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The following FAQ entries may contain spoilers. Only the biggest ones (if any) will be covered with spoiler tags. Spoiler tags are used sparingly in order to make the page more readable.
For detailed information about the amounts and types of (a) sex and nudity, (b) violence and gore, (c) profanity, (d) alcohol, drugs, and smoking, and (e) frightening and intense scenes in this movie, consult the IMDb Parents Guide for this movie. The Parents Guide for From Hell can be found here.
It's 1888. The 'unfortunates' (whores) in London's Whitechapel slum district are being brutally murdered, and the name given to the unknown killer is Jack the Ripper. Scotland Yard's Inspector Frederick Abberline (Johnny Depp) and his partner, Sergeant Peter Godley (Robbie Coltrane), are investigating the horrendous crimes. Abberline, aided by the visions he obtains when smoking opium or drinking absinthe and/or laudanum, has profiled 'Jack' as being well-educated and knowledgeable about surgical techniques, a profile that goes against society's elite, who would prefer to blame it on foreigners, orientals, Jews, socialists, or Wild West Indians. When Abberline notices that a certain group of 'bangtails' is being targeted, he makes contact with one of them, Mary Kelly (Heather Graham), with whom he starts falling in love. As Abberline pieces together the clues that point to Jack's identity, it looks like Mary may become the next victim.
From Hell is very loosely based on the graphic novel of the same name written by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell. The graphic novel was adapted for the movie by screenwriters Terry Hayes and Rafael Yglesias.
The film, and the book on which it is based, take their name from the so-called "Lusk Letter," less commonly known as the "From Hell Letter." It is widely believed to be the only communication sent from the actual killer. At the time of the Ripper murders, the police were flooded with letters claiming to be from the killer. Most of these were fakes, as it had become something of a popular fad for people to send fake letters to the police claiming to be the killer. The Lusk Letter takes its name from its recipient, George Lusk, the head of the "Whitechapel Vigilance Committee," a sort of neighborhood watch at the time. The letter-writer never refers to himself as Jack the Ripper, signing the letter "Catch Me If You Can." The name "from hell" comes from the beginning of the letter, where he addressed it "From Hell." The letter is considered likely to be authentic because it was sent in a box which contained part of a human kidney, the writer having claimed that he ate the rest. This kidney was examined and determined to be from someone suffering from Bright's Disease. Catherine Eddowes, a previous victim of the Ripper, had suffered from Bright's Disease and had had part of her kidney removed. The receipt of the letter and partial kidney is depicted in the film; however, it arrives before the death of Eddowes, breaking from the established facts of the case. The death of Catherine Eddowes occurs very late in the film, and placing the scene subsequent to it would likely have diminished its impact.
Albert (Mark Dexter) was really Prince Edward Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence, grandson to Queen Victoria, and heir to the throne of England. The movie, and the book upon which it is based, posits that Albert married Anne Crook, a commoner, in a secret ceremony and that the murders were motivated by a desire to cover up said scandalous marriage. However, in reality, Albert's marriage would not have been legitimate. Under British law at the time, members of the royal family could not marry without the monarch's permission, and marriages between members of the British family and Catholics, which Annie Crook was, were forbidden.
Whitechapel can be located on the following map just east of London's city center. At the time that Jack the Ripper was terrorizing London, the Whitechapel district, and some of the surrounding areas, collectively known as "the East End," were considered to be the most impoverished, crowded, and dangerous areas in all of London.
The procedure is called a lobotomy, a surgical procedure in which the neural connections at the front of the brain are severed. It involves cutting holes through the cranium on both sides of the forehead and then inserting a knife into the holes and sliding it around to cut the connections. The procedure was introduced in 1888 (the year in which this movie is set) but didn't become commonly employed until the 1940s and 1950s when the procedure became more refined by using a technique called trans-orbital lobotomy developed by Dr. Walter Freeman. Lobotomy was primarily used in cases of mania, dementia, and insanity. Dr Ferrel (Paul Rhys), performed a lobotomy on Ann to keep her silent about her secret marriage to Prince Edward Albert.
