FROM HELL. (2001) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

FROM HELL. (2001) DIRECTED BY THE HUGHES BROTHERS. STARRING JOHNNY DEPP, HEATHER GRAHAM, IAN HOLM, ROBBIE COLTRANE, IAN RICHARDSON, SUSAN LYNCH AND LESLEY SHARP. REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

This film tells the story of notorious English sex-murderer, Jack the Ripper. Well, it tells one of the stories. Theories abound as to the identity of the killer, who was never caught and brought to justice and this film, loosely based on the graphic novel by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell, concentrates on just one of these theories. I bought the graphic novel, and a massive tome it is too, a couple of years ago but I haven’t read it yet. I must get around to it.

Not to give away the plot or anything, but the top-hatted, cloaked and medical-bag-wielding baddie is really, really bad in this film. He brutally murders and eviscerates five East End prostitutes because they were all witnesses to the secret marriage between Prince Edward, the Queen’s grandson, and Alice Crook, their friend and a commoner like themselves. Don’t worry, that’s not really a spoiler, as it’s made dead, dead clear from fairly early on.

Edward, who has clearly been leading a double life, now has a child by Alice, and that child is the legitimate heir to the English throne. Oh, shit… I don’t know if this marriage ever happened in real life or not, but I do know that the prince is supposed to have incurable syphilis in the film and he’s not expected to live too long on it, in which case, what was he doing getting married and having children he wouldn’t be around to help raise…? Bit irresponsible, if you ask me.

The poor prozzies, though, being killed wholesale like that. Yeah, as if their lives weren’t miserable enough already. That’s one of the things that struck me most about the film, the sheer, unrelenting misery, drudgery and uncertainty of their horrible lives, which in all fairness, the film does manage to capture. Every last one of the actresses portraying the ‘bangtails’ turns in an excellent performance. Their on-screen deaths are disturbing to watch and very, very sad.

Anyway, enter handsome devil Johnny Depp as the absinthe-swigging, opium-addled Inspector Frederick Abberline, whose job it is to catch the killer. This he does with the aid of his subordinate and friend, Sergeant Peter Godley, ably played by Hagrid. Ooops, sorry, I meant Robbie Coltrane. Abberline is a smart cookie, if a bit of a loose cannon. He quickly figures out the identity of the villain, but the powers-that-be close ranks to protect said villain.

What happens to poor hapless Alice Crook, mother to the little heir to the throne, is appalling. That was another thing that really struck me about the film, the way that people could be dragged away from their homes and families and locked up for life in a Victorian asylum- the worst kind of asylum- with the front part of their brain missing. Is that even a legitimate medical procedure? Is it still done today?

And all because it was decided that they, the unfortunate, ill-starred patients, knew too much about a delicate matter or even just because someone somewhere didn’t like the cut of their gib. It’s a terrifying concept, and sadly not the sole preserve of the Victorians either, which makes it even scarier to contemplate.

Women in particular seem to have had zero rights and zero say over what happened to them back then. As far as I know, if your husband wanted rid of you, desired control of your fortune and wished to install a new woman in your place, all he had to do was say you were out of your tree with insanity and have you committed, and all with the stroke of a quill from the husband and probably the family doctor as well. The husband might even have promised the doctor a cut of his wife’s inheritance for agreeing to collude with him.

Johnny Depp, whose cockney accent ain’t half bad, guv’nor, makes the mistake as Abberline of falling for one of the hookers. And the film-makers have given him a tragic back-story as well. The poor fellow has been unlucky in love. I can’t imagine that a love affair with the most tragic of all Jack the Ripper’s victims will help advance him much in his own life.

The film is a bit too slick, stylish and sort of Hollywood-y for me, but it still does a more than passable job of capturing the bleakness of life in Victorian Whitechapel and the horrible fates in store for people who had neither money, power, nor control over their own lives.

