Pick of the Week – August 18-24, 2014

In 2001, From Hell, starring Johnny Depp and Heather Graham, arrived in theaters.  The movie, while entertaining enough and sporting wonderful production design (The Whitechapel exteriors built for the film outside of Prague in the Czech Republic are outstanding), is not this week’s pick. 

Instead, I want to direct your attention to the original comic series written by Alan Moore and drawn by Eddie Campbell.  From Hell ran in a serialized format from 1989-1996 but was collected into a trade paperback in 1999.  Let me warn you right now, it’s a sizable tome.  The collected edition runs close to 600 pages.

Please don’t let that dissuade you, though, because From Hell is an amazing piece of work.  Using as its basis a theory, first presented by Stephen Knight in the 1970s, that the Jack the Ripper killings were performed as part of a conspiracy to hide the existence of an illegitimate heir to the British throne, From Hell is a meticulous researched story of the Ripper killings and the people involved in the case.

If you have only seen the film, I can assure you that the comic is quite different.  Depp’s character, Inspector Abberline, in the film is a drunken psychic.  Not so much in the comic, where he is portrayed as a smart, but normal police inspector.  Where the comic really shines is in its exploration of the mind of the killer.  I won’t spoil the identity for those unfamiliar with the story, but many pages are spent exploring the Ripper’s motives.

As I said earlier, Moore did a great deal of research while writing the story, and the trade paperback contains his notes and references, including why, even though he tried to make the story as plausible as possible, Knight’s theory is complete bunk.  It was, however, a strong jumping off point for a fantastic and deeply unsettling comic.

(And for anyone interested in a different filmed take on Knight’s theory, the 1979 Sherlock Holmes film, Murder By Decree, starring Christopher Plummer as Holmes and James Mason as Watson, is very well done.  It was also directed by Bob Clark, who would later direct A Christmas Story.)

- Alan Decker

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