Allen and Albert Hughes clearly studied films like Bram Stoker's Dracula and Sleepy Hollow in preparation for their own gothic costume horror, from the operatic camera work to the eye-candy fetishizing of blood and other atmospheric fluids. From Hell boasts gorgeous art direction and as comfortable a genre shift by its directors as one could imagine, given that modern inner-city dramas (Menace II Society, Dead Presidents) were their claim to fame. Although the film's moldering period look may not be trailblazing, it's handled as adroitly as Francis Ford Coppola (Dracula) or Tim Burton (Hollow) presented similar cityscapes, carriages, and cobblestone streets. The directors' own touches distinguish the effort, such as the cool use of time lapse photography to chart policemen and onlookers rubbernecking a victim over a period of hours. It's a 19th century London that's filthy and hopeless, in every respect except for the leads -- Heather Graham is too manicured for a destitute street walker, and Johnny Depp is, well, unavoidably handsome. What holds From Hell back is that even with gruesome disembowelments and sprays of arterial blood, it's never all that creepy or unsettling. Beyond a few morbid snippets of dialogue, you never get a sense of Jack the Ripper as a character, given the film's (correct) decision to cloak his identity until the end. The chosen plot is a reasonable way to address the lingering unknowns about the killer, but it keeps him at a regrettable distance. In the era of Hannibal Lecter, viewers expect a dynamic villain to haunt them after they leave the theater -- especially if it's one of history's most methodologically twisted serial killers.
by Derek Armstrong review