From panel to screen: From Hell.

For over a decade now, comic book movies have been some of the highest grossing films to come out from Hollywood. What started out as a fad has become it’s own genre. Over the next  few months, I’m going to be delving into each movie individually to try and find out what it is that’s made them a mainstay in modern Hollywood.

from hellTitle: From Hell

Release Year: 2001

Director: Albert Hughes & Allen Hughes

Writer:  Terry Hayes & Rafael Yglesias

Starring: Johnny Depp, Heather Graham, Ian Holm & Robbie Coltrane




When I was talking to one of my friends about From Hell being the next comic book movie review for my blog, he seemed genuinely surprised that I was writing about it. He was surprised because he didn’t think it was based on a comic book. In his defence, it is only very loosely based on Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s graphic novel From Hell, mostly taking its name, characters and a few themes and turning what is regarded as high mark for the graphic novel medium into a generic Hollywood movie.

From Hell is a take on the Whitechapel Ripper killings. Inspector Frederick Abberline (Johnny Depp) is tasked with capturing the ripper and solving the case. But what he discovers along the way leads to a much larger secret than he expected.

From Hell was the first of Alan Moores works to be adapted by Hollywood into a film. It’s also the reason why he would stay as far away as he could for future films based on his books.

The simple reason is: he doesn’t consider it a faithful adaption of what he wrote and he hates the movie.

Authors not liking films based on their work is not uncommon (Stephen King hates Kubricks The Shining), and it does change significant parts of what Alan Moore wrote.

This is mainly due to the filmmakers decision to leave the reveal of the Ripper until the final act of the movie, essentially making this film a ’whodunit’. Now, I know a film should be judged on what it actually is, and not what you’d like it to be, but this could have been a more interesting film if we’d have known the killer from the start. We’d then have more time to get inside his head, which is what the book does, and it could have been more of a psychoanalytical take on Jack the Ripper rather than us following a doped up Johnny Depp for a few hours as he tries to solve the case. Hollywood always get cold feet when they’re adapting works of Alan Moore, and they play it more safe to cater for the mass Hollywood audience, therefore often completely missing the point of Alan Moores books. His books are not safe. They’re bold and complex stories that aren’t always easy reads and they weren’t written with the intention of one day becoming a film.

Alan Moores books are always painstakingly researched and planned. A single panel will be several pages of script. Comic book writers often refer to his scripts as ‘how not to write comics’, because of how overly detailed they are.

The Ripper in the film is Sir William Gull (Ian Holm). Gull was a former physician to the Queen who had to give up practicing medicine in an official capacity due to illness. In the film, he’s actually played rather well by Ian Holm. He always has that slightly shifty look about him, like he is a man hiding something. The motivation behind the ripper killings is After his revel, when we finally see him ‘turn’ he plays the insane madman as someone who is trying to cling to something he’s lost. It’s like the Ripper inside him

It’s the lengths they also go to to keeps his identity hidden from us that becomes rather bothersome. Whenever he’s in shot, his face will be blacked out and silhouetted, while his voice will be dark and low. The film also likes to keep you guessing, dropping several hints along the way that various different characters might be the Ripper. There’s a recurring shot of coach steps dropping, the sound effect of which is the overly cliche ‘slasher’ sword. Each time the steps drop, a different character steps down them. It’s good to keep the ‘whodunit’ going for film audiences, it just doesn’t allow the film to hold to future watches.

There’s also much more going on, as Gull is a member of the cult group The Freemasons, and the Freemasons are a part of covering up Gulls involvement in the killings at the risk of exposing themselves. But this is all left until the final half hour of the film. It can’t decides what it wants to be, which only makes it an average film and nothing overly remarkable in the long term. It’s not even the best film based on an Alan Moore book.

I should also note, that as of writing this blog, I haven’t yet finished the book, so I’d be interested to hear what fans of the book make of the film.


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