A review of  From Hell” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: **

Rating: R for excessive gore

Run Time: 2 hours

 

Satanic cultists, lovers of Goth, and few others will be able to stomach this dark and gruesome tale of England’s most infamous serial killer, Jack the Ripper.

I know how to place a professional distance between my emotions and my art, but the fact that I endured the “Hell”-ish screening in the late morning of September 11 does nothing to endear me to this distasteful Victorian-era gore-fest.

  Johnny Depp plays yet another deeply troubled soul – in this case Inspector Frederick Abberline – who becomes unnaturally absorbed in his work.  (Think “Blow”, “Sleepy Hollow”, “Donnie Brasco”, etc.)  Abberline, overly fond of Absinthe but nonetheless able to function as a brilliant detective, is a black-sheep Scotland Yard cop with a nose for sniffing out the villain.  The Ripper, whose identity is kept under wraps until the last curtain, has developed a nasty habit of preying on English prostitutes.  Head hooker Mary Kelly (Heather Graham) comes to the aid of Abberline, as does sophisticated physician Sir William Gull (Ian Holm) – both offering valuable insights into the high-profile murder case. A puzzling pattern to the killings begins to emerge as London barely endures the frenzy of fear and paranoia.  Abberline and Kelly join sleuthy forces and (gasp!) fall in love, while trying desperately to stop the Ripper from continuing his reign of terror on the streets of London’s seedy Whitechapel district.

Disturbing subplot involving  mischievous Freemasons (misogynistic frat boys, if you ask me) lends the project a finely-drawn narrative tangent.  But bottom line, this is an artsy slasher film that makes good use of its large budget for costumes, production design, and surgically graphic corpses.  (I enjoy well-executed gore as well as the next girl,  but a creepy parallel of Tim Burton doing “Dead Ringers” springs to mind).  Depp, one of my movie loves, needs to break out of his tortured-soul stereotype – posthaste, please.   Graham’s comely assets are wasted – her looks and mannerisms speaking to 21st century L.A. rather than late 1880s Britain.  Ian Holm is compelling as the royal family doctor for whom still waters run deep.

  Those crafty Hughes Brothers have finally landed a truckload of industry bucks to make a big budget hit. Newsflash: they’re better off sticking to what they know – edgy, urban race-related fare such as their “Dead Presidents” and the superb “Menace II Society”.  Ugh, ugh, ugh.