From Hell

From Hell posterRated R
Running Time: 137 Minutes
Directed by Albert and Allen Hughes
Written by Terry Hayes and Rafael Yglesias
Based on the graphic novel by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell.


The high concept for this film could be described as Sherlock Holmes meets Hannibal Lecter.

Jack the Ripper’s legend continues to resonate with modern audiences as an archetype of the serial killer and though there have been many interpretations down through the years, this is the best I’ve seen.

Much has been made out of the fact that the film was adapted from a comic book, which, technically is true. But they don’t make comics like they used to. This particular comic book earned the moniker of graphic novel and is over 500 pages long, has 40 pages of footnotes, and took ten years to develop. In most cases, comic book adaptations are weak constructions but “From Hell” breaks the mold.

Also breaking the mold are the directors, themselves. The Hughes brothers are best known for their earlier films, “Menace II Society” and “Dead Presidents.” But rather than be pigeonholed as simply “black directors” dealing with ghetto stories, they’ve chosen to broaden their scope, proving that they have a real knack for tackling the grim realities of street life, whether that street is in the Watts District of Los Angeles or the darkly Gothic territory of Whitechapel, London.

The casting is impeccable in this film. Johnny Depp is well-suited to play the protagonist, Inspector Abberline. Fans of Tim Burton’s “Sleepy Hollow” or of “The Ninth Gate,” will recognize earlier intimations of why Depp was cast for the role. Also of note, is Ian Holm’s performance as Sir William Gull. It’s hard to believe, after watching this, that Ian is being cast as the lovable old Bilbo Baggins in the upcoming “Lord of the Rings” film trilogy!


The film opens from the perspective of five prostitutes working the streets of the Whitchapel District in autumn of 1888. All of them look like street prostitutes, except Mary Kelly (Heather Graham) who looks more like she just stepped out of an Irish Spring soap commercial.

The girls are being threatened by a gang of pimps to pay their dues for the month or get their faces cut up. Then, an ex-prostitute friend of theirs tells them not to worry because her husband is coming to town and will give her money for them if they can take care of her baby. The girls agree.

However, when the husband comes to town and is reunited with his wife, several well-dressed and mysterious men arrive to kidnap them. The wife is whisked away to a mental institution and given a lobotomy and the husband is taken to an interrogation room and questioned over and over as to who knows about his secret marriage.

Then, the first of the grisly murders happens. One of the five prostitutes is tempted with grapes (a delicacy at the time) and horribly mutilated after having her throat slit.

This brings us to the protagonist, Inspector Frederick Abberline (Johnny Depp). However, Abberline has to be awakened from a drugged slumber in an opium den before he can start the case. Much like Sherlock Holmes, Abberline likes to spend his free time “chasing the dragon.” But that’s okay because the drugs give him second sight and without them, he wouldn’t have the visions that allow him to find the criminals.

Abberline inspects the crime scene and quickly deduces that the murderer is a rich man with a thorough knowledge of human anatomy. This strikes strongly at the prejudice and class boundaries of Britain, however. Nobody wants to believe that the murderer could be an English gentleman. It is much easier for the higher-ups to believe that a foreigner committed the murder. They urge Abberline to look for a Jewish butcher.

At the funeral of the first murdered prostitute, Depp approaches her remaining four friends and they spurn his offer of help, but it is obvious that Mary Kelly will eventually confide to Abberline. She has to. They are the two most beautiful people in the story, and consequently, have no other choice but to fall in love.

At this point, I am going to reveal secrets of the plot’s ending, so read no further unless you don’t mind…

It turns out that the pimps did not do the murders. Neither did the well-dressed men who kidnapped the married couple and delivered the wife to be lobotomized. These men were secret policmen working on behalf of the crown (and the Masonic Lodge) to preserve a secret. It seems the husband under interrogation is actually the prince. Not only did he marry a whore and have an illegitimate child that public knowledge of would shake the core of the British Empire, but he’s also contracted a raging case of syphilis.

The man who did the murders is Sir William Gull (Ian Holms) the Queen’s physician. He is quite mad, though, and his eviscerations were overzealous to say the least. He was supposed to murder them quietly, not make their deaths a public spectacle.

Abberline manages to solve the mystery and Mary Kelly survives. She flees back to Ireland with the royal baby, never knowing the truth behind the crimes. However, even though Abberline and Mary have fallen in love, Abberline has to stay behind in London, because if he left it might shed suspicions that would endanger all of their lives.

On a final note, the Ripper is captured by his peers in the Masonic Lodge and sentenced to be lobotomized.

All is well that ends well.

* I did hear a studio publicist from FOX say that they’ve received several calls from the Masons, however. Seems they didn’t like their portrayal in the film…