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Capone Likes The HHHolmes DVD!!

I am – Hercules!!

It’s a documentary about Jack the Ripper’s much-less-famous American counterpart, H.H. Holmes, who did crazy murderous stuff in the Windy City 110 years ago.

I’m not sure why “Capone,” our Chicago correspondent, decided to review this particular DVD among the billions coming out every second (all trying to soak up your hard-earned dollars in a hurry, too cognizant that we are only months from the U.S. introduction of HD-DVD and Blu-Ray), but it might be because it deals with stuff that happened in Chicago.

Capone calls this DVD “painstakingly researched and totally creepy”! He notes that “Things don’t ever get unnecessarily graphic, but the point is made”! Wipe that drool from your chin and read on!

Hey, Herc.

Capone in Chicago here with a rare DVD review of a film that chronicles the notorious life of one of the Windy City’s most despicable sons: Dr. H.H. Holmes, America’s film serial killer.

The painstakingly researched and totally creepy documentary H.H. HOLMES: AMERICA’S FIRST SERIAL KILLER has already won the Best Documentary prize at Stan Winston’s Screamfest, the Best Shockumentary award by the Cine-Macabre Film Festival, and has been covered on every Chicago-area newspaper, television station, and radio station in existence. But I know deep down inside that the film’s writer-director-producer John Borowski only cares about one man’s opinion of his work. So from one criminal mastermind to another, here we go...

In H.H. HOLMES, Borowski does a great job of balancing modern-day talking head interviews with crime experts and those intimately familiar with the story of this monster of a man. Although Holmes is probably best known for his kidnapping, torture, and slaughter activities during the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago (as chronicles in the book “Devil in the White City,” for which Paramount has the film rights), those events were only the tip of the bloody iceberg.

At a time when Chicago was building itself back up as a major financial center after the great Chicago Fire of 1871, Holmes moved into Chicago and built a multi-story building that man called “The Castle.” In fact, Holmes had built the ultimate torture palace with maze-like hallways that led to nowhere, secret passages, and devices for mutilation and dismemberment. Since the building was burned down shortly after Holmes was arrested for his crimes, Borowski relies on black-and-white re-enactments to illustrate Holmes’ deeds. Things don’t ever get unnecessarily graphic, but the point is made.

In addition to simply robbing his victims of whatever valuables they had on them at the time of their capture, Holmes further benefited from this poor unfortunates by selling their skeletons to local medical schools for a great deal of cash.

The World’s Fair must have been a dream come true for Holmes. Thousands of peoplewere coming to Chicago and looking for rooms to stay, and Holmes was happy to rent. By all accounts, Holmes was extremely smart, charming, and charismatic, which begs the questions, what else could this man have accomplished in his life if he hadn’t been so obsessed with killing?

The film also does a fair amount of digging in Holmes’ childhood, including a visit to his childhood home and a discussion about the impact on Holmes when he first heard about England’s Jack the Ripper, who clearly served as a role model for him.

With a slithery narration by Tony Jay, H.H. HOLMES is a great piece of fact finding for all the true-crime enthusiasts and a prime example of dedicated independent filmmaking.

The DVD of the film is available now from and includes extras like outtakes, commentary by the director, and a 20-minute “Making of...” feature that may be the only weak part of this offering. The information in the “Making of...” is good, but the director of a film should never prepare and do the on-camera hosting of his own feature; it seemed a little forced.

For about a year now, I’ve seen a small smattering of folks here in Chicago wearing shirts that ask “Who is H.H. Holmes?” This film answers that question definitively, and proves that truth is not only stranger than fiction; it’s far more fucked up than we ever could have imagined.


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Readers Talkback
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  • Oct. 29, 2004, 4:54 p.m. CST

    Devil in the White City

    by Xandr37

    The novel, Devil In The White City, did a great job of covering this story and is how most people know who Dr. Holmes was. I'm pretty sure it was supposed to be made into a movie, but haven't heard much about it lately. I look forward to seeing this DVD though.

  • Oct. 29, 2004, 7:07 p.m. CST

    folks in Chicago wearing shirts that ask

    by oceansized

    Do you know any on the folks wearing these shirts, Capone? They must be really eager to show how hip and above it all they are. "Hey look at me, everybody! I know how the world really is because I have a serial killers name on my shirt!" At one point in the mid 90s there were a lot of Charles Manson shirts around, worn by similarly minded dimwits.

  • Oct. 29, 2004, 7:39 p.m. CST

    While I haven't seen anybody with that shirt here...

    by Xandr37

    Many in Chicago know who he is because of all the hype over Devil in the White City whether they read the book or not. And he wasn't just some maniac killer, the things he did were, for lack of a better term, brilliant. He was quite the business man. He sold his pharmacy to a man and then opened up a new one across the street, driving the man out of business. And whenever somebody got in his way, they always mysteriously "left the city to live with relatives in another state".

  • Oct. 30, 2004, 12:56 a.m. CST

    Isaac's Storm

    by Tar Heel

    I don't know that I would categorize "Devil in the White City" as a novel. I'd put it in non-fiction. Anyway, "Isaac's Storm" by the same author is another great read. It's about the hurricane that practically wiped Galveston off the map. At one point Sean Astin expressed an interest in directing the movie but even he admitted it would take a huge budget to do it right.

  • Oct. 30, 2004, 12:09 p.m. CST

    Not to pick on you Xandr37 but...

    by oceansized

    You're using the old "Hitler did a lot of good things for Germany" argument. Given the nature of Holmes's crimes, you surely must realize that he's not someone to hold up and admire, no matter how "brilliant" he may have been.

  • Oct. 30, 2004, 4:30 p.m. CST

    I never said he was somebody to admire...

    by Xandr37

    Thus, the "for lack of a better term". I'm simply saying that what he did took a highly intelligent individual, pathetic and sad, but still highly intelligent. Have you read Devil in the White City or seen this documentary or any others on him? If not, then do so and then check back with me and let me know what you think. I never said he did "good things". The same can be said of Hitler. He was a monster, but you can't deny that he had charisma and knew how to manipulate people on a mass scale. Are these good things? No, but they are gifts that not everybody has the ability to do.