Very shortly after Ann Crook is taken away and forced to reveal the names of those aware of her marriage, Martha Tabram is seen being pulled into an alley and repeatedly knifed. When Polly Nichols is later found murdered, Abberline speculates that her killer and Tabram's are not the same; however, the film never clarifies who, then, did kill Tabram. This ambiguity is likely the film's nod to the fact that whether or not Martha Tabram was actually a victim of Jack the Ripper has been the subject of much debate over the years. Certainly at the time of the murders she was considered to be not only a Ripper victim, but in fact the second victim, the first being Emma Smith, who had been murdered in April of the same year. Subsequent evaluations, however, have often excluded these first two killings as part of the Ripper's group of victims, as the MO in the killings was distinctly different than in what is sometimes referred to as the "canonical five." The film itself provides two possibilities consistent with its plot, neither confirmed: Martha Tabram is seen in the flashback to Ann's wedding, so she may have been targeted for the same reason as the others. However, just before she is stabbed to death there is a brief scene where the leader of the Old Nichol Mob can be seen following her, from which we might assume that she was killed for non-payment of the "protection fee" the gang had demanded from the local prostitutes. As with the actual murder, there is no conclusive proof offered.
Laudanum, or as it is now known in contemporary medical practice, opium tincture, is an alcoholic herbal preparation containing approximately 10% opium and 1% morphine (the equivalent of 100 mg of opium, 10 mg of morphine, per mL). It is extremely bitter to the taste and is made by combining ethanol with opium latex or powder. Laudanum contains almost all of the opium alkaloids, including morphine and codeine. A potent narcotic by virtue of its high morphine concentration, laudanum was historically used to treat a variety of ailments, but its principal use was as an analgesic (for pain) and an antitussive (for coughing). Until the early 20th century, laudanum was sold without a prescription and was a constituent of many patent medicines. Today, the manufacture, distribution, and use of laudanum is strictly regulated.
Yes. "Chasing the dragon" refers to inhaling the smoke from heated morphine, heroin or opium that has been placed on a piece of foil. The 'chasing' occurs as the user gingerly keeps the liquid moving in order to keep it from coalescing into a single, unmanageable mass. "Chasing the dragon" as an ingestion method has been accomplished with various vaporizing apparatus, including traditional opium pipes, as depicted in the movie.
There is nothing in the historical record to suggest that Abberline used opiates or absinthe, and he is not depicted as doing so in the graphic novel. The behavior was invented by the filmmakers to give him a darker edge and to set up a red herring wherein Abberline himself, under the influence of drugs, might be suspected as the killer. Both the Ripper and Abberline are seen as being in possession of laudanum and absinthe, and Abberline's visions of the killings might be taken for memories of the events. It is also possible that this was done to conflate the real-life detective with the fictional Sherlock Holmes, who was depicted in Arthur Conan Doyle's novels as a drug user and who has subsequently become a popular adversary for Jack the Ripper in later fiction, such as the 1978 film Murder by Decree, which utilized the same conspiracy theory as did From Hell as its plot.
Joseph Merrick was, and is today, known to most people as "The Elephant Man." He was alive during 1888, (the time of the murders) and due to his medical condition, had a place in the medical community. The brief confusion regarding his name as he is introduced is a reference to the fact that the physician chiefly in charge of studying Merrick's case decided, for reasons of his own, to change his patient's name to "John," even though Joseph was his given name.
In a deleted scene, it is revealed that Netley was killed by one of the Special Branch agents, who chokes him with a garrote. In the graphic novel (as well as in real life) he died in a carriage accident involving a collision with an obelisk.
