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From Hell (2001 movie)

A 2001 horror-mystery film directed by the Hughes Brothers and loosely based upon the graphic novel of the same name.

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Watch for style mainly and you will not be disappointed

  • Mar 31, 2008
Pros: Imagery, pacing, generally well told

Cons: Tacked on romantic bit and a fanciful guess at the man himself

The Bottom Line: If you are a Ripper-o-phile, don't bother. If you like films made with an eye toward the visually stunning, then this is pretty close to a must see.

Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie''s plot.

To paraphrase the epigraph that opens the Hughes Brothers’ film From Hell (a stylized telling of the famous Jack the Ripper story): Men will look back and say I gave birth to the twentieth century. Well yes, but mostly no.

At least in English, there are probably a dozen or so near universally famous killers and Jack the Ripper doesn’t top any list for one simple reason that no one knows who he was.

Inspector Frederick Abberline (Johnny Depp) is responsible for the Whitecastle district of London—the area where Jack the Ripper killed his six victims. Abberline has an odd talent for “visions” that nearly always lead him in the right direction to solve crimes. The supposed source of these visions is the drug induced dreams of either opium or laudanum mixed with absinthe. This is a case that stresses the limits of his abilities, not so much for the violence as the number of possible Jacks.

Abberline and his Shakespeare quoting sergeant Peter Godley (Robbie Coltrane) wander the streets of a district whose grime and depression belie any words I have—all attempts have yielded only over the top tripe. The Ripper case begins in earnest a little earlier than one might expect. The first victim was unsexed fairly carefully. Due to visions (and something I will cover in a moment), Abberline realizes that a particular group or prostitutes is the most at risk. Among these is the very beautiful Mary Kelly (Heather Graham) for whom Abberline has an immediate fondness.

The murders continue. It doesn’t take too long for Abberline to start eliminating suspect after suspect. Here Abberline runs into something that is foreign to Americans, the British class system. In other words, this story’s structure only works in England. I will say no more in case this review is chosen rather than the other 85ish reviews already written.

Given the new, laxer, rules with regards to reviews, I now have no reason to refrain from reviewing something that is already covered by scores of other opinions. Despite this, I will admit no spoilers.

I want to cover some ephemera before getting into the main analysis. There are about ten credible theories as to the identity of the Ripper. There are dozens more that are fanciful. Being able to point the finger definitively at one man is the holy grail of serial murder. What Jack gave birth to was a fascination (only begun decades into the 20th century) with serial killers. The 20th century has many beginnings, and his actions were seldom noticed given financial ruin at the turn of the century, a horrifying world war, a decadence followed by a vicious hangover before the start of another epic war. The Birdman of Alcatraz had the same sort of ego; his death might have made the front pages but it happened on November 22, 1963 (dumb luck, that). I am wholly uninterested in Jack the Ripper because the mystery of who means little to me; I find it to be a morbid crossword puzzle. My easily admitted fascination is about the why and how (we learn from that, the who gives us nothing of value with regards to research).

The acting was mostly ok. Mr. Depp and Ms. Graham were the main characters but they took a back seat (even a different carriage) than Mr. Coletrane and Ian Holm (Sir William Gull). The two of them made the film a story rather than a series of starkly colored scenes. Each of the prostitutes and their gentlemen counterparts were totally interchangeable. This is probably due more to the script than anything else, but there were no standouts.


What made me watch this film again is the style. Prostitutes in grimy places getting killed is, by now, an old and unfortunately common story. The Hughes Brothers created a world of 5 colors: black, white, ochre, green, and red. They used so much red that I believe they cornered the market on the dye for six months to make the film.

Color is what controls the film—there is a thrown in love affair; the cynic in me says it was added so it wouldn’t bore people who wanted more than gore, or for women (read girls) to find just romantic enough to sit through the film (after all, this is Johnny Depp) please forgive the partial glibness.

Black and white are symbolized most easily in the formal attire of the gentlemen. Their world is one of rigid dichotomies. These dichotomies are so rigid that even the notion that the Ripper could be an educated man (meaning gentleman not a talented tradesman) could never be considered. Gentlemen in white bow ties did not even enter Whitecastle, let alone use the women, let alone kill them, and let alone mutilate them.

What I call ochre is the not quite night or day that the women wander through. The bar they use and the rooms they stay in are not all that sooty; they are so caked with grime of all sorts that they bleed into a distempered yellow that couldn’t be removed with sandblasting. In a review for a movie called Mirage I said that ochre was the color of despair. Here is isn’t despair so much as a resigned hopelessness. This is the color of their class.

