FROM HELL (R)
Directors: The Hughes Bros.
Producers: The Hughes Bros., Thomas M. Hammel
Written by: Terry Hayes & Raphael Yglesias
Cast: Johnny Depp, Heather Graham, Ian Holm, Robbie Coltrane
Rating: out of 5
I think that, above all else, the thing that stuck with me the most about the new Hughes Brother’s film FROM HELL is that Heather Graham is way too pretty to be a prostitute. Especially one from 1800’s England, where hygiene and sanitation were words used as punchlines rather than descriptions of city life. Graham wanders about the movie, perfect hair, perfect teeth, shockingly clear skin… and I couldn’t help thinking to myself, “There is a very attractive actress, not a skeevy prostitute from the slums of London.” I mean really, they could have at least given her a wart or a sore or SOMETHING. It didn’t help that she was speaking in what will someday be known as The Least-Convincing British Accent Of All Time. While some whom I talked to disagreed with me on this point, I thought she sounded like a high-school “thespian” trying really hard to nail Eliza Doolittle’s pre-Henry Higgins dialect. Add to that the fact that Graham has a certain quality that makes one want to slap her, and what you’re left with is a memorably awful performance in an otherwise good film.
Yes, despite all of the bile spewed forth in the previous paragraph, FROM HELL is actually a very well done picture. Taken from the highly praised graphic novel (see review by Reed Oliver) by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell, FROM HELL tells the tale of one detective (played by the always terrific Johnny Depp) and his search for the serial killer known as Jack the Ripper. While on the hunt, the detective meets a group of prostitutes who seem to be the Ripper’s prime target. They’re killed off one by one (Trust me, I’m not giving anything away. Their character names might as well have been Victim #1 and so forth), as all the while, the clues begin mounting up. Also, our detective has visions (possibly brought on by the truly heroic amounts of opium and absinthe he ingests) of Jack doing his thing, which lends a touch of the supernatural to the proceedings.
Despite Heather Graham and her total lack of screen chemistry, there’s a lot to like about FROM HELL. As I mentioned earlier, Johnny Depp is in top form here, though to be fair, he’s really only playing a less girly version of his Ichabod Crane from SLEEPY HOLLOW. But never mind that, he’s great and I tip my hat to him. The Hughes Brothers themselves bring quite a bit to the table as well, in the form of a flashy visual style that, though distinctly modern, fits well with the antiquated surroundings. The “vision sequences” in particular are quite nifty. Not to sound like a sicko”or anything, but I must also give praise to the unique and effective death scenes, two of which specifically gave me goosebumps. Much better than your average slasher film, that’s for sure.
For fans of the graphic novel, I should say that you will not be dissapointed. We all know that most comic adaptations work about as well as a Russian wristwatch, so it’s refreshing that in 2001, we’ve seen two examples (this and GHOSTWORLD) that at least equal their source comic material. FROM HELL-the-movie is quite condensed from the book, but manages to hit all of the important things, and even in the right order, making it a swell tribute to Eddie Campbell and Alan Moore’s original work. Also, the screenwriters managed to stick very closely to what is known about the real Jack the Ripper, a touch that those knowledgeable about the case will find most effective and welcome.
To sum up, FROM HELL is a smart, well-plotted horror/thriller that manages to live up to fans’ expectations. Johnny Depp… you’re fantastic. Hughes Brothers… you guys are going places. Heather Graham… I hear some fine acting schools are offering discount rates for classes next semester.
Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.
It’s worth a full-price ticket.
It’s worth a matinee ticket.
Wait for video rental.
Check out the video from the library, if you must.
While we would never encourage anyone to destroy a video...