The hookers, played by Susan Lynch, Lesley Sharp, Katrin Cartlidge, Annabelle Apsion, Samantha Spiro and, of course, Heather Graham, all positively steal the show. Much as I love (and fancy!) Johnny Depp, these so-called ‘bangtails’ act the men off the stage, for the most part.

I do love Ian Richardson as the stiff-upper-lipped and heavily mutton-chopped Sir Charles Warren, though, Ian McNeice as the coroner who clearly hates his job and Robbie Coltrane’s Sergeant Godley, Ian Holm as the Queen’s physician, Dr. Gull, and David Schofield as the thug McQueen.

Quite a good cast here actually, including the beautiful Estelle Skornik as a French or Belgian prozzie who befriends the women. You might know her as the woman who starred as ‘Nicole’ opposite Max Douchin’s ‘papa’ in those famous old Renault Clio advertisements donkeys’ years ago. Fun fact for you there!

If you’re an armchair Ripperologist like myself, you’ll probably be annoyed by any little inconsistencies and liberties taken by the script. Roll with it, though, and you’ve got yourself an entertaining little murder mystery that’ll nicely fill a couple of hours on a dark and stormy night. Make sure you lock your doors and windows, though. It’s always better to be safe than sorry, isn’t it? And they never did catch that fella. Did they…?

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Vampirology. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

Her new book, THIRTEEN STOPS EARLIER, is out now from Poolbeg Books:

https://amzn.to/3ulKWkv

HANDS OF THE RIPPER. (1971) A HAMMER FILM REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

HANDS OF THE RIPPER. (1971) A HAMMER FILM PRODUCTION. BASED ON A SHORT STORY BY EDWARD SPENCER SHEW. DIRECTED BY PETER SASDY.

STARRING ANGHARAD REES, ERIC PORTER, DORA BRYAN, JANE MERROW, KEITH BELL, DEREK GODFREY, MARJORIE RHODES, MARJIE LAWRENCE AND LYNDA BARON.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

This is Hammer Horror’s contribution to the massive canon of Jack the Ripper films. Although Jack the Ripper was a real person who, in the year 1888, during the so-called ‘Autumn of Terror,’ murdered and mutilated five unfortunate prostitutes in London’s Whitechapel area, he has long since passed into legend and is fictionalised as often as Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster and Sherlock Holmes.

Hammer’s HANDS OF THE RIPPER has all the sumptuous costumes and sets, rich autumnal colours (apt!) and solid performances that you’d expect from a Hammer period horror film. The women’s costumes, in particular, are gloriously flattering and their big feathery hats are the most sublime confections the world of millinery has to offer.

Even the prostitutes, the raddled whores of Whitechapel, are all played by Hammer beauties and are therefore lovely to look at, even if their Cockney accents have to sound like Foghorn Leghorn caught in a blender. Also, the plot has a few holes in it, to be sure, but what are a few holes between friends…? Let’s not be picky here, lol.

Angharad Rees plays Anna the heroine, if you can call her that, given that she’s actually the villain here as well. When she was a child in her cot, she witnessed the horrific murder of her mother by her father, who was harbouring the biggest and bloodiest secret of the era in his murderous bosom.

Now, the pretty blonde Anna is all grown up and living with an unscrupulous foster mother called Mrs. Golding, who assuredly knows a good money-making opportunity when she sees it. She pimps out the virginal-looking girl to wealthy gentlemen and forces Anna to collude with her in the phoney sėances she regularly holds.

When the self-serving Mrs. Golding is found savagely murdered after one such instance of ‘communing with the spirits’ and the petite little Anna is the chief suspect, she is rescued from the horrors of prison by a rich doctor of the mind, rather than the body, a chap called John Pritchard.

Convinced that Anna carried out the horrific killing while under the influence of her dead murderer of a father, Dr. Pritchard, a fan of Sigmund Freud’s, is determined to ‘study’ her and see how the world of psychiatry can benefit by such a study.

