From Hell

Movie Information

The Thursday Horror Picture Show will screen From Hell Thursday, June 16, at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge of The Carolina Asheville and will be hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther.
Genre: Horror/Mystery
Director: The Hughes Brothers (The Book of Eli)
Starring: Johnny Depp, Heather Graham, Ian Holm, Robbie Coltrane
Rated: R

Mixing fact, fiction, Holmesian mystery and moody bits of stylish horror, the Hughes Brothers delivered their best film in 2001 with From Hell. Adapted from Alan Moore’s graphic novel of the same name and revolving around the now-legendary Jack the Ripper murders, the film—while changing bits here and there—nonetheless keeps its identity as a Moore work, with its dabbling in the occult and shades of the supernatural, not to mention the film’s penchant for delving into conspiracies and secret societies. But at the same time, the Hughes Brothers have made a movie that is very much their own, taking the crime and poverty of inner-city life in previous films like Menace II Society (1993) and Dead Presidents (1995), and transferring it to the crime and poverty of the slums of Victorian England. So you get a very grimy, dirty, sometimes grotesque view of an often-romanticized era, but wrapped up inside a film that never loses its humanity, and which is never for want of style.

The slickness found in the Hughes’ direction, however, is totally at the will of the film’s mood, mixing filth and subdued color. Their view of London is a bleak, ugly one that’s reflected in its hero, Inspector Frederick Abberline (Johnny Depp), a sort of Sherlock Holmes-like character, but wholly afflicted by the world he lives in. What the film does is take the facts about the Ripper cases and inserts this weary, drug-addicted—yet personable, in that Depp kind of way—detective into the middle of it. Along the way, we meet the Ripper’s prey, his victims and his would-be victims (namely prostitutes), including lady of the night Mary Kelly (Heather Graham in the best role of her career). All this humanizes—even in the face of all the speculation and liberties the film takes—the Ripper murders.

It’s a refreshing take on the story, though one that shouldn’t be taken literally. When I first saw this film a decade ago, myself much younger and with a worldview that put more importance on the literal, I had issues with the conspiratorial bent the film takes on. That was in a time before I realized movies are, well, movies, and that this aspect suits the film perfectly, since—first and foremost—From Hell is a horror film, not a historic, stodgy period piece. This is a London where around every corner death might wait. The murders themselves are flashy and stylish—but never sadistic, despite their inherently brutal nature. It’s a great horror movie made by a couple of guys you’d probably never expect such a thing from, and—over the past decade—a movie that’s one of the best of its genre.


12 thoughts on “From Hell

  1. Ken Hanke

    I haven’t seen it in a very long time, so I’ll be interested to see it on Thursday. By the bye, am I to assumed that you’ve made it back to Nashville? (The times on these posts are impossible to judge.)

  2. Ken Hanke

    Not an overwhelming turnout, but by no means a bad one (it’s interesting that older movies are tending to draw better than ones from the 21st century). Interesting to see the film again. I still find the film compelling — and Clapton knows, it’s certainly not wanting for style!

  3. Vince Lugo

    Here’s something interesting: Alan Moore has repeatedly said that he disapproves of the films based on his work and has had his name removed from the credits, even going so far as to refuse the royalty payments. However, Alan Moore based films are among the best in the genre, even League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which is lovably silly in the way that comic books often are. I’d love to see a Swamp Thing film based on Alan Moore’s run, but I know the odds of that happening are practically zero. Too bad.

  4. Justin Souther

    I’m disappointed that this wasn’t screened as a HEATHER GRAHAM DOUBLE FEATURE with Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer.

    Well, this week, we’re offering a double feature of Videodrome and The Beaver.

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