Abberline rushes back to Mary's room to find that she's been slaughtered like all the others. On closer inspection, however, he realizes that it is not Mary, as the hair of the victim is not red (it's actually Ada, the girl from Bruxelles). He retrieves a letter left for him that morning at the Ten Bells when Mary decided to leave London, pick up Baby Alice at the orphanage, and return to Ireland. She leaves an address where she can be reached and invites him to join her there. Queen Victoria disavows any hand in Sir William's ghastly deeds, entrusting him only with the welfare of the heir to the throne, which she agrees he has done 'in his own way.' She remands him to Sir Charles (Ian Richardson) and the Freemasons for their judgement, which is to lobotomize him. Realizing that, should he change his routine and leave London, the Masons will spare no expense to follow him, which would put Mary and Alice in danger, Abberline rips up her letter and vows not never ever to join her in Ireland, where she is living in a cottage by the sea and raising Alice as her own daughter. In the final scene, Godley goes to retrieve Abberline from the opium den but finds him dead. He places two coins on his eyes 'to pay the ferryman' and says sadly, 'Goodnight, sweet Prince.'
No, there are many differences between what happened in real life and what was shown in this movie. Also, the real Jack the Ripper was never caught and it is very noteworthy that there are dozens of (by some accounts, over 100) theories about Jack's identity. Usually a movie about Jack the Ripper will show one person vs the other as the killer based on various evidence the filmmakers view as most valid. However, the characters of Frederick Abberline, Mary Kelly, Sir William Gull (Ian Holm), John Merrick (Anthony Parker), Martha Tabram (Samantha Spiro), "Polly" Nichols (Annabelle Apsion), Annie Chapman (Katrin Cartlidge), Elizabeth "Liz" Stride (Susan Lynch), Catherine "Kate" Eddowes (Lesley Sharp), John Netley (Jason Flemyng), and Queen Victoria (Liz Moscrop) are based on real individuals. Beyond that, the rest of the story is fiction.
Essentially, no. The bulk of the theory used by both the movie and graphic novel issues from a book written by British reporter Stephen Knight entitled Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution, published in 1976. The information in Knight's book came from a man named Joseph Gorman, aka Joseph Sickert, claiming to be the son of painter Walter Sickert, who had lived in London at the time of the murders and supposedly related the story to his son. The book alleges that a group of masonic conspirators, conducted the murders at the behest of the Royal Family in order to cover up the unsanctioned marriage of Prince Albert Edward to a common shop girl. After Knight's book expanded on the tale to include Walter Sickert as a co-conspirator in the murders, Joseph publicly declared that he had invented the entire account, and the briefly-popular theory fell into disrepute, along with its author. The credibility of Knight's theory was further damaged when, towards the end of his life, Knight became involved in various New Age beliefs and when it was learned that Knight was dying of a brain tumor. By the time of the graphic novel From Hell, the theory presented in Final Solution was largely dismissed as fanciful and untrue. However, the novel's author, Alan Moore, liked it for its dramatic potential, and has stated that the novel was never about trying to actually posit a plausible solution to the mystery, but to write a story that touches on our fears as a society.
The film differs significantly from the book, although it adheres to the same ultimate theory of the crime. Much of the book is excised from the film for purposes of brevity, although this causes the film to lose many of the occult underpinnings that are in place in the book. The book deals far more with occult theories, with one entire chapter devoted to the killer explaining his theories about the occult nature of London. The film also differs in its portrayal of Abberline. In the book he is a middle aged detective, dilligent, but of no particular brilliance, and is not an opium addict. The film portrays him as a young man, with unsual insight into the criminal mind who uses opium to deal with his psychic abilities. In the book Abberline is not a psychic, and is in fact something of a skeptic. In the book it is Robert Lees, an upper middle class professional psychic, who has visions of the killer, although Lees is not an opium user and is in fact faking his psychic visions. In the book Mary Kelly has no relationship with Abberline. There is a brief suggestion in the book that they knew each other slightly from drinking at a local pub. Abberline is seen chatting up a working girl whose face we never see, but there is no romance between them and Kelly plays no role in unravelling the mystery. There is only a slight suggestion that Abberline had an interest in the girl, since after she vanishes without repaying him a small amount of money he had loaned her, he takes it very personally. Perhaps the most significant change is the decision to focus the film primarily on Abberline. The book is much more about the killer, whose identity is revealed from the very beginning, and spends several chapters detailing his thinking. The film attempts much more of a traditional mystery format.
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