We don’t study our murderers enough, he complains, because we’re too quick to slap a rope around their necks. To this end, and totally convinced that his motives are pure and only for the betterment of people’s knowledge of medicine, he brings a bemused Anna home to his luxurious town house and immediately installs her in his dead wife’s bedroom and dresses her in his dead wife’s fabulous gowns. Hmmmmm.

In the first place, I put it to you that Dr. Pritchard is motivated as much by lust as by ‘learning.’ Would he be doing all this if Anna was a syphilis-ridden old hag, with black teeth and sagging tits? I doubt it very much. And he certainly wouldn’t be putting her in his wife’s pristine and beautifully preserved bedchamber.

And, what was really strange, Dr. Pritchard’s posh toff son Michael and his elegant and gracious bride-to-be, Laura, don’t seem to have any problem at all with their father bringing a scruffy little street urchin into their palatial home and into his beloved mother’s bed, of all places, and giving her the run of his dead mother’s wardrobe and jewellery.

Instead, they smile, stick out their hands and say: ‘Welcome to the family, Anna…!’ Grotesque, unbelievable, bizarre, unprecedented, or gubu, as we used to say here in Ireland in the ‘Eighties, during one of our less successful periods of government. Honestly, some countries shouldn’t be trusted with the job of governing themselves, lol.

Another person’s reaction to Anna’s sudden installation as the new lady of the house that I find deeply suspect is Dolly, the maid’s. Played by Marjie Lawrence (I, MONSTER, with Christopher Lee), Dolly seems absolutely thrilled to have a tousle-haired little nobody like Anna foisted on her as her new mistress without warning.

She doesn’t seem to say to herself, why wasn’t I elevated suddenly to the status of lady of the house, especially as I was here first? Why should this common little nobody be promoted to status and wealth in this house over me? My tits are as good as ‘ers, any day of the bloomin’ week, and if it’s sex he wants, well, I can give him that, I’ve been pleasing men in that way since I were a young ‘un, he only has to ask!’

Instead, she delights in bathing the new little cuckoo in the nest and dressing her up in her former mistress’s frills and furbelows, calling her a little doll and revelling in her improved appearance. This script was clearly written by a man. A man who surely doesn’t know women…!

Anyway, Dr. Pritchard’s lust for his charge seems to be blinding him to the irresponsible behaviour he himself is exhibiting by allowing Anna, a suspected murderer, to live in his house with himself, his son, his son’s blind fiancėe Laura, the maid Dolly and the elderly housekeeper Mrs. Bryant, who’s probably been with the doctor’s family since the doctor himself was a lad. Frankly, he’s putting his entire household at risk, in a way that he wouldn’t be if his ‘subject’ were a good deal less charming and attractive and dwelling in a locked room in the asylum.

All it takes is a simple kiss and a flash of glittering light, such as that made by a jewelled brooch or necklace, and the emotionally disturbed Anna is ‘triggered’ into another psychotic episode, one that leaves blood on her hands and not a trace in the world on her heart or memory.

Just like some of us aren’t ourselves when we’re hungry, Anna is not herself when she is possessed by the soul of her evil killer of a father. Although, when did he die, and did anyone even mention that he was dead? Was he killed by the angry mob that was pursuing him on the night he slaughtered his wife?

Well, even if he wasn’t, who else would be possessing Anna and driving her to kill? I told you there were a few plotholes, didn’t I, but they don’t really affect the overall pleasing experience of viewing this gorgeous Hammer offering.

PS, I loved the scene set in the Whispering Gallery of St. Paul’s Cathedral, and also the inspired casting of Lynda Baron, aka, the busty Nurse Gladys Emmanuel from OPEN ALL HOURS with Ronnie Barker, as Long Liz, one of the prostitutes murdered by Jack the Ripper.

She’s just perfect as the tart with a heart as big as all outdoors. But, if Long Liz was killed by old Saucy Jack, how come she’s still alive fifteen years later and still working her patch? Ah, who cares? Her magnificent bosoms say more than tight, foolproof plotting ever could…

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books.