Directed by Albert & Allen Hughes, starring Johnny Depp, Heather Graham, Ian Holm and Robbie Coltrane.
A duo who made their names with urban gangster stories ('Menace II Society', 'Dead Presidents') turning their lenses toward 1880's London? Heather Graham playing an Irish prostitute and Johnny Depp as a Cockney copper? Admittedly, the premise does not sound that convincing, but the Hughes Brothers and their cast have taken Alan Moore's graphic novel of the same name and made it into one of the better bloody shockers of recent years.
As Jack the Ripper terrorises the East End, Scotland Yard's Fred Abberline (Depp) tries to make sense of the chaos he leaves in his wake. His investigation brings him into contact with the gamut of London's social classes from prostitute Mary Kelly (Graham) to Queen Victoria's doctor Sir William Gull (Holm). The problem for Abberline is that every answer leads to two more questions. Is the Ripper a doctor? Do Abberline's superiors know more than they're willing to admit? And does the Ripper's trail lead straight to the seat of power?
The squeamish would be well advised to give 'From Hell' the widest of berths because from the outset the Hughes Brothers don't so much try to put your heart in your mouth as rip it straight out. From its eerie opening to its salvation-at-a-price ending, this resolutely downbeat affair shows that while the Hughes' may have gone back in time from the mean streets of LA, the problems are exactly the same - a treadmill of violence, desperation and poverty where death offers the only respite.
Depp and Graham may be the leads, but London is also a central character, the Brothers recreating the city (in Prague no less) with the grainy East End atmospherics living up to the film's title. Little time is spent with Depp's Abberline in the first half-hour and it's a chance well taken, highlighting the story from Mary's perspective and building up the seedy ambience which becomes so compulsive and terrifying as the story progresses.
Both Depp and Graham do fine work in roles that could have been one-dimensional ciphers for slasher killings. Depp's Abberline is ahead of his time with his use of forensic medicine to try and crack the case, but he's also smoked up to his eyeballs, an opium user whose need to escape is offset by his overwhelming desire to catch the Ripper. Graham's portrayal of Mary highlights the character's intelligence, and her relationship with the detective is well realised but never gets in the way of the terror on every street corner.
This film's failing is that in the second half the tension slackens, with the result that some scenes seem to play out in slow motion. By the close, 'From Hell' has moved closer to a conventional whodunit and the not the '7even with gaslights' that had you so hooked earlier on. You'll probably see the ending coming too, but the question of whether justice will be dispensed in private or public will keep you interested. By that stage however you'll be too hoarse and drained from all the screaming to kick up too much of a fuss.