The accidental theme for me during the first week of February ended up being trippy animated Steampunk flicks. I’ll tell you all about The Adventures of Mark Twain another time, but if you are looking for something a little bit different from your average romantic schlock-fest to help you celebrate Valentine’s Day, this is the movie for you.
First of all, it is French, and in my experience French films are often both interesting and disturbing. In the spirit of The City of Lost Children it is as surreal as it is beautiful, and don’t worry, there are versions in several languages including English. It is also a musical which is based on a concept album by Dionysos and an illustrated novel created by the lead singer, Matthias Malzieu. The French iterations go by the title Jack et la mécanique du cœur (2013), which translates to “Jack and the Mechanics of the Heart”, which is a much stronger title in my opinion. Like the title, some of the lyrics in the English version come out sounding a bit funny due to the translating, but I am sure it all rhymed in French. The artwork is inspired by the work of Tim Burton, which gives the setting and the story a dark and Gothic feel that adds to the Steampunkishness.
This twisted tale is set in the 19th century and starts in Edinburgh. Jack’s mother struggles through a storm on the coldest night of the year to get to the midwife in time to deliver. Unfortunately, the frigid night has frozen Jack’s heart solid, and it is only through the ingenuity of the midwife who replaces his living heart with a clock that he survives. His mother abandons the infant in the night, and the midwife finally has the child she has been longing for. But, his mechanical heart makes him vulnerable to the strains of the outside world, and his adoptive mother fears for his safety in the face of fear, angry, and especially falling in love.
When Jack is 10, he convinces her to let him go into town and it is love at first listen when he meets a girl working as a street performer. In hopes of seeing her again, he begs to be allowed to go to school where he falls victim to the school’s chap hopping bully. (“chap hop” is a musical style that combines hip hop with being gentlemanly, first done by Professor Elemental). Jack endures years of torture before he finally flees to Spain where his love has moved to in the interim and strives to win her heart, even at the expense of his own.
Jack the Ripper is the world’s most famous serial killer, both because of the brutality of the murders and the fact that the crimes are still unsolved. I have seen many Steampunk works make reference to the Whitechapel Murders as a means of situating their stories in time, as well as Jack appearing as a character in movies and books. But with so many interpretations floating around, it can be hard to keep the facts straight, so here is a cheat sheet to help you get it right.(I went on a Jack the Ripper tour while I was in London for my Steam Tour research and you can read about it here.)
- In 1888 there were a string of murders in the Whitechapel District of London. Due to the similarities between the victims, modus of the murders, and the proximity of the crimes they were attributed to the same killer. There are five women who are generally accepted as victims of the same serial killer, but there easily could have been more murders that were never discovered, or there could have been more than one murderer.
- Murder #1: Mary Ann Nichols, killed sometime between 2:30 and 3:30 a.m. on August 30, 1888. She was an alcoholic, which led to her separation from her husband in 1882 and her inability to keep any other job than prostitute. Her throat was cut and her abdomen was mutilated.
- Murder #2: Annie “Dark Annie” Chapman, killed at approximately 5:30 a.m. on September 8, 1888. After the death of one of her children by meningitis, she and her husband both became heavy drinkers and separated in 1884. Her husband was required by law to provide for her welfare, but he died in 1886 from alcohol poisoning. She tried to support herself through crocheting and selling flowers, but was also involved in prostitution.
- Murder #3: Elizabeth “Long Liz” Stride, killed sometime between 12:35 and 1:00 a.m. on September 30, 1888. Her throat was cut and her abdomen was mutilated. The postmortem doctor identified the weapon as a thin knife blade, approximately 6-8 inches in length. Like the other victims she and her husband separated, but she was a prostitute before and after her marriage fell apart. She spoke Yiddish and Swedish in addition to English.
