As the film’s title appropriately suggests, From Hell gruesomely interprets the legend of Jack the Ripper in a complex, tangled web of serial murder, insanity, mutilation and even love.
The film opens with a disturbing, pounding heart beat, drawing the viewer into a ghastly sequence of blood, rats, flies and flashing camera techniques uncharacteristic of the typical slasher film. This grossly detailed footage continues throughout, accompanying a plot that attempts to render cutthroat crimes unthinkable, while simultaneously trying to explain the scandalous mystery.
To achieve the transition from legend to cinematic reality, the producers, the Hughes Brothers, combine two real theories of the identity of Jack the Ripper – the conspiracy theory, involving the British aristocracy, and that of a deranged surgeon. Investigating the brutal, methodical murders of a number of London prostitutes, inspector Fred Abberline (Johnny Depp) probes deep into the case using his grisly, often repulsive opium-induced visions to guide him.
His scrutiny of the endangered prostitutes leads him to become emotionally involved with prostitute Mary Kelly (Heather Graham).
The heart’s pounding comes to a climax along with the horrendous, almost unnecessary acts of brutality that are likely to cause far more psychological damage than the movie ticket is worth. Along with the excessively violent and horrific images comes an almost equally disturbing end reminiscent of Conspiracy Theory.
Although From Hell is intended for those with a tolerance for “ghastly rituals,” its storytelling almost makes up for its anticlimactic ending.
The use of sounds, such as a haunting chant, panting and the thunderous heartbeat was the only redeeming factor of the movie. But nothing makes up for the overly dramatic portrayal of Jack the Ripper as somewhat satanic, rather than simply serial.
This portrayal ruins the only chance the producers had at creating a believable film that followed the legend of Jack the Ripper, and it destroys the remaining legitimacy of a fantastically brutal yet generally mediocre film.
From Hell is in theatres now.