Get to Know Victorian London’s Underbelly a Little Better in From Hell (2001)
One of Victoriana’s headliners will always be Jack the Ripper, a serial killer immortalized in the London newspapers of 1888. A string of murders committed in the East End neighborhoods like White Chapel and Aldgate were attributed to a single person because of the distinctive way he dispensed with his victims. He was sometimes called “Leather Apron” because after he killed he butchered the bodies and left them in the open to be found. These murders predate forensic science so there was never a conviction, only a number of letters (thought to be fraudulent) that were sent to the press and signed Jack The Ripper. One that was not so signed is referred to as “The From Hell Letter” because the writer used Hell as the return address. If you want to check out the original letters you can find them here.
The 2001 Johnny Depp Thriller, From Hell, gives audiences just one possible version of events. In this adaptation of a an Alan Moore graphic novel, Depp is a detective who gets psychic visions of murders. He is based on the real life chief of Scotland Yard, Frederick Abberline who worked the Ripper case. With the help of Robbie Coltrane (Hagrid of Harry Potter fame), Abberline uses his flashes of insight to catch criminals. Unfortunately, Depp must be “chasing the dragon” (ie on opium) in order to get his visions.
When the prostitutes of London’s East Side start turning up dead, he goes to them and finds a reluctant ally in Mary Kelly (Heather Graham). She and her circle of friends are being targeted by the ruthless killer, but none of them know why. But no matter the danger, these women must work the streets or risk the wrath of a local gang, which puts them at the Ripper’s (total lack of) mercy. Abberline must discover the dark secret that connects them before there are none of them left. Ian Holm (Fifth Element, The Hobbit) and Jason Flemyng (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels) round out a great cast.
I don’t always like horror films because of the gore, but I felt this movie showed just enough blood to be a Ripper film but relied on good acting while shielding the audience’s view for most of the yuckiest parts. I would call it a thriller rather than a horror movie for just that reason. I haven’t read the graphic novel, but the movie does a great job of weaving conspiracy into a tale of terror.
I recommend reading the graphic novel. As with much of Moore’s work it’s pretty dense and detailed – the edition I read had pages and pages of footnotes at the back for me to ignore – and that detail makes it really compelling.
February 6, 2014 at 9:11 am
When I got the movie I didn’t realize it was a Moore novel, I only found out while researching this post. I will definitely check it out sometime. I am on my way to the library right now to get Infernal Devices 🙂
February 6, 2014 at 9:24 am
Definitely plan on checking out this movie! Thanks for the review (and the link to the letters!) Your blog is awesome!
February 6, 2014 at 11:09 am
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