- Murder #4: Catherine Eddowes (aka Kate Conway and Kate Kelly), killed a few hours after Elizabeth Stride on September 30, 1888. She left her first common-law husband, Thomas Conway, and her three children in 1880. Later, she took up with John Kelly and they lived together in a lodging house on Flower Street. The night of her death she was arrested for drunkenness and held at the Bishopsgate police station until approximately 1:30 a.m. Within minutes she was killed on her way home. Her face and her abdomen were mutilated, and a piece of her ear as well as her kidney was taken by the killer.
- Murder #5: Mary Jane “Fair Emma” Kelly (aka “Ginger” and “Black Mary”) was killed November 9, 1888. It is believed that the increase in police patrols accounts for the lag between the deaths of Eddowes and Kelly. Her origin is less well-documented than the other victims, but sources say she was the widow of a coal miner with the surname Davies who died in an explosion around 1881. Like the other victims, she was a drinker and reportedly sang Irish songs while enjoying her gin, so it is believed she hailed from Ireland. Unlike the other victims, she was found murdered in her home around 10:45 a.m. and the time of death was set at between 6 and 8 a.m. that morning. Her body was extensively mutilated, the coroner believed the murderer took more than two hours to complete his task.
- During press coverage, the killer was most often referred to as “The Whitechapel Murderer” or “Leather Apron” because of the aprons worn by butchers. The name “Jack” became connected to the murders after letters began to arrive at news outlets and signed by that name.
- The five canonized Ripper killings occurred between August and November of 1888, but police continued to investigate a total of 11 murders that they suspected were linked up until 1891.
- Historians and hobbyists alike have speculated over the identity of The Ripper, and some sources say as many as 500 different people (including at least one woman) have come under suspicion. Many of these people were not suspects during the actual investigation and that is far too many to talk about here to I will only highlight the most well-known and/or plausible.
- According to some, Jack’s identity was already discovered in 2014—or was it? A silk shawl that supposedly belonged to one of the victims underwent DNA testing starting in 2007. In 2014, a book by Russell Edwards detailed the findings of scientist Jari Louhelainen, who claims to have definitive evidence that identifies Aaron Kominski as the notorious murderer. Kominski came under suspicion in 1888 at the age of 23 and died in a mental institution 30 years later. Unfortunately, Louhelainen made at least two major errors in his analysis that were brought to light in October 2014, rendering the conclusions useless. The search continues.
- Others think that the Jack the Ripper conspiracy went all the way to the highest levels of government. Spoiler alert! In the 2001 Johnny Depp flick called “From Hell,” Jack is in fact Prince Edward “Eddy” Victor, aka “grandson” to queen Victoria. According to the theory, Eddy impregnated a low-class girl (and a Catholic no less!) and to avoid the scandal, the queen ordered the matter be “taken care of.” Annie Crook and her royal offspring are spirited away by the royal physician, John Gull, but her friends like Mary Kelly are making too much noise about the disappearance and must be silenced. The serial killer who hates prostitutes is created to cover the real scandal and claims many victims.
- Others actually suspect John Gull himself as the murderer because of the precision of the cuts made to the victims and the fact that Jack was never caught points to some kind of conspiracy in the minds of many enthusiasts.
- One of the more likely suspects is Seweryn Klosowski (aka George Chapman), a Polish-born Jew who had only been in Whitechapel a short time before the murders began. In 1903 he was convicted on three counts of murder and hanged for killing his wives. This would seem to make him a very good suspect indeed, but he killed his known victims with poison, not brutality, and serial murderers rarely change their modus operandi.
- John Pizer was arrested in 1888 for the murders, but was later let go because he had alibis (including talking to a policeman) during two of the five canonical murders. The Sergeant who arrested him, William Thicke, allegedly had personal animosity against Pizer and no evidence whatsoever. Pizer sought reparations from at least one of the news outlets that reported he was the murderer. Thicke was later accused as being The Ripper in a letter sent to The Home Office, but this was likely a hoax and was never followed up on by the authorities.
- Gotham by Gaslight (1989) pits Jack against Batman in Gotham City.
- In the Steampunk Chronicles series by Kady Cross, Jack is a character.
