In no way can one underestimate the influence this serial killer has had on popular culture in the 1900s and now into the 21st century. I am convinced that we have no idea who the real Jack the Ripper was. We prefer to invent outrageous conspiracy theories about people who died a long time ago rather than knowing the truth. What if he turned out to be a regular working class schmuck who took out his frustrations on whores and then was either locked up for some other crime or committed suicide? Would we survive the shock?

From Hell 2001-U.S. 122 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Don Murphy, Jane Hamsher. Directed by The Hughes Brothers. Screenplay: Rafael Yglesias, Terry Hayes. Graphic Novel: Alan Moore, Eddie Campbell. Cinematography: Peter Deming. Music: Trevor Jones. Cast: Johnny Depp (Frederick Abberline), Heather Graham (Mary Kelly), Ian Holm (Sir William Gull), Robbie Coltrane, Ian Richardson, Jason Flemyng.

Trivia: Nigel Hawthorne was allegedly first cast as Gull, but his cancer prevented him from working (he died later that year); Daniel Day-Lewis was considered for the part of Abberline.

Quote: “One day men will look back and say I gave birth to the twentieth century.” (Words uttered by Jack the Ripper)

Last word: “There were about 14 other productions shooting while we were [in Prague]. In fact there was one time when we were driving to set, and you would see the trucks and we saw the trailers and trucks up ahead and started to get out, and someone said: ‘That’s not us, man, we’re two blocks down’. It’s amazing really.” (Depp, Sci-fi Online)



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