IMDb > H.H. Holmes: America's First Serial Killer (2004)

H.H. Holmes: America's First Serial Killer (2004) More at IMDbPro »

H.H. Holmes: America's First Serial Killer -- TORTURE CHAMBERS - VATS OF ACID - SECRET PASSAGEWAYS

At the height of his criminal career, the infamous Dr. H.H. Holmes designed his castle of horrors in Chicago, where he rented rooms to unsuspecting victims visiting the 1893 World's Fair. Further benefiting from his victims, Holmes sold their skeletons to local medical schools.


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John Borowski (writer)
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The Castle. The Murders. The Monster.
Torture chambers, acid vats, greased chutes and gassing rooms were just some of the devices of death designed by the Torture Doctor, H.H. Holmes in his castle of horrors. Follows Holmes' entire life as a criminal mastermind. Full summary » | Add synopsis »
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User Reviews:
A skillful indie documentary, full of atmosphere and class See more (12 total) »


  (in credits order)

Tony Jay ... Narrator (voice)
Harold Schechter ... Himself - Author 'Depraved'
Thomas Cronin ... Himself - Criminal Profiler
Marian Caporusso ... Herself - Programs Section Chief - Illinois State Police Forensic Science Center
Ed Bertagnoli ... Chicago Police Officer
Cary Callison ... Chicago Detective

Willy Laszlo ... H.H. Holmes
Rachelle Villarreal ... Alice Pitezel
Audrey Welling ... Castle Victim
Beka ... Carrie Pitezel (voice)
Tom Ciappa ... (voice)
Sarah Mills ... (voice)

Directed by
John Borowski 
Writing credits
John Borowski (writer)

Produced by
John Borowski .... producer
Dimas Estrada .... associate producer
Original Music by
Douglas Romayne  (as Douglas Romayne Stevens)
Cinematography by
John Borowski 
Frey Hoffman 
Film Editing by
John Borowski 
Art Department
Rick Geary .... castle floorplans
Roland Gibbs .... set constructor
Sound Department
James Cohen .... boom operator
Chris Combs .... boom operator
Darin Heinis .... sound re-recording mixer
John Murray .... sound designer
John Murray .... sound editor
Terry Schilling .... sound recordist
Music Department
Ken Melville .... music executive producer
Other crew
John Borowski .... researcher
Andrew Cinquino .... production assistant
Jennie Cisna .... researcher
Eric Richter .... production assistant
Jim Andre .... special thanks
Lorraine Borowski .... special thanks
J. Christopher Combs .... in memory of
Jamie Cortino .... special thanks
Angela DiCosola .... special thanks
Anthony DiCosola .... special thanks
Darin Heinis .... special thanks
Jacob Henry Mansion .... special thanks
Kazutosi Miyamoto .... special thanks (as Kazutosi Miyamoto M.D.)
Beverly Nemetz .... special thanks
Michael Nemetz .... special thanks
Mitch Norinsky .... special thanks
Ron Norinsky .... special thanks
Janice Sawyer .... special thanks
Dale Anthony Tremaine .... special thanks

Production CompaniesDistributors

Additional Details

USA:64 min
Aspect Ratio:
1.33 : 1 See more »
Filming Locations:


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24 out of 27 people found the following review useful.
A skillful indie documentary, full of atmosphere and class, 11 May 2005
Author: Martin Wagner from Austin, TX

I came to this movie after seeing its rave review on A fan of historical crime writer Harold Schechter's (who is interviewed in this film), I was surprised and delighted to see someone had attempted a documentary on H.H. Holmes, the subject of Schechter's book "Depraved". Then again, I suppose it wasn't too surprising, given the bestseller success of Erik Larsen's "The Devil in the White City", and the upcoming movie of same.

John Borowski knows his way around the documentary form, inter-cutting vintage photos, interviews, and clever re-enactments with a strong sense of balance. HHH:AFSK succeeds in conveying a sense of time and place, and communicating Holmes's psychosis. The narrative is gripping, and there's never a dull moment here. Unlike a lot of indie documentary directors, Borowski knows that making a documentary is still all about Film-making, not merely filmed journalism.

If HHH:AFSK lacks in any department, it is in conveying the full, jaw-dropping magnitude of Holmes's most audacious crime: his systematic murder of the Pitezel family, carried out while manipulating them to travel in two separate groups halfway across the US and even into Canada. Borowski also leaves out the detail that, on this evil trek, Holmes was also dragging along one of his three clueless wives! Borowski surprisingly rushes through the journey, making it all seem like just another of Holmes's outrageous deeds. Compared to the way Schechter evoked the cruelty of Holmes's actions and the heartbreaking emotional trauma suffered by the Pitezel children's mother in his book "Depraved", Borowski misses a chance for some really strong emotional depth.

But some things are, I suppose, going to get left out in an hour-long production. The running time is kind of odd. Too long to sell to TV (this film is certainly worthy of the History Channel, on which I have seen considerably worse stuff), too short for feature length. And yet, by the time it's over, you feel that to go to 90 minutes might have been just a shade too much. At 64 minutes, HHH:AFSK is perhaps just right, artistically — though 70-75 would have been ideal, allowing Borowski to flesh out the story as I described above. Commercially, 64 minutes is problematic. Perhaps a direct-to-DVD release was all Borowski had in mind from the first.

Veteran actor Tony Jay provides brilliant narration with his one-of-a-kind voice (why isn't this man more famous!?), and there's a swell orchestral, Bernard Hermann-esquire score that I'm surprised Borowski was able to get. If anything gave me an unintentional smile watching the DVD, it was perhaps Borowski's tireless self-promotion in the bonus materials. I'd have gladly sacrificed Borowski's efforts on his making-of featurette if he had channeled that work into just a bit more of his documentary.

A worthy film for fans of true crime and American history rolled into one.

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