- Ripper (2012), by Stefan Petrucha, follows the quest of young man from New York City to find his father in London, but instead finds himself in the middle of a murder investigation.
- Ripper (2012), by Amy Carol Reeves, is about a young woman who is volunteering at a Whitechapel hospital and has visions of the Ripper’s murders before they happen.
- “Ripper Street” is a BBC show about rebuilding Whitechapel in the wake of the Ripper killings. It began in 2012 and the third season is airing as of now (January 2015). (Review coming soon!)
- “Time After Time” (1979) Jack the Ripper uses H. G. Wells time machine to escape his own time and is pursued by Wells to San Francisco, CA.
- “From Hell” (2001) Johnny Depp and Heather Graham star in this film that takes its name from one of the famous Ripper letters that were sent to the press.
- “Progress” is a webseries that operates in an alternative Victorian London where there is already a steam-powered internet. You can watch the first three episodes for free at progresstheseries.com.
- A game for Xbox 360 and Microsoft Windows entitled “Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper” was released in 2009.
Did I miss and Ripper references, books or movies you know? Please leave a comment so I can add to my list!
As a person living very far from home at the moment I am so thankful for the internet, and especially networks that post episodes of my favorite shows. It was love at first viewing of the Comedy Central show @Midnight, which is hosted by Chris Hardwick of the Nerdist podcast series. He is fabulously nerdy and a big fan of cosplayers, so it came as no surprise when he dressed up in clever costumes for several episodes of the improv comedy show leading up to Halloween.
In addition to Luke Skywalker Texas Ranger, he also got decked out by Clockwork Couture in a Steampunk Doctor Who ensemble. From a distance, you wouldn’t know he was posing at the Doctor, but as he told the audience, his splendid cravat actually had his name embroidered in Gallfrayan on it. Someone photoshopped Hardwick onto a TARDIS interior and I couldn’t resist posting it.
Maybe witches aren’t your thing, so you won’t be seeing Hansel and Gretel as part of your Steampunk Halloween. But everyone likes vampires, right? In 2010, author Seth Grahame-Smith penned an alternate history featuring America’s favorite president and pitted him against the forces of darkness running rampant in the South. It was made into an insanely good action movie in 2012 and it is another awesome choice for any steam-inspired monster movie marathon.
Abe’s (Benjamin Walker) sojourn into the vampiric underworld starts when he is a child, though he doesn’t know it. His mother falls victim to a mysterious disease as a result of his father standing up to the unfair treatment of free black people under his boss, Jack Barts (Marton Csokas). Even as a child he knows that Barts is somehow behind his mother’s death, and once he is grown he tries to take his revenge. To his shock, his bullets have no affect on Barts and Abe has to be rescued by a stranger whom he just met in the bar. The man calls himself Henry (Dominic Cooper) and tells Lincoln about how vampires escaped persecution in Europe to the American South, where they are deeply involved in the slave trade as their source of food.
Abe is only interested in his own vendetta, but agrees to be a vampire hunter under Henry’s guidance in order to gain the skills he needs to finally take down Barts. After hunting a series of vampires one by one, Lincoln decides he can make a much bigger difference in the world as a politician than by wielding his special silver-bladed axe, and his life takes the shape of the history we know for a while, including his marriage to Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), presidential election and the outbreak of the Civil War. But when the Southern politicians ally themselves with the vampires, the unkillable soldiers start to tip the scales towards a Southern victory, and Abe must confront them and the mastermind of their ascent to power (Rufus Sewell).
Whether or not you know anything about the real Abraham Lincoln, this is a really fun and entertaining film. The effects are very special, the lighting and camera work are Gothic and moody and the action scenes are dynamic and sometimes even breath-taking. This was a much better film than I expected just based on the premise, and as it turns out the author did a great job of integrating vampire lore into the politics of the mid-19th century and documented historical events. Plus, it is a great action film. There is a fight scene that takes place during a stampede of horses, and a struggle on a speeding train that will keep you on the edge of your seat. It does not have the same ratio of dark comedy to action as Van Helsing or Brothers Grimm, but there are still some good lines and ironic twists that will make you smile. I haven’t read the book, but I really enjoyed this movie and I will definitely be re-watching it to bring some “spook” to my “steam” again this year.