Green and red . . . oh boy. The absinthe that causes the hallucinations was typically green (the green fairy in Moulin Rouge was the result of the libation). So the color has particular meaning for Abberline. Mix the hallucinogen in absinthe (wormwood) with the opium derivative laudanum and heaven knows what you will see. Abberline sees his visions mainly through green tinted glasses if you will. I think what the drugs do is not so much make Abberline a shaman as it does relax him into a state where he can remove the noise that surrounds any crime and focus on the truly important pieces. From Hell implies that Abberline sees the murders before they happen (the first victim is not the first person in his dream). Fine. But given the way this concoction works throughout, it seems more likely that his drugged mind makes him a well tune profiler (there is no way this is the first time he has investigated the murder of a prostitute for instance). With regards to the story as a whole, this is neither here nor there, but since the symbolism of the film is so tightly controlled, I wanted to bring up that I don’t think any form of shamanism is involved. Finally, green is—as you would imagine—a color of hope; fortunately this imagery is brief and deftly handled.

Red. The main symbol is obvious. However if you watch the film again, but removed a bit in time, you can notice that red has a meaning not unlike the way it is used in The Sixth Sense. In From Hell red is an indication that investigation and intuition are moving in the right direction. Red is also the color of the candles the prostitutes use to light their rooms and the candles in the opium den. In this way, the usual symbolism of red is turned on its head. Red is the color of anger and/or vitality. Here it is the color of barely hanging on of surviving but not prospering.

The film is worth the 2 hours for the style alone. The story is not bad even if they opt for one of the more fanciful guesses. It is not a comfortable movie, but if a serial killer movie was filmed in a comfortable setting it would fail, and if it didn’t what would that say for those of us in the audience who weren’t disgusted?


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May 23, 2012
Ecellent write up, I like this one, need to watch it again.
More From Hell (2001 film) reviews
Quick Tip by . May 03, 2011
Heavy on atmosphere and even heavier on conspiracy theories, FROM HELL boasts outstanding performances from Johnny Depp and Heather Graham as two lost souls crying out for one another's company while remaining caught in the twists and turns of Jack the Ripper's nefarious deeds toward the end of the 1900s. A fascinatingly brisk tale, not for the squeamish of heart or stomach, but one that dares to draw its one conclusions when other pictures have failed to do so. Sit back, have some popcorn, …
review by . January 05, 2010
Johnny squares off with Jack , but even that isn't intresting enough to save this film ....
Jack the Ripper's true identity  has always been  talk among people  for  two centuries, yet nobody has come up with a decent answer or any conclusive evidence to  truly crack  the case of  the worlds first serial killer.  Now in late 2001 the Hughes Brothers  attempt to adapt the  90's   graphic novel  series from Alan Moore(creator of Watchmen)  that gives a  spin on  the true identity  of one of the in famous …
review by . November 14, 2008
From Hell
Aside from taking a fresh and unique approach to the old mysteries of Jack The Ripper, From Hell delivers a gracefully languid storyline peppered with brutal killings and interesting musings into an old fashioned culture.     Inspector Fred Abberline (Johnny Depp) has a unique gift, a psychic ability to see murders in his opium dreams. Because of this talent, he is assigned to the case of a brutally murdered prostitute along with his partner, Sergeant Peter Godley (Robbie Coltrane). …
review by . February 25, 2005
posted in Movie Hype
The time: 1888. The place: London, Whitechapel district (the Victorian equivalant to the modern Red Light district). Mary Kelly (Heather Graham) is a beautiful and buxom lass who's life in London didn't turn out anything like she planned, struggling just to survive working in the world's oldest profession. Mary and her friends live a harsh existence. Their only comforts are their own companionship and the belief that their lives cannot possibly get any worse than it already is. But they do. Their …
review by . February 02, 2002
posted in Movie Hype
Pros: Johnny Depp, period piece     Cons: cliched plot with revisionist history imprints     The Bottom Line: Johhny Depp does it again in a revisionist take on the classic Ripper murders!     Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie's plot. Saw this one at the buck fifty palace and it was worth every penny. I tried to catch it earlier at the regular theater and would have paid full price ticket but couldn't juggle …
review by . October 18, 2001
Pros: Great sets and costumes, gripping story.     Cons: may to be to graphic for some.     The Bottom Line: A great and gripping look into one of the most chilling chapters in history. Great sets, acting, and pacing make this a solid film.     Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie's plot. Jack the Ripper, one of the most notorious and yet mysterious figures every to emerge from history. A cold, and ruthless killer, …
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Paul Savage ()
Ranked #29
I name and describe everything and classify most things. If 'it' already had a name, the one I just gave it is better.
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About this movie


From Hell is a 2001 American thriller-horror-mystery film about the Jack the Ripper murders, loosely based on the graphic novel of the same title by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell. It was directed by the Hughes brothers, the first film that they directed outside of the hood film genre. It was first released on October 19, 2001.
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Genre: Horror, Mystery, Thriller
Release Date: October 19, 2001
MPAA Rating: R
Screen Writer: Rafael Yglesias, Terry Hayes
Runtime: 122 minutes
Studio: 20th Century Fox
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