From Hell (2001)

(In theaters, October 2001) It’s obvious early on that this won’t be simply a forgettable slasher film: For one thing, it focuses on a historically-accurate representation of the grisly “Jack the Ripper” murders of 1888. For another, the visual polish of the production with its blood-red skies, suggestive violence and gritty realism takes it a full step above the cookie-cutter approach taken by so many horror films. Alas, the film tricks us into paying attention only to betray its initial promise by a ho-hum story hampered by several annoying details. Johnny Depp, for instance, is rather good as inspector Abberline, but he doesn’t achieve anything spectacular with it. It’s a Chocolat impact with a Sleepy Hollow character; he’s easily upstaged by Robbie Coltrane. (But then again, Coltrane does that to everyone). Heather Graham is pretty, too flawlessly pretty compared to the other prostitutes in the film. The film shows obvious signs of adaptation difficulties: The psychic visions of Abberline are entirely superfluous, and the signature line of the film (“Some will say I gave rise to the twentieth century”) makes no sense if you don’t know about the original graphic novel. It doesn’t help, either, that the suspect is obvious early on and that the final “twist” is painfully drawn-out. A shame, really, because the rest is pretty good. You won’t confuse the directing style with Tim Burton’s because Burton is far more polished, but it’s distinctive nonetheless. An interesting rental, especially if you’re interested in Ripper lore.

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