A Gory Johnny Depp Mystery Is Killing It On Streaming

Johnny Depp starred in one of his darkest and most violent stories in this film that is just murdering the competition on streaming.

By Nathan Kamal | Published

johnny depp

Johnny Depp’s life would forever change in 2003. That is the year Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl would be released, creating a massively huge commercial franchise and transforming Johnny Depp from a well-regarded, quirky film star into one of the highest-paid Hollywood A-listers in the world. The actor has since described the Pirates of the Caribbean as pivotal in his life (not in a necessarily positive way), even going so far as to discuss its effect on his mental state in his recent defamation case against his estranged former spouse, Amber Heard. Immediately before his biggest commercial breakthrough, Johnny Depp starred in a far darker and more violent attempt at a blockbuster: the 2001 film From Hell. The Hughes Brothers Jack the Ripper film is experiencing a revival on streaming services and is currently one of the top ten most watched movies on HBO Max.

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From Hell stars Johnny Depp as Frederick Abberline, a real-life British police inspector involved in the investigations into what would come to be known as the Jack the Ripper murders in 1888 London. Unlike the real-life Abberline, who was a highly commended and diligent law enforcement agent of his time period, the Johnny Depp version of the character is a Byronic, opium and absinthe-dependent conflicted hero who experiences psychic visions that help him with his work. After a Whitechapel prostitute named Mary Kelly (Heather Graham) finds herself and her friends seemingly being targeted for extremely gruesome murder, Johnny Depp is tasked with solving the case. 

However, things become quickly more complicated than a simple case of a serial killer stalking one of the worse neighborhoods of Victorian London. The British Royal Family seems to be involved in some way, as does Queen Victoria’s personal doctor, William Gull (Ian Holm with some impressive muttonchops). The fraternal organization known as the Freemasons hover about, institutional police resistance to any solution other than finding a foreigner to pin things on comes into play, and there is a cameo by one John Merrick (Anthony Parker), popularly known as the Elephant Man. Meanwhile, Johnny Depp and Heather Graham fall in love and there are some doubtlessly studio-mandated action sequences by the end of things.

If all this all seems like a lot for a movie about Johnny Depp hunting Jack the Ripper, it is nothing compared to the source material. From Hell is loosely adapted from a graphic novel by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell, which originally took nearly a decade to tell its story in serial form. Alan Moore’s work is far more concerned with theories over the mystical nature of the murders, concepts of time and space as being perceived as simultaneous and eternal, various esoteric mythologies and works of art, and much more. The Hughes Brothers film is more interested in Johnny Depp looking good in a goatee. 

This is not particularly their fault. Like many Alan Moore adaptations, From Hell is far too complex and weird a story to be told as a big-budget Hollywood film. It is not surprising that this particular Johnny Depp version turns it into a fairly predictable detective story featuring a romantic subplot. Johnny Depp is clearly coasting off the fumes of the much weirder and much better Sleepy Hollow, which also featured the actor as a near-19th century police detective with unorthodox methods. It does not help that Heather Graham is spectacularly miscast as a tough London prostitute, nor that the (likely) Irish woman is saddled with a high school stage production-level English accent.

From Hell was Johnny Depp’s final movie before beginning the Captain Jack Sparrow era of his career, which lends it some notability. Though he had occasionally starred in a commercially successful picture or two (usually with the aid of Tim Burton), the actor always seemed less interested in big-budget films like this one. However, as a warm-up for elaborate old-timey dress-up, this seems to have worked for Johnny Depp. From Hell ended up grossing some $75 million at the box office, which is not exactly huge for a film budgeted at around $35 million. It was received lukewarmly by critics, currently holding 57% on Rotten Tomatoes. These days, it will probably mostly serve as an artifact of a period before Johnny Depp started on the road he is on now.