In my last movie post about an awesome…ly bad Sherlock Holmes flick I introduced the idea of a mockbuster. I think Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters may actually deserve to crowned as mockbuster royalty. I found not one, or two, but three other films that came out during 2012-2013 that have something to do, however loosely, with the Grimm’s fairy tale. I watched the trailers for Hansel and Gretel: Warriors of Witchcraft (starring real life brother and sister, wait for it, Fivel and Booboo Stewart), Hansel & Gretel (a nasty-looking horror flick by Asylum Pictures) and Hansel & Gretel Get Baked (a half comedy-half horror stoner parody) and none of them are the least bit Steampunk, so accept no substitutions.
Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters stars Gemma Arterton (Quantum of Solace, Clash of the Titans) and Jeremy Renner (The Avengers, The Bourne Legacy), as well as one of my favorite character actors, Peter Stormare (Brothers Grimm). The original story was published in 1812, but with the delightful mish-mash of technology in this movie it is hard to place it in time.
In the Grimm’s fairy tale Hansel and Gretel’s evil stepmother convinces their father to abandon them in the woods because there isn’t enough food to go around. They find their way back once by leaving a trail of pebbles, but the second time their breadcrumb trail is eaten by birds and they end up at a house made of candy. They defeat the witchy homeowner and when they find their way back to their own dwelling the wicked stepmom has died of unknown causes. Luckily, the kids found gems at the witches’ abode so their money problems are over, and it ends happily ever after (except for the witch and the stepmother, of course).
In the 2013 movie’s version of events, the kids are left in the forest by their parents for an unknown reason, and they still defeat their “hostess of the grossest” but the story doesn’t end there. They discover during their struggle they should “1. never go into a house made of candy and 2. if you are going to kill a witch, set her ass on fire,” but also that they are immune to witch’s spells. They go on to become professional witch hunters and are called to the town of Augsburg to investigate a spate of disappearances. It turns out the local witches are a-brewing a plot to make themselves immune to fire, and they need 12 kids as well as another secret ingredient to do it. In order to find out what really happened to their parents, the siblings must face the Grand Witch Muriel (Famke Janssen) and defeat her before she can carry out her dastardly plot.
In my head I put this movie into the same dark-but-fun category as Van Helsing and Brothers Grimm, but it definitely has a higher gore-factor and earns its R-rating for violence. So if you are squeamish when it comes to blood, you might want to give this one a pass. Of course, that is part of what makes it a perfect movie for your Halloween fright fest 🙂
That’s right, there was another Sherlock Holmes movie that came out around the same time as the Robert Downey Jr. movie I reviewed last week. Didn’t hear about it? I am not at all surprised.
I am a huge fan of what I call “shitty-good” movies (pardon my language, but it is utterly appropriate!) These are films that you can’t help but laugh at even though they are not meant to be comedies. The Mister and I spend a lot our time wading through the sea of crappy movies out there giving them the old Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatment. That is to say, we crack wise throughout at the terrible special effects, mediocre writing, atrocious acting and blatant continuity errors, often aided by a glass or two of our favorite adult beverages. (If you aren’t familiar with MST3K but you also enjoy terrible old movies, you MUST find them on youtube. They were shot near my hometown in MN and aired until 1999.)
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, which is the first role for Ben Syder (“Robert” Sherlock Holmes. Yes, you read right, apparently his name is really Robert) and also features Torchwoods’ Ianto Jones (Gareth David-Lloyd) as Watson, is just such a movie. It falls firmly into both the mockbuster (a low-budget film piggy-backing the publicity of a better-known movie) and Steampunk camps. I decided to watch it as part of my Halloween Extravaganza this month, both because I am working on my Sherlock Holmes article for Steam Tour: An American Steampunk in London and because it promised me a plot full of monsters. As a Sherlock Holmes film it pretty much failed miserably, but as a movie centered on futuristic technology in the Victorian era it deserves a mention.
