Jack the Ripper’s note reads: “One day men will look back and say I gave birth to the 20th century.” In From Hell (adapted from Alan Moore’s 1999 graphic novel of the same name), Inspector Fed Abberline (Johnny Depp) falls into an opium dreamstate just as the Ripper begins his legendary one-week attack on London’s loveable prostitutes. The Queen’s son is struck with syphilis and the cultish Order of Freemasons continues to conduct business as usual. The unsavory group of medical/political pontificators becomes implicated in a Crown conspiracy that directly links the monarchy to the Ripper murders; still, there is only a vague notion that the death of the film’s females might be part of a social-cleansing edict commanded by the Queen. The Hughes Brothers carefully hide the identity of their Ripper, and as such From Hell becomes little more than a gothic-style serial killer melodrama with JFK-paranoia on the mind. Still, their London is a delirious embodiment of a raging inferno and the film’s many on-screen deaths are remarkable to behold. The camera zooms into a gramophone just as the film begins to resemble an opium confession. The compositions are startlingly symmetrical. The throats of film’s prostitutes are cut with expert precision and objects begin to take on a fairy-tale quality of their own—coins cover the eyes of the dead ensure the soul’s safe passage into heaven just as the Ripper’s grapes-as-prostitute-bait seamlessly blend into the flowery patterns of his victims’ clothing. The bloody London skyscapes are distressing, the deaths almost painterly. Ripper’s crimes and Abberline’s opium “trips” become jittery reactions to an unenlightened time (the elephant man was entertainment and lobotomies were a cause célèbre). The Ripper’s madness is an obvious one though surreally executed through evocative superimpositions. Most spectacularly, Abberline’s final opium-induced fantasy of Mary Kelley (Heather Graham) becomes a giddy evocation of a freer time.
- Albert Hughes, Allen Hughes
- Terry Hayes, Rafael Yglesias
- Johnny Depp, Heather Graham, Ian Holm, Paul Rhys, Joanna Page, Katrin Cartlidge, Robbie Coltrane, Bryon Fear, Susan Lynch, Ian McNeice, Stephen Milton, Sophia Myles, Ian Richardson, Lesley Sharp
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