ACHTUNG : This is my first review in english, and I hope not the last. Big thanks goes to my brother cutter, who helped me translate this practically untranslatable text from serbian to english. So this is like some kind of test, if you understand what I was trying to say that's it. OK ?
Runtime: 64 min
This story might have never been told, if the best true crime documentary director did not accept to fanatically investigate this case in detail, and to make a full length documentary, although there were no living witnesses who would speak on the subject of the first recorded American serial killer, H.H. Holmes. In just a few years, Holmes has been overtaken by Jack The Ripper in UK, but in my personal opinion, their crimes can never be compared, because Jack has never been of any interest to me, for he was never captured in the first place, and a serial killer without a face from my perspective is not a true serial killer at all, because what’s so bizarre when up to this day we don’t know the true background and motives?
Holmes was a highly educated man, a chemist, and he wasn’t killing people in the streets like a bum, instead he built a fancy hotel for the 1893. World Exhibition in Chicago, and we should remember that if it wasn’t for Nikola Tesla and his alternating current, there would be small chance for that manifestation to have so much success and so many guest arrivals from all over the world, which would result in Holmes losing most of his catch.
Naive tourists that once walked in his luxurious hotel would never get out , and since they came from everywhere, no one would know where and how they disappeared. Holmes was a very imaginative person, so he made a labyrinth out of his hotel, with false doors that lead nowhere, rooms that were actually gas chambers, and a bunch of torture chambers, with a variety of sadistic devices.
Of course, there was also the unavoidable basement, where Holmes set up his private crematorium in which he burned the remains of the victims, whereas skeletons would be kept, preserved, and sold to medical schools. Indeed, it would be a shame to see all those skeletons wasted in crematory when he already had an excellent combination to sell them and make good money, therefore he was also a very good businessman and it could even be said that he was a sort of recycler, and principle that nothing should be thrown away, that everything can be used wasn’t employed again until Nazis and World War 2.
Since there are very few archive photos, there is a solid reconstruction of case done through specifically wicked narrator, after whom documentaries of John Borowski are famous, that best captures the time at the end of 19th century. Movie also features the inevitable Harold Schechter, true crime writer without whom there is no serious serial killer documentary, and various other experts and profilers.
Basically, those who liked the way Borowski made a documentary about Albert Fish, will also like his debut work, because Borowski never makes superficial and pathetic, instant TV documentaries. Borowski chose the harder way, and this fanaticism should be given special recognition, because the mere fact that he’s been doing a a documentary about Carl Panzram for about 4 years already, and that it will appear only in late 2011, proves what a remarkable artist he is.
And now as a bonus, my friend, Marko Stevanovic, expert on the occult subjects, wrote a somewhat different text about this film, and something drives me to present it to you here.
On Son of Man’s recommendation I set myself to watch John Borowski’s writing/directorial effort about the life & times of H.H. Holmes. Word that I dread the most regarding a documentary is ‘reenactment’, cancerous growth that permeates most of TV production. Quite unnecessary effort to show a bunch of mundane things connected with certain event, often with dubious help from local acting troupe and/or crew members relatives. So it goes: Ted Bundy starting his car, Ted Bundy going shopping, Ted Bundy lurking… with production values a bit below those soap operas that stretch through decades. Fortunately, Borowski evaded that trap. He did graze it near the end when showing blank faces of cops from that period, but it never caught him. For visuals are atypical, monochromatic, glossy… more to the point, in the beginning focus is on Holmes’ architectural achievements. Portrait that Borowski paints through interviews with a profiler (it’s basic, bland yarn, and he could also work on titling the interviewee – screen goes black and then letters slowly appear) is about completely calculated individual, who, like his Baker Street namesake dedicated a significant portion of life towards perfecting those skills needed later on, who, like Moriarty, built suitable ruse for criminal activity, while his castle was a place that would make Joseph Curwen proud (as well as his bone trade). That being said, many of the faces that slip by have considerable Innsmouth vibe. Borowski obviously invests himself into the story, mostly through rudimentary yet effective narration over photographs and scanned documents gliding over the screen. It’s a good example of how software stereotypes can be thrown out of place. Effort that was made towards obtaining adequate historical build is obvious, as well as atypical aesthetic touch due to usage of basic software functions, and it comes out nicely. I would make a reproach that in the end, author takes his sweet time saying goodbye to HH, which can leave a sore association with aforementioned TV production that strives to gain certain runtime to better fit into predetermined program slot. This work, however, stays far away from it, and it’s well worth a look – especially considering author’s pending documentary on Panzram; from seeing development or stagnation of (not only) visual style, to sheer interest fed by delving into uncharted territory.
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