“Employing a technique halfway between the vaunted Ken Burns' black-and-white-photos-panned-for-the-illusion-of-movement process and the docudrama live-actors-as-historical-figures gambit, filmmaker John Borowski tells the harrowing tale of scammer and murderer H.H. Holmes in suitably grim style in H.H. Holmes: America's First Serial Killer. The subject of Eric Larson's recent Best-selling book The Devil in the White City, Holmes not only undertook the wanton killing of a series of hapless victims, he also designed and built a large house in suburban Chicago with secret passages, torture chambers, and facilities for disposing of the bodies of his victims-whose skeletons he often sold to medical colleges. Although Holmes-whose final victim tally is unknown-didn't just operate in the Chicago area, he is reputed to have culled many victims from the crowds visiting the 1893 World's Fair in the White City (a light/dark dichotomy that Larson skillfully mines in his book).

Tom Cruise and Leonardo DiCaprio are said to be vying to bring Holmes' story to the big screen, so Borowski's documentary might turn out to be a valuable source for checking the Hollyweird creative license sure to be unleashed on the feature film version of Holmes' story (in addition to this documentary and Larson's book, there's also Rick Geary's graphic "novel" about Holmes, The Beast of Chicago-the possibilities for a far reaching H.H. Holmes collection are at librarians' fingertips!). Granted, some of the effects employed by Borowski look rather low-budget, but this only helps contribute to the dark atmospherics of this spooky profile. DVD extras include a director's commentary, 20-minute "making-of" featurette, outtakes, and more. Recommended.

Video Librarian Magazine
Volume 19, No. 6
November-December 2004