Albert and Allen Hughes are whatcha call street wise. Whether it's 1990s Watts or 1880s Whitechapel. There's a commonality evident without a whole lot of brain busting. Pimps and ho's. Poor folks just trying to get it together to keep The Man off their backs. Razor-sharp knives in place of 9mm automatics cocked at angles. These guys know how to put the grit of urban street life up on the screen and make audiences BELIEVE it. And From Hell (2001, 121 minutes) proves the twins can thrive as a creative team wherever they choose. Even in something as seemingly out of their pigeon hole as this so-called "period" piece that opened strong amid the emotional undertow of 9-11.
The movie: It's sorta-kinda based on the "From Hell" graphic novel -- a snooty euphemism for COMIC BOOK -- by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell. Except instead of being from the point of view of Jack the Ripper, the Hollywood version follows Johnny Depp as Inspector Abberline and his rotund, Shakespeare-quipping sidekick Godley (Robbie Coltrane) as they try to catch a maniac who's taken to rearranging gal's innards with knives. Abberline is aided in this undertaking by an avid use of hallucinogenic drugs which open his mind to visions, even premonitions, of each prostitute's savage murder. Unfortunately, he can't quite get the timing down in order to SAVE any of these "unfortunates," or manage to get the killer to turn around and stare him square in the peepers for a positive ID. But he sure seems to enjoy the trial and error. Meanwhile, ol' Jack rides around in his horse-drawn carriage luring hookers in with sweets, juicing them up with the roofies of the day and EARNING his nickname. Of course, Johnny needs a love interest to complicate the pursuit of his nemesis, so there's Heather Graham as wouldbe Corpse No. 5 (a.k.a. Mary Kelly). Only in Hollywood are Victorian-era prostitutes as easy on the eyes as this deliciously can-tastic honey. "Ripperologists" will squeal with glee at the Hughes Brothers meticulous (and graphic) recreations of the murders, while maybe being a bit less enthused about the flick's pick for the true identity of history's most mysterious boogeyman. In fact, there's almost as many theories as those obsessed with the century-old butchery. CineSchlockers interested in self-torture should consider taking a cautious gander at FX guru Tom Savini in The Ripper.
Notables: Four breasts. 15 corpses. Dragon chasing. Slow-mo diddling. Multiple lobotomies. Fast mo. Heart in a pot. Puking. One angry mob. Frustrated lesbian. Devil eyes. Head butting. Kidney in a box. Nipple flashes. Herrings of all shades.
Quotables: Jack needs to get over himself, "One day men will look back and say I have given birth to the 20th century!" Yesteryear's ladies of the evening weren't subtle either, "Do you want me to suck it?" Mary emotes, "Oh! I'm sorry! I'm an unfortunate, not a WHORE, England doesn't have WHORES!" McQueen the surly pimp wonders, "What does a whore need money for?!" Abberline's boss has a theory, "Maybe one of those red indians wandered into Whitechapel and indulged his natural inclinations?" Kate proclaims, "I might be an unfortunate, but I'm NOT a blivering idiot!"
Time codes: First blood -- Martha Tabram (10:22). One, two, three whacks she's a veggie (16:02). Second murder -- Polly Nichols (21:30). Strike three -- Annie Chapman (40:50). High society ogles the Elephant Man in near-sexual euphoria (45:25). Most gruesome throat slash of Elizabeth Stride (1:23:13) closely followed by the demise of Catherine Eddowes (1:25:02). Boogie to Marylin Manson's Ripper "The Nobodies" remix (1:55:00).
Audio/Video: Pristine W-I-D-E-S-C-R-E-E-N (2.35:1) transfer with none of the pesky digital crags common to dimly lit scenes, and brother, is this sucker DARK! Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS tracks bring the clopping hooves of horses into the room, as well as the squishy spurts of Jack's, um, ripping. There's also 2.0 tracks in Spanish and French.
Disc 1: You know those little warnings studios started putting on DVDs saying "views expressed" ain't necessarily theirs? Well, they were made for folks like the Hughes Brothers who hurl barbs such as "There's a lot of evil, evil f@$&ed up people in this business!!! ... [where] it's all about the dollar!!!" Proof that hanging to the end of a commentary pays. The track isn't too scene-specific, instead playing more like a round-robin interview, with Allen and Albert, Mr. Coltrane, cinematographer Peter Deming and screenwriter Rafael Yglesias weighing in. It's a swell thing Mr. Yglesias is INTERESTING because he ends up dominating the track. Like his assertion that the picture's true subtext is about sexual hypocrisy. Beyond that there's more than 20 deleted scenes (about 20 minutes), most of which are actually WORTH seeing, especially with the added benefit of optional commentary. Like Mr. Hughes, CineSchlockers will also be "glad the ass could be shown" from the original ending. Motion video menus on the streets of Whitechapel at night.
Disc 2: Here, there, everywhere a featurette. First, is an exploration of Ripper lore in "Six Degrees of Jack the Ripper" (30 mins) with gruesome crime scene images and expert interviews. In addition, at about 10 different points during the piece, viewers may click an icon for additional clips from a cheesy '70s documentary (ala "In Search Of ... ") effectively doubling the featurette's total duration. Second, is a visit with production designer Martin Childs who miraculously recreated Whitechapel in just three months (12 mins). Third, is a comparison to the graphic novel and its use as an aid in various aspects of production (10 mins). Next, is an ode to Abberline's drink of choice in "Absinthe Makes the Heart Grow Fonder" (10 mins) followed by a murder sites tour by Albert and Allen (8 mins). Finally, tasty Ms. Graham hosts "A View From Hell" featuring the typical HBO "Oohs 'n' Ahs." In this case they're warranted (15 mins). Theatrical trailer and a random reel for Unfaithful with Richard Gere. Motion video menus discover Jack fishing nasty implements from his surgical kit.
Final thought: The Hughes Brothers macabre experiment in atmospheric bloodletting may well have produced the classiest slasher flick ever. Highly Recommended.
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G. Noel Gross is a Dallas graphic designer and avowed Drive-In Mutant who specializes in scribbling B-movie reviews. Noel is inspired by Joe Bob Briggs and his gospel of blood, breasts and beasts.