The story begins when a sailing ship is taken out by a Kraken-like tentacled monster. In the next scene, we get to see a dinosaur inexplicably interrupt a rendezvous with a lady of the night. So monsters, check. Sherlock is tortured by the fate that befell his brother Thorpe (yep, they didn’t even bother to get his brother’s name right), who became paralyzed after he was shot while trying to foil a bank robbery several years earlier. So ‘punking’ literature, check. After some watered-down deductions, Holmes and Watson (in the least well-fitting waistcoat of all time) find their way to a country estate where they discover the monsters are actually automatons crafted by a thoroughly ticked off Thorpe (Dominic Keating), who is bent on revenge against London, the city that forgot him, and his former partner, Inspector Lestrade. He uses his (okay, pretty awesome) mechanical dragon to wreak havoc on the masses while another automaton delivers a bomb straight to the gates of Buckingham palace. Oh yeah, and there is totally a hot air balloon/helicopter hybrid vs. mechadragon fight scene.
As I said before, this is not a “good” movie by any stretch, but it is a campy movie with undeniably Steampunk tendencies. This is definitely a popcorn movie, that is, if the shaky camera work they use to signify an action sequence doesn’t make you seasick first.
It is currently available on American Netflix, but can anyone tell me if you can get it in Britain?
That’s right folks, it’s time for a monster mash. One popular way to “punk your steam” is to add elements of the supernatural to the tales from history, offering explanations that incorporate ghouls such as vampires and werewolves rather than what the history books say, as well creating brand new narratives where monsters play a role. Also, the Victorian era saw the birth of Spiritualism, the belief that spirits of the dead could and often did communicate with the living. All Hallows Eve, which has now been shortened to Halloween, celebrates the creepy and costume, and Steampunk seamstresses and seamsters, make-up artists and makers the world over use it as a chance to showcase their talents and share their knowledge.
Halloween has always held a special place in my heart, and in fact I launched this blog on October 31, 2013, so October is also my countdown the my first blogging birthday. Join me all month long for reviews of Steampunk movies and books that feature monsters and witches, costume construction tips from the sessions I attended at Weekend at the Asylum, LARP-ing games to give you an excuse to dust off your costume early, and other spooky fun surrounding the history of ghost stories and the practices of Spiritualism.
Do you have a scary or supernatural Steampunk story or photos of your Halloween creations that you would like to see appear on this blog? Send them my way at ForWhomTheGearTurns@Gmail.com. I can’t guarantee that I will post everything I receive, but I would love to get some submissions from readers. Make sure that you include the name you would like your creation attributed to as part of your email.
My blogger buddy Bia Helvetti just pointed out this amazing movie-in-the-making and I couldn’t wait to share. According to the website for Adventures of Victoria Clarke:
“Stylistically, “Victoria Clarke” borrows heavily from the world of Steampunk, and its sub-culture sometimes referred to as Dieselpunk. Unlike traditional steampunk, which is Victorian-based, we are rooted in the pre-WWII world of Hollywood, and so borrow technology from World War I and Art Deco design influences. However, because Victoria’s family is solidly rooted in Victorian London, fanciful technologies, the designs of Edison and Tesla, and the writings of HG Wells and Jules Verne heavily influence both the design aesthetic and story elements.
The story is based in history, yet features fantastical machines, characters and events that only exist in the alternative reality of our created world. The tone is fun, retro and sexy, and punctuated with periods of intense comic book style action.”
The film was partially funded through a crowdsource website called Indiegogo, but they were short of their goal so proceeding has been slow. The website was last updated in June though and reports progress on the screenplay as well as the amazing images above. The plan is to make not only the movie, but a graphic novel series as well. I really hope to see more progress on this enterprise, it looks amazing and the character of Victoria sounds really interesting. Here is another blurb from the site about how she is more